Flexible working: learning from the pandemic

A CIPD update confirms organisations and their employees have diverging opinions on hybrid and remote working. It offers steps to bridge the gaps with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Hybrid working model due to covid-19 pandemic. Work from home or remote or in-office. A sticky pad with the words Home, Office and Hybrid written on it
A number of surveys published in recent weeks have identified a mismatch between employees' desire to continue to work from home for at least some of their working week, and employers' desire to get more people back in the office.The CIPD's latest research updates its 2021 study, Flexible Working: Lessons from the pandemic. Of the 1,000 employers surveyed, one in four (25%) employers want their employees to be in the office/on site all the time. Meanwhile, 39% of the 2,000 employees surveyed would like to work from home all or most of the time going forward.The figures also show how productivity or efficiency has jumped significantly over the past year as remote working become more embedded. In December 2020, a third (33%) of employers said homeworking had increased their organisation’s productivity or efficiency. In October/November 2021, this rose to 41% for hybrid/remote working.
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Designing DEI into hybrid and remote policies

With increasing numbers of employees heading back to workplaces for at least some of the time, and amid increasingly different views between employers and employees, it’s important organisations consult with their people when designing hybrid working practices to benefit both the organisation and individuals, says the professional body for HR and people development.In line with its call at the annual conference and exhibition at the end of 2021 to carve out a human-centred approach to work in the new normal, the CIPD is urging more collaboration so hybrid and flexible working practices are developed and implemented in an inclusive way that offers more choice to all.Currently, just under half (46%) of employees say they do not have flexible working arrangements in their current role, this despite becoming eligible for the right to request it after six months in the role.Both employers (48%) and employees (24%) are also concerned about potential inclusion risks that could arise from a move to increased hybrid or home working, including concerns about being treated less favourably than workplace-based colleagues.Offering advice on how to bridge the gap equitably, the CIPD says organisations should have clear and transparent policies that outline eligibility and access to hybrid working. These should also focus on the principles of equality to ensure all employees have the same opportunities for learning and development, reward and recognition, regardless of when and where they work, or their role/level of seniority.

The CIPD believes a day-one right to request flexible working would help boost the number of people using a variety of flexible working arrangements – such as part-time working, compressed hours, or job shares – and has been calling for this change through its #FlexFrom1st campaign since February 2021.

Agile HR and a consultative approach to flexible working practices

The CIPD’s latest research shows an increase in employers supporting a day-one right to request flexible working. Over half (56%) also appreciate the importance of mentioning flexible working in job advertisements.“It’s great that many employers are embracing the benefits of more hybrid and flexible ways of working,” says Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Adviser for resourcing and inclusion at the CIPD. “However, it’s really important that they work collaboratively with employees to find solutions that work for both the organisation and individuals. This is a crucial moment for flexible working, but a mismatch on expectations and an adhoc approach could set back progress.“Consulting with employees is a big part of developing inclusive hybrid and flexible working practices. Employers who listen and are open to testing, learning and adapting will benefit from a more diverse workforce and the ability to retain and attract a wide range of talent. This is particularly crucial at a time where the labour market is so tight.”As well as the survey, the CIPD’s update draws on four case studies: Blood Cancer UK, the Sovini Group, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and Standard Chartered Bank. These show how employers in different sectors have approached remote and hybrid working. It also looks at types of flexible working arrangements and shows how this relates to:
  • job satisfaction
  • productivity
  • work-life balance
  • health and wellbeing
  • staff retention and recruitment
  • inclusion and diversity. 

The CIPD's five recommendations for employers around introducing hybrid and flexible working practice

  1. Adopt policies that enable a day-one right to request flexible working and publicise this through job advertisement wherever possible.
  2. Raise awareness of the spectrum of flexible working options, including compressed hours and job-share.
  3. Consult and collaborate with employees when designing hybrid working practices. Design clear and transparent policies and principles around eligibility and access, as well as systems to monitor access and decision making in an ongoing process of review, improvement and adaptation.
  4. Ensure hybrid working supports inclusion, especially around learning and development, reward and recognition, regardless of where people work from.
  5. Provide line managers with training on how to manage hybrid teams effectively, especially around performance management, communication, collaboration and relationship building. 
“Everyone should have the chance to benefit from more choice about when, where and how they work," says Claire McCartney. "This can lead to increased wellbeing and engagement, and enhanced performance, all of which can lead to the productivity gains many employers are reporting.”

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