In April this year, we conducted a poll on LinkedIn to gauge the feeling around flexible working ahead of lockdown easing. A whopping 71% of respondents said they wanted “complete flexibility” around returning to the office.
But now we are effectively out of lockdown and things are beginning to return to normal, are attitudes changing?
There has been a huge amount written about the future of office work and goodness knows how many polls and surveys on the matter. Big business has been split on the issue with the likes of Goldman Sachs preparing all its staff to return to the office and boss David Solomon previously describing the home working boom as "an aberration". In contrast, rival firm JP Morgan have said it is planning for "significantly" less office space.
In big tech, policy is equally as divided. As far back as May 2020 Twitter told its staff they could “work from home forever” and Facebook has hailed remote working as “the future” whilst at the same time being accused by its content moderators of forcing them back to the office.
Apple has also faced push back from staff over its proposed plan for a return to the office, with staff demanding more flexibility.
So, is the flexible working bubble about to burst? Were many companies simply paying lip service to the idea and now reality is biting?
From the surveys we have conducted and from the huge number of conversations we have with candidates, there is no doubt that the overarching desire of employees is to have flexibility. The problem comes when businesses look to deliver complete flexibility whilst maintaining culture, productivity and collaboration.
Other, larger socio-economic issues are also starting to be questioned in relation to flexible working. Significant benefits have been identified from the working from home, a better work –life balance for employees to increased productivity and the environmental benefit of less commuter travel.
But there are also concerns. It was recently reported by the Guardian that increased working from home policies may have a detrimental effect on gender equality for women, with many becoming less “visible” to employers than their male counterparts. For flexible working to be fair, the onus is on the employer says Katy Fridman, founder of talent platform Flexible Working People.
“There has to be encouragement across the board [for flexible working] from seniority to entry-level staff and whatever gender, so there isn’t a disparity, or this could very well set women back.”
And just this week LinkedIn are reporting on evidence from the Tony Blair Institute that remote work could see “6m million jobs lost” - with many white-collar roles being offshored.
However, like anything there is ebb and flow and the increase in remote working has seen an increased need for digital skills, development, and software to support it.
This feels like a bigger issue than simply something that can be put down to a post Covid fall out. We are looking at seismic socio-economic changes which will impact whole generations, industries and nations.
The difficulty now for employers and indeed workers is making short term decisions about something we do not know the long-term impact or forecast for.
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