At the height of lockdown, over one third of the world’s working population were working from home. Overnight we went home.
In the UK, at the start of 2020, less than 5% of the workforce had any formal working from home arrangement – but within weeks that leapt to 65% and would probably have been higher if organisations had been able to access the right technology in time. We did things we would never believe from home – delivered education, managed large scale criminal investigations, kept multiple small, medium and large organisations alive, and often, thriving.
But while we've been increasingly confident that the landscape of work will be fundamentally changed by the pandemic, many organisations are failing to adapt their workforce models to be truly flexible and not just remote.
In a survey conducted in the second lockdown, the recruitment agency Timewise found that less than 22% of roles currently advertised offered any element of flexibility. This is bad news for both employees and employers. Flexible roles allow people to manage their lives – they support those with caring responsibilities, those who want to continue their education, those with health issues, or who live in more remote areas. They have been proven to be more inclusive and more diverse – and promote radically more progressive thinking. In return they allow organisations to be “always on” – to have the latest skills and to have the agility in their talent pool that they need now more than ever.
It's been said of the pandemic that while we're all in the same storm, we are not all in the same boat. The economic crisis induced by Covid-19 is increasingly affecting lower paid workers – and particularly women. The Resolution Foundation has shown that one third of those in the lowest-paid quartile (who are disproportionately likely to work part-time) have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or lost hours and pay, compared to 15% of the highest paid. And while article after article published in the last few months has confidently predicted that “work will never be the same again” it isn’t enough to simply flip the working hours, expectations and routines that existed in a physical workplace onto an online version. Individuals and managers need to be trained and helped to manage flexible workforces and see the value of that flexibility. It is about defining value differently – not focused around hours or location but what has been added, achieved and contributed.
It’s not just workers who are affected by the lack of flexible roles in the marketplace. It's a huge missed opportunity for organisations to tap into new sources of talent and the new skills they will need to recover and thrive during the ongoing economic turbulence.
It would be criminal to squander the opportunity that Covid-19 has offered us to “do differently” at the heart of the way we manage people, engage with customers, to think about what we sell and how we sell it. We do so at our peril.