Is flexible working the future of work?

Kira O'Sullivan
09 September 2020
5 minute read

As some companies prepare to go back to the office, workers will be returning to a very different way of working. Staggered start times, alternating days in the office or compressed hours have all been introduced in some workplaces to help limit the spread of Covid-19. Some employers have even announced they won’t go back to the office until 2021, or… ever. Mark Zuckerberg announced that half of Facebook employees could work remotely within ten years, while Jack Dorsey told Twitter employees that everybody can work from home.

Woman working from home at the yard on her computer

Even before the pandemic, 9 out of 10 employees said that flexible working arrangements were important to them. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the percentage of people who work at home looks set to double from 18% before Covid-19 to 37% afterwards. Welcome to the age of flexible working.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working could involve flexibility about the hours you work, the location, the number of days you work in a week, or more. It could mean working compressed hours (the same total number of hours, but across fewer days), staggered working hours (starting at different times on different days), or annualised flexitime (your hours are calculated per year rather than per week, so that you can, for example, only work during school terms).

What is hybrid working?

When it comes to where you work, there are several kinds of flexible approaches. A fully ‘on-site’ team all report to an office, while a ‘fully distributed’ or ‘remote-first’ team all work from different locations. A mixture of employees in an office and working remotely? That’s hybrid working. Hybrid working gives employees varying levels of choice around when and how often they come into the office.

Sid Sijbrandij, CEO of tech company GitLab, has called hybrid work “the worst of both worlds”. Sijbrandij warns that hybrid working can create a two-tier system, with office-based workers getting more visibility, credit and connections, and remote workers being relegated to the side-lines.

Why embrace flexible working?

We spoke to Cheney Hamilton, Founder and CEO of the FindYourFlex group of sites, about the future of flexible working. Find Your Flex includes Mummyjobs.co.uk and Daddyjobs.co.uk. Cheney shares what her growing candidate base are looking for when they seek out flexible work.

“Our candidates across our Mummyjobs, Daddyjobs & FindYourFlex channels are generally seeking full time flexible roles, where the flexibility is in the start and finish times of their day” says Cheney. “After that, work from home, remote or agile working comes a close second favourite. In third place we see part time job searches, in fourth place condensed hours (although this is hugely popular in our ‘most wanted’ polls – but not many employers offer it!), in fifth place term-time only roles and finally sixth spot goes to job share, but again, that is fundamentally down to lack of opportunity.”

Which industries are embracing flexible working?

“We offer job opportunities across every industry” says Cheney Hamilton. “On our FindourFlex.co.uk platform, we have seen a real uptick from the Hospitality Sector who are now being really flexible with both their returning staff and new hires.”

Who is seeking out flexible working?

The number of women looking for flexible work has been consistently high over recent years, but it’s not just for women. “Our male audience is growing extremely fast” says Cheney Hamilton. As more and more men take on a larger share of parenting and caring responsibilities, could flexible working be the new norm for men and women alike?

For younger workers, location flexibility is increasingly important. Let’s take a look at ‘hybrid working’, the approach that lets you mix working from the office with working from anywhere.

Challenges of hybrid working

Conflict is more likely with digital communication. It’s harder to tell if someone is irritated, angry or frustrated when you can’t see them in person. A raised eyebrow is easy to see in a meeting room, almost impossible to diagnose over a fuzzy video conference.

Visibility. If some of your colleagues are in the same office a few days a week, or they all work in the same time zone, they’re going to have infinitely more exposure to each other and their work.

“That’s why I always try to video rather than voice call my team” says Anna. “When I’m out of the office, I have to work twice as hard to make my achievements visible. So I send a lot of group updates and I try to have casual chats with everyone I work with, over instant messenger.”

Co-ordination can be tricky. If your team is spread out across different locations and potentially even different time zones, getting a meeting in the diary is tough. If your day is just starting as your colleague heads to bed, you may run into trouble.

Remote colleagues can be second-class colleagues. If your company doesn’t invest in the best systems and practices for working together, office-based colleagues can forget about their counterparts further afield.

Relationship-building. If your colleagues are back in the office after Covid-19 and you’re the only one that’s not there for coffee breaks, it can be hard to connect. So much trust and connection is built up through informal time together. In a fully remote team this can also be hard, but at least everyone is on a level playing field. In a hybrid team, some people enjoy water cooler chats while others are stuck using Slack or instant messenger to try to catch up on the gossip and build their network.

Lack of defined arrangements. What does flexible working mean? Is it working four long days, or showing up during core hours only and making up the remainder of your hours when it suits you? Perhaps it’s the freedom to work at any time, or from any time zone?

How to ace hybrid working arrangements

“Communication is key” says Cheney Hamilton. “Make sure your teams are connected via Slack, WhatsApp or Zoom and maintain regular contact throughout the day or working week. Team morale is important whether you are sat at your desk or working remotely”.

But constant communication can be a double-edged sword, says Cheney. “Don’t forget that as a manager, you shouldn’t be riding your teams all day. Trust that the work will get done. Remind your staff that they need to take breaks and have down time too. We know from many recent studies that the office is the least productive workspace, so allowing your staff the freedom to work remotely should give your business every advantage without the need to be quizzing them every 5 minutes to check that they are at their work station!”

“As an employee, you need to know your own strengths! Especially when it comes to getting your work done. You need to ask yourself, ‘can I work from home effectively?’ Even in a kid free home it takes the right mindset to be able to thrive when working from home. My husband can’t do it, he becomes too easily distracted with things that need to be done around the home – but in a shared working space or from the office he is fine!”

Set realistic expectations. “Not everyone can work from home effectively and that’s okay” says Cheney. “Don’t struggle working from home if you can return to an office. Your mental health has to come first.”

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