Flexible Working – A Blended Approach

Merilyn Speiser , 20 February 2021

COVID-19 has been a game-changer in the world of work, with enforced remote working prompting a reassessment of the way we do things. Merilyn Speiser from Catalina Consultants explores the lessons of lockdown.

COVID-19 means more people are choosing to work from home than ever before. In fact, for some, thanks to lockdown and government restrictions, there is no other option but to work from our place of residence. Merilyn Speiser discusses the issues.

But, even when we’re permitted to be out of the home and in the office, we need to take a blended approach to flexible working rather than making it an all-or-nothing thing style. Here’s why.

What are the rules around working from home?

Flexible working was once considered a perk in many organisations. Then it became the law. The Fair Work Act 2009 gives employees the right to put in a request to their HR department or management. These situations might include caring for young children or people, an elderly relative or someone with a disability, those experiencing domestic violence or anyone over the age of 55.

Since COVID-19 has struck, the human resources landscape has flipped. Suddenly many employers had no other choice but to offer employees flexible working. In some circumstances, coming into the office wasn’t an option. Or posed a work and safety health risk.

Many people have become accustomed to working from home. They don’t want to commute, get caught up in face-to-face workplace meetings or miss out on the opportunity to work in a way that’s more suitable for their lifestyle.

The business case for flexible working

The good news for employers? This shouldn’t be problematic. And, as someone that specialises in human resources, I can see a serious business case for flexible working. Allowing people to work from home can actually help attract and retain talent. Studies have shown it can also improve morale and job satisfaction, lifting productivity rather than hindering it.

Importantly, where there’s a strong culture of working from home, it can encourage workplace diversity too. You’re more likely to see women in leadership roles and bridge the gender divide – so much so that Bain has called flexibility one of the enablers for gender parity.

The lessons of lockdown and beyond

We’ve seen the framework of remote working really define itself during COVID-19. Back in March, Zoom meetings were something of a novelty. (For many people, seeing the boss in their athletic gear for the first time was enough was a strange experience). Now it’s just a fact of life. Businesses are also now seeing increased productivity. Employees are getting the satisfaction of greater autonomy and work satisfaction. They’re also finding it easier to get do their work on their terms rather than when it’s demanded of them.

The downside of working from home

It’s clear that working from home can have drawbacks. In some cases, we’ve lost the social connection we have with our workplaces – something that can be good for the business as well as for our own mental health. We’ve also lost the chance to form those mentoring and coaching relationships, which can impact growth and opportunity for employees.

With a lack of visibility, employees are needed but have ‘gone missing’. And, for those of us who need structure, there can also be a struggle with focus and setting priorities. This can be compounded by the blurred boundaries of home life, where everyday life can begin to interfere with our work.

Finding the balance

It’s this next phase that counts for flexible working. The lessons of the past six months will come together and employers will need to define how their workplace will operate in the future. And it’s here, where it’s important to find balance.

After all, while working from home has brought about obvious benefits, it’s not ideal for everyone. Those with families, living in shared accommodation or even simply not having access to a home office may struggle. Therefore, avoid making working from home compulsory.

A better approach? Offer the opportunity to work from home as part of a potential blended working week. It’s also important that you don’t just consider working from home in isolation. Staggered, reduced or compressed hours will still have their place and you can combine these to create a work situation that will benefit everyone. Be sure to continue with all the same tools you’ve built up over the last little while, especially the technology. Nothing is more important than communication.

What to think about when setting up your work-from-home workforce

When organising your work-from-home workforce, it’s important to address the downsides. How are you going to manage feelings of isolation, a lack of motivation or the difficulties prioritising?

Structure and routine are still important. Without taking away the autonomy, it’s important to set expectations. Agree on a set time daily to check-in, have regular meetings and phone calls. And, while it might work for you as a business owner, be mindful that this might not be possible for all employees. For example, don’t set a daily 5.30pm call if teams have a family and can’t speak.

Health and wellbeing matters as well. Encourage employees to leave home from time-to-time and get the exercise they need.

Merilyn Speiser is Principal Consultant at Catalina Consultants, which can assist with setting up the systems and procedures necessary to implement flexible working long term.