'Business as usual' during a pandemic: why remote working and flexibility have never been more vital to business success.
With the uncertain nature of COVID-19 and government advice to practice social distancing, remote working has become a hot topic amongst the global workforce, a conversation which is long overdue. Forward thinking, employee-centric companies have long been challenging the office based nine-to-five routine, recognising that in today’s increasingly connected, 24/7 world, people crave flexibility to work around their own lifestyle more than ever.
From Finland contemplating a 24 hour working week to large firms heavily investing in paternity allowance - even the advent of ‘pawternity’ leave – it seems employers are finally beginning to acknowledge this desire for a more flexible approach to a work/life balance, but we have a long way to go.
People seek flexible working options for any of reasons; far from the typical school-run commitments, Millennials and Generation Z are increasingly exercising their desires to travel more, run “side-hustles”, or simply manage their own time around hobbies and interests. Combine this with a growing recognition that performance should be measured on output, not hours, it begs the question: if your role doesn’t need to come with fixed hours, why does it matter when and where you complete your tasks?
This is especially true for roles in creative spaces and those involving high levels of analytics and problem solving. Whereas a factory or call-centre shift is measurable by the amount of time in a shift to cover equipment or desks, task-based roles should be measured on output against a deadline rather than the number of hours it took to get there. Despite the desire from employees to adopt a more flexible approach to when - and where - they get their jobs done, many employers are slow and reluctant to make the required policy changes, which, as the current crisis is revealing, can have devastating consequences.
Remote working can be problematic for many employers, with trust a major sticking point. There will always be those few people who take advantage of such arrangements, using time away from the office not to work, essentially taking free days off, and employers often view this as the norm, tarring everyone with the same brush. Yet in the wake of COVID-19, we see those who have failed to adopt agile working and cloud-based systems struggling to keep their businesses open, making it clear that something needs to change.
InfoSec People MD, Chris Dunning-Walton, believes that this approach is entirely backward:
“It’s better for that occasional person to take advantage of a culture of trust than to create an environment of suspicion and negativity. If people want to work from home, in my experience it is because that is the best place for them to work, for whatever reason. Some people have childcare commitments or are waiting in for a plumber, others simply prefer to get their heads down out of the office – I know I do some of my best work on train journeys with my headphones in. It doesn’t really matter why; I trust my team to do the right thing and I know that they will choose to work in the space that will make them the most productive.”
If you want to promote a culture that encourages remote working, as an employer you must ensure that your team have the tools they need to effectively do their jobs away from the office. Moving towards cloud-based systems such as Office 365 or Google Drive and providing laptops universally will make it that much easier for employees to maximise their efficiency when based at home, on a train, or in a coffee shop. The capital outlay is more than offset by productivity. During this period of social distancing, there have been tales of employers bundling staff into taxis with computer towers and monitors, hoping they will be properly reassembled in houses and subsequently losing innumerable man hours and output, not to mention the security risks associated. We simply picked up our laptop bags as usual and headed home, ready to carry on as normal the next day minus the commute.
Agile working is not just about where you complete your work, but when, which is why flexible and remote working must go hand in hand. In industries like recruitment, there can often be a requirement for working evenings and weekends, be that speaking to candidates outside of their own working day, catching up on admin or attending events. Whilst our team expect a certain amount of variety in their hours, if they’ve missed a weeks’ worth of gym classes or not been home for dinner for a few days, we encourage them to make some time for themselves, whether that means slipping off a little early or getting in a little later after an event, as Senior Recruiter, Jess, explains:
“Most people I speak to work within security-cleared environments, which usually means they aren't allowed access to public communications during the working day, so I find that a lot of my work is typically done on evenings and weekends. This is why we have pretty flexible working hours as well as the infrastructure to work from home.
“I personally think that recruitment should be one of the industries leading in flexi and remote working due to the fact that we can obtain knowledge from the many companies and candidates that we speak to and use that knowledge to implement the best working environments.”
Being a flexible employer in this climate is paramount, extending to the reduction of hours or days . Flexibility surrounding the number of hours worked will help retain great talent, whereas refusing these requests can see a loss of high-performing staff as their circumstances change; importantly employers need to view their teams’ lifestyle choices as valid whatever they may be.
“Side-hustles” are an ever growing trend, particularly in the younger half of the workforce, with the rise of social media and sites like Shopify and Etsy making it increasingly easy to monetise hobbies. Whilst some employees may just want a day a week to work on their knitting ‘empire’, with no intention of ever making it a full-time job, some will be desperately trying to forge a career from their passion. Let them. By denying the flexibility to both excel as your employee and work on their future dream, you will lose out; their head will be with their passion and they will become disillusioned and despondent. Rest assured that a budding entrepreneur won’t ditch the daydream for the day job, they will likely leave and find another job which will indulge their needs. Beyond that, in supporting employees in all areas of their career and development, you will be rewarded through their loyalty and commitment to you when they are there.
Importantly, Flexibility should also allow for flex. Too many employers use the term incorrectly, with ‘flexible’ meaning ‘different to standard’, rather than fluid. If a flexible worker has a change to their schedule, allow for workarounds such as making time back in a different week, or banking days where they worked over to meet a deadline. COVID-19 has seen employees all over the country who work reduced hours scaling up to ensure a smooth transition to remote working or firefight where their companies are being negatively impacted. Coming months will see childcare issues as schools shut their doors and employers must try to accommodate this too.
Why should employers be moving toward flexible and remote working options?
- As COVID19 has demonstrated, emergencies happen. If a member of your team broke their ankle and couldn’t drive in for six weeks, that’s a huge loss of productivity it they can’t work remotely. In this instance, mass remote working has highlighted so many areas for improvement across the workforce, from the security risks of hurried and unsecured networks to loss of output and lack of communication. Employers need to be prepared for these incidents ahead of time.
- Employers who refuse to switch to a more agile approach are missing out on potentially incredible candidates. When InfoSec were looking for new recruiters, we crossed paths with Nick, who was based in Bournemouth – some three hours from our office. Rather than passing up the opportunity to work with a skilled recruiter who aligned with our vision and values, Nick works remotely. Similarly, where a candidate’s commute is over an hour during rush hour, but 20 minutes outside, allow them to work the hours that suit them, or work remotely.
- The world of work is now almost entirely digitised, meaning there is constant access to information anywhere in the world. Those entering the workforce now are digital natives who find it hard to accept a dated approach to work/life balance, having grown up in a 24/7 world. Those who don’t adopt agile processes risk missing out on the best talent entering the workforce today.
Not every business is able to offer flexible and remote working due to physical and temporal factors, but for those who are able to accommodate the needs of their teams and reflect the desires of the workforce at large, it is time to rethink how you operate and attract the best talent in the market. Not sure where to start? We can help. Get in touch on 01242 507100 or firstname.lastname@example.org