Three reasons why flexible working is crucial for a smooth (and safe) return to the office, post-lockdown

The government recently announced that the return to the office initially planned for June 21 has been postponed to mid-July due to a rise in the COVID Delta variant. This delay has made many employees question what a return to the office would look like and whether returning to the office is the right decision for them. In this article, we discuss three aspects that business leaders and managers should be aware of as they plan a return to the office, which will benefit everyone in their team.

 

Balancing working from home with a return to the office

A recent study found that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to a return to the office will not work for everyone. According to the study, the most common preference of employees was to continue working from home full time and around 24% of employees would like to work two days per week in the office. Employers need to consider the possibility of a hybrid work model, especially in situations where:

  • The role can be performed when working from home
  • The home environment is suited to working from home
  • Productivity and performance are maintained while working from home

 

The benefits of flexible working  

A McKinsey & Co study shows that 80% of employees enjoy working from home and that 69% of them felt they were as or more productive when working from home.

Flexible working also allows companies to foster greater diversity in their workplace, which is a facilitator of better brand reputation. Offering flexible working conditions makes it possible for employers to recruit people who would not be able to work the typical 9 to 5 office hours or who would be unable to commute to the office on a daily basis. For example, a person with a disability would be able to work from home and occasionally come to the office when absolutely necessary. Flexible working is also useful for working parents who can share child care duties by working from home or working flexible hours.

Aside from facilitating a better work-life balance for employees, flexible working also has clear financial advantages for companies. For example, there is little need for business travel expenses for employees to rise to pre-COVID levels, thanks to the rise in virtual meetings. A reduction in business travel is not only a reduction in expenses but also a reduction in the company’s carbon footprint, which is another important benefit of flexible working.

 

Introducing flexible working

When considering your project plan for a return to the office (assuming you have already equipped your employees to work from home with the necessary technology), your scope is likely to include:

  • Changes to policies such as the introduction of or amendment to your flexible working policy.
  • Employment contracts like embedding flexible working qualification ‘rules’.
  • Talent acquisition such as adding flexible working to ads or looking beyond normal geographical talent pools.
  • Performance management.
  • Learning and development.
  • Induction and onboarding by introducing virtual classrooms and other remote learning options.
  • The environmental impact of your buildings and re-thinking the purpose of the space.
  • Planning a COVID-safe return which may include software to facilitate desk booking, health declarations, and track and trace.

Many employers have found that the cohort struggling the most are supervisors so you may want to consider guidance/training such as:

  • Leading teams who are working remotely.
  • Mental health and wellbeing.
  • Digital upskilling by providing workshops on how to use Teams, Google Meets, or Zoom.
  • Technology and management information.

Flexible working will deliver significant benefits to employees and employers if deployed effectively.

 

John WilkJohn Wilkinson, the author of this article, helps companies by leading business transformation (often digital) for them. Find more details here.

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