By Claire Crompton, Director at The Audit Lab
What strange times we live in.
How many times have you heard that in the past three weeks? But it’s true. Our everyday lives have been turned upside down. And one of the biggest upheavals has been felt in the business world.
As Director of digital marketing agency, The Audit Lab, I understand these changes completely. Just before the UK’s lockdown began, we told all our employees to work from home for the foreseeable future. While flexible working has been one of our core policies since we started, this wasn’t the case for many other companies.
There are those out there who insisted flexible working wouldn’t work. How can you possibly manage a team when you work remotely? Juggle your daily task list and a demanding newborn/toddler/sick child? Impossible! Take a sick day or annual leave. No, we can’t give you flexible working because then everyone would want flexible working. Sorry! You can’t work from home today because of “various business logistic reasons”.
Well, the floodgates opened, the carpet was ripped out, and just about everything hit the fan. It was nobody’s fault, and nobody could foresee it, and I’m sure nobody would have chosen it. I’m talking, of course, about the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic currently sweeping the globe.
Pretty much overnight, businesses of all shapes and sizes and across dozens of different industries had to completely transform how they work. When faced with two choices – risk going under or allowing staff to work remotely – even those who laughed in the face of flexible working have no choice but to allow it. And just like that it seems that the working world will never be the same again.
A taste for home working
Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people in the UK will have never worked from home before. But now that they’ve had a taste, they’re going to want to have more. People have started to see the light that is flexible working, and it’s only going to fuel their interest in seeking a better work-life balance. I predict that once we finally start to trickle back into the office, that the demand for flexibility is going to skyrocket. And let’s be honest, companies may have no other choice but to adapt further if they want to keep their talent.
No more saying no
Of course, when we do eventually come out of the other side of this virus, the world will be different in dozens of ways. But in terms of work, one huge impact will, I believe, be how flexible working requests are handled by employers. Firms no longer have the excuses they once did when dealing with someone asking to change their work schedule, whether it’s an ad-hoc work from home day or going down to part time hours.
What this virus has done to the working world is prove beyond a doubt that flexible working, working from home and working remotely can work. There’s no getting around it now.
Better work-life balance
It’s a cliche, I know, so bear with me for a second. This isn’t about doing a face mask or eating a salad every once in a while. I count myself lucky that my commute is a bearable one. Compared to those commuting to a city centre, it’s practically a cake walk. I would put money on city centre commuters not missing squeezing themselves onto a cramped train one little bit.
Once everything starts to (slowly) return to normal, I believe that people are going to start putting their health, and the health of their families, even higher up their list of priorities. I predict, and certainly hope, that we will see a decline in unnecessary work after hours, the switching off of work emails, and generally doing more to combat stress levels. Quality time with your loved ones, and being healthy both physically and mentally will be most important going forward.
A touch of humanity
One thing I have certainly noticed about us continuing to be as ‘business as usual’ as much as possible, is that the professional mask has slipped slightly. Of course, all our employees are as professional as possible when it comes to client meetings done via Google Hangouts or team meetings via Zoom, but the needle on what is deemed ‘acceptable’ has certainly shifted.
When you work from home, anything can happen. Especially if you have kids or pets. I can’t count the number of times a staff member’s toddler – or indeed my own! – has wandered onto camera and planted themselves firmly on a parent’s knee. Kids cry at nothing in particular, the doorbell rings spontaneously, and dogs bark at the postman. But ultimately there is nothing we can do about it; nobody has a choice in the matter.
But because we don’t have a choice, it means that we’ve relaxed our standards a great deal. Everyone wants to see the cute dog. A wave from a chubby handed toddler will make everyone smile. So while we have relaxed around one another a little more, maybe it’ll bring us all closer, both colleagues and clients alike.
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted just how valuable flexibility can be to companies, whether it’s an SME or global corporation. But it shouldn’t have taken a global pandemic for its importance to be recognised.
Flexible working is about so much more than letting someone work from their couch in pyjamas. It’s about ensuring that your best talent has the chance to give you their best work. Whether it’s a mother returning to work slowly after maternity leave, or someone reducing their days for mental health reasons, flexibility benefits all, and it’s time it was recognised.