Belfast Telegraph

Back to the ‘Future of Work’

As many businesses are executing or planning a return to a working world which has been entirely redefined by the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be interesting to see how many of the new practices will continue, if there will be a push to get back to ‘normal’, and if turning back is even possible?

I don’t own a DeLorean, but one trend I see no turning back from is ‘flexible working’, which has been emerging over the past decade but has been accelerated by COVID to the mainstream. The necessary shift to remote working for many has highlighted the possibilities and benefits of working outside of the traditional norm of a rigid 9-5, five days a week, office-based structure.  It has also broken the stigma that flexible working is solely for carers or parents. 

According to global research firm Gartner, 48% of employees expect to work from home post-pandemic, up from 30 per cent pre-pandemic. As employees think more about how, when and where they want to work, employers also need to consider their position based on the experiences and lessons learned from this enforced experiment to inform their policy when looking to the next phase.

So what is flexible working? It is not possible have a one-size-fits-all approach for flexible working, as it essentially describes any working pattern adapted to suit individual needs. Although remote working sits under this, it also includes flexi-time, compressed hours, job sharing, etc.

Even before COVID, anyone working at a company for 6 months had the right to request flexible working arrangements, and under the law an employer must seriously consider any application and only reject it if there are good business reasons for doing so. The pandemic has evidently strengthened the case and demand for flexible working, so rather than dismissing this shift, what are the potential benefits if we embrace it?

Flexible working can increase an organisation’s ability to attract talent, as it is one of the top priorities now for employees, it also widens the talent pool for employers when not restricted by geography.

Evidence shows that when people are empowered and trusted to work when, where and how they want, they are more productive, have improved job satisfaction and commitment, leading to reduced absenteeism, and improved wellbeing.

Flexible working can also create greater business agility and responsiveness to change in the 24/7 world we live in.

As businesses go back to the office and imagine the future of work, they will have to consider how to make flexible working a success. They will need to review how supportive processes are and ensure there is clarity through enhanced communications and training, with ongoing monitoring and evaluation to maximise the potential of the new world of work. In the words of Dr Brown, “your future is what you make of it, so make it a good one”.