Flexible working is not just working from home

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on businesses, and one of the major changes we have seen is in relation to not just the jobs people do, but in how they do them – something we expect to continue beyond the pandemic. Many employers are now navigating a return to a workplace in the coming weeks and months that, for some, will look significantly different than it did in March 2020, writes Marie Marin, Chief Executive of Employers For Childcare.

In recent weeks, a range of major UK wide and international employers as well as local businesses such as Hughes Insurance and Bank of Ireland have indicated that they see a ‘blended’ approach as the way forward, including both home and office-based work, recognising that individuals will have different needs and preferences. This is something we are keen to see more employers embrace, and we would look forward to working with and supporting them in making this a reality.

But importantly, while the focus for many at present is on whether they will continue to work from home, we need to remember that this is not an option for all employers or all employees. In some situations, a job either cannot be completed remotely – such as in retail, construction or hospitality – or cannot be achieved as efficiently. Equally, even where a job can be done remotely, this may not be the preference of an employee who does not have the home environment to facilitate this. It is clear that one size will not fit all, and ‘flexible working’ should not be used interchangeably with ‘working from home’, as there are many other ways of working flexibly that could be more appropriate. Within our own organisation, since well before Covid-19, we have supported a variety of flexible working arrangements including part-time working and compressed and annualised hours – all of which support employees who can continue to work in an office environment.

I established Employers For Childcare to support parents with dependent children to get into and stay in work, so of course employee well-being is at the heart of our efforts in encouraging organisations to implement family friendly policies in the workplace. But over the years, the business case for employers – benefits to the ‘bottom line’ – has also been firmly established. Where the demands of work and family responsibilities compete, rather than complement, this can impact on performance, job focus and attendance, and ultimately, on productivity within your organisation.

Offering a working environment that is flexible and responsive is a commercially sound way of harnessing the potential of a generation of talented people whose working lives need to dovetail with other roles and responsibilities, boosting the pool of individuals from which to recruit – and retaining them when you have them. New research from Aviva, which surveyed 4,000 UK adults in February 2021 found that as many as 60% were considering a career change, with a key reason being to find a role that allowed them to work from home or to work remotely. There are also significant cost savings associated with accommodating requests for flexible working. These can range from salary costs, through job share requests or a change to working hours, to office costs such as a decrease in stationery, furniture, rent or even coffee!

As we emerge on the ‘other side’ of the pandemic it is my sincere hope that organisations embrace the learning of the last year to offer their staff a culture of work that is responsive to their needs and, in doing so, realise the benefits this brings to them as employers. We’d be happy to talk to anyone interested in finding out more.

Marie Marin, Chief Executive of Employers For Childcare, a local charity dedicated to supporting parents and employers, outlines the benefits for employers, as well as their employees, of taking a more flexible approach to working patterns as we begin to emerge from Covid-19.