'Keep flexible work practices post-COVID': new campaign

A Working Families campaign – #flextheUK – to make flexible working the rule, not the exception, gets underway today.

Person with two clocks and family photo
Backed by a survey of over 1,000 UK parents and carers, which shows more than 90% want their workplace to retain flexible working practices post-lockdown, Working Families is calling on government and employers to review and strengthen existing rights, policies and practices.Jane van Zyl, Chief Executive of Working Families, said: "The COVID-19 pandemic has been an enormous challenge for working parents and carers left without childcare. Many have had to work early in the morning or late into the night so they can look after — and in many cases home-school — their children, leaving them stressed and exhausted."Whilst the kind of flexible working parents have experienced during lockdown is far from ideal, what it has done is prove that flexibility can be unlocked in many more jobs than previously thought."

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COVID-19 and the impact on flexible working practices

The survey further reveals that while only 65% of respondents had flexible working opportunities before the pandemic, 84% are now working flexibly. This, says Working Families, bolsters its calls for flexible working to become the norm, rather than the exception in the UK labour market.The charity is thereofore calling on the government to act on previous commitments to ensure that employers are advertising jobs with flexible options as the norm wherever possible, and to help ensure they are taking a strategic, organisation-wide approach to better job design.It is also urging the government to review and strengthen the statutory Right to Request Flexible Working, including reviewing the length of time employers currently have to consider requests.

COVID-19 hastening workplace changes

Of the parents and carers surveyed who weren’t working flexibly before lockdown, one in five (20%) intend to put in a formal request to work from home more in the future, with one in ten (11%) planning to formally request changes to their working hours and patterns, the survey found.The charity’s analysis of the survey results shows that working parents and carers want to see three major shifts in flexible working for the future:
  1. more autonomy to flex their hours
  2. more flexibility over where they work from
  3. a cultural shift in attitudes to flexible working.
The survey showed that some employers are already thinking about making changes to their ways of working. Twenty-eight per cent of parents and carers surveyed said their employer plans to allow more working from home after the lockdown, and 10% said their employer plans to support staff to flex their hours across the working week.Other key findings from the survey include:
  • Of those surveyed who weren’t working flexibly before lockdown, one in five (21%) plan to have informal conversations with their employers about working flexibly in the future.
  • The most common flexible working arrangements that parents and carers reported during lockdown were working more from home (63%) and flexing their hours (52%).
  • 48% of parents and carers surveyed said they planned to make changes to their working patterns to work more flexibly after COVID-19.
  • 13% of parents and carers surveyed said they would like to make changes to their working patterns, but didn’t think it would be an option.

Balancing work and life for everyone

Daniel Turnbull, 38, from Beckenham, London works in the public sector and is married with two boys aged 4 and 1. Supporting the campaign, he says: "I was previously working a nine-day fortnight, but since the pandemic, my wife and I have been splitting up the day to take it in turns to care for our young boys. I’ve reduced my hours to six a day but working every day."One of the biggest benefits for us is that we’ve been able to eat together as a family in the evenings. Usually my wife and I have an hour commute each way meaning we don’t get much time with the boys before they go to bed. Now we’re sitting down together and getting to talk."Once the pandemic is over, I’ll definitely be talking to my employer about working from home more often. I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the expectation that you must spend the majority of your time in the office."Ben Kiziltug, Country Manager UK & Lead International at Personio, and HR software firm agrees: “We’re in the midst of the biggest flexible-working experiment in history. Over the past few months businesses have had a unique opportunity to put new practices to the test."While we don’t yet know what the months ahead hold, it’s clear that flexible working should no longer just be optional. Now is the ideal time for employers to reset thinking around offices, technology and organisational culture, and help businesses move towards a new, more flexible working dynamic that works for all."A study by Personio found that:
  • 28% strongly agree and a further 39% somewhat agree that employees will be reluctant to let go of the increased flexibility and remote working practices we have adopted during the outbreak. 
  • 66% of HR managers believe implementing new work initiatives such as new work-from-home policies will be HR’s most important area of focus to support the business’ recovery and to help it emerge from lockdown in a strong position. 

Leveraging flexible work for productivity, talent management and inclusion

To coincide with the launch of the campaign and #flextheUK Day  – 19 June 2020 – Working Families is publicising its range of resources, including social media and employer toolkits, a Q&A with employment lawyers, Linklaters, and Happy To Talk Flexible Working logos. "It is vital that the government acts to ensure that the progress made around flexible working during lockdown is extended, not reversed, for all parents, and that employers can harness the increases in productivity, talent attraction, and diversity that flexible working will bring to the UK economy," concluded Working Families' Jane van Zyl."We simply can’t go back to a time where long hours and being the last person in the office are seen as a mark of success." 

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