Beyond lockdown. How will organisations navigate flexible working as restrictions are lifted?

Posted
09/02/2021
Author
Jane Bytheway

The global pandemic forced the issue of flexible working beyond discussion in the board room and into a lived experience across all levels in organisations. Debated for many years with limited progress, government-enforced lockdowns have fast-tracked the journey towards a more flexible, blended way of working. Enforced working from home “if you can” has finally demonstrated that a wide range of roles can be effectively fulfilled outside the traditional office-based model. It has also enabled employees to demonstrate that they can be trusted to get on with the work. In fact, research published by the University of Southampton* in January 2021 suggests that despite the additional / different distractions of children, partners and pets being at home, many people believe they are more productive away from the distractions of the office:

  • 9 out of 10 people felt they got more – or at least as much done at home as they had in the office
  • 7 out of 10 said they want to continue to work at home for at least part of the week after offices re-open

Survey participants were relieved at not commuting, and the financial savings achieved. What they really valued, however, was the time they gained back, and the autonomy they had in choosing how to spend it.

At Oasis, one of the positive consequences of the move to digital working during 2020 is that our community of associates, staff and directors met together frequently online in order to support each other and navigate our individual and shared pathways through lockdown. We shared how we were feeling, what we were learning from personal experience, and themes that were emerging from conversations with clients – two of which relate to productivity and well-being:

Transactional vs relational

Online meetings often lean towards task-driven discussion, creating momentum and a sense of pace as lists and agenda items are ticked off. Great for productivity, and an approach that suits strongly action-oriented individuals. However, people also reported missing those connective conversations that typically happen as we arrive and leave face-to-face meetings, the informal and more personal contact that builds and maintains relationships. Whole person wellbeing allows for both of those orientations, amongst other things -see this blog post from Oasis director, Marion Ragaliauskas, on whole person approaches.

Long days and blurred boundaries

We also heard how people juggling home schooling and work would get up early (5am was not unusual) or work into the evening to keep on top of emails or their workload after taking care of children during the day. Or shifting between different responsibilities throughout a long day where there was little or no time for quiet relaxation away from being “on duty.”

The blurring of home and work life has been experienced by many workers throughout the world, as reported in a study recently published by Massachusetts Institute of Technology**, which found that only 36% of survey respondents establish a “hard line” between when they are working and when they are not.

Watch-outs to consider:

  • How do employers maintain whole person well-being in a hybrid environment?
  • How does digital working impact on the organisation’s culture and internal communications?
  • In organisations that adopt a flexible, hybrid approach in the future, how will employee relationships be sustained over time?
  • How will employers and employees find an effective balance between digital vs office time? What criteria will be applied? Who decides?
  • How far will employee autonomy be retained or curtailed as working patterns change?
  • What’s needed to support employee well-being in this new, hybrid world?
  • What support do managers need in order to develop the skills to support employee well-being in a hybrid world?
  • With more options to navigate, are managers equipped to have difficult conversations when working preferences are not aligned?
  • What approaches and policies will be needed to ensure your organisation is a great place to work?

Every aspect of the employee experience – including how valued they feel and whether they choose to stay, will be significantly affected by the way organisations navigate questions such as these.

*Working from Home under COVID-19: Transitions and Tensions, January 2021″. Downloadable report: https://www.workafterlockdown.uk/

**Leadership’s Digital Transformation, January 2021. Published in MIT Sloan Management Review

Jane Bytheway

Associate

An accomplished and inspiring team and leadership development practitioner, with over 20 years’ experience in enabling individuals and teams to deliver business results whilst also taking care of their resilience and wellbeing.

Jane Bytheway