Has Remote Work Changed the Scope of Flexibility?
04 Aug 2022 3 mins read By Andrea Amato

Assessing the role flexibility has on organisational culture today. 


Flexible work initiatives have supported organisational strategies a long time before the pandemic, namely for its benefits in addressing work-life wellness and praise for inclusive practices. Nowadays, remote jobs have swept away our previous notions of flexible work, encouraging a working atmosphere that mainly takes place from home. Professionals from across the globe have voiced their opinions on remote work, in that it doesn’t seem to negatively affect productivity levels, leading to the developments of a new model of work altogether. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly wrought havoc on businesses and individuals worldwide, creating novel meaning to why flexible initiatives are needed. Many working parents had to not only adapt their own workstations, but they also had to create a space for their children to learn schooling online. Others had to adapt their roles to facilitate that of a carer in order to attend to vulnerable parents. Some contracted the Covid-19 infection, resulting in long-term absence from work without clear understanding in planning their return. 

With the above circumstances in mind and depending on the resources available to organisations, new flexible workplace practices were amended to suit employee needs as we navigate the pandemic’s lifespan. Whilst it is important for organisations to accommodate the present needs of employees, flexible work procedures should not be constructed to solely support this period. Rather, initiatives should be planned and created to sustain the workplace well after the pandemic remits, as eventually new practices will come to take its place.  

There are several reasons to support flexible work arrangements, with research demonstrating its effectiveness in inclusivity, improved productivity and wellbeing, support sustainability, and help retain employee talent. As a result of the pandemic, many organisations are looking toward maintaining or improving their current initiatives, particularly in support of a remote first attitude. This will lead working from home a forerunner in flexibly minded business models. 


How do we perceive flexible working today? 


Flexible working encompasses a wide range of initiatives that supports employee’s flexibility on how long, where, and when employees work. These include work from home jobs, reduced hours, part-time jobs, and so forth. Sometimes, flexible arrangements are intertwined with company policy, expecting employees to engage in these initiatives. For example, many organisations offer jobs where employees can choose a day per week to work from home.  

Nowadays, flexible work has become an organisational norm. As lockdown measures and regulations ease, organisations are now looking toward a future of work that remains largely remote. This hybrid model, for example, will incorporate a mixture of days worked in an office environment and from home. Although the want to sustain remote work is generally agreed upon, certain details such as the division of days between the office and home is yet to be concretely decided. Rather, organisations are adapting their current business models to suit their own needs whilst following the latest remote trends. 


Supporting remote work short-term 


As the pandemic progresses, we need to keep in mind the unique experiences it brings in order to adequately support our employees. Although we should consider flexible practices that will sustain the workplace for the long-haul, we need to apply measures that accommodate employee needs today. During this period, the following can be implemented: 

  • Effective communication so that updated company guidelines and other relevant information is received from employees working from home and in the office, 
  • Support to maintain remote jobs, including training initiatives to supervisors, 
  • Combat social isolation though regular meetings with employees, 
  • Ensure employees feel supported and have a safe space to voice their concerns, and 
  • Workloads are manageable and realistic given the circumstances, where these are subject to amend where needed. 

Due to the uncertainties wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic, there may be instances where employees require a leave of absence or other adjustments to their working contract. For example, as a result of novel family responsibilities, employees need to work on reduced hours in order to upkeep their tasks sufficiently. Whatever changes that need to be made should be mutually agreed upon by both manager and employee, and these changes should be set in writing. Managers should be trained to accommodate flexible work initiatives in order to ensure these are fair and consistent across employees. 


Long-term recommendations for employers 


Current research indicates a general want for remote work even when the pandemic subsides. Numerous reasons attest to this, namely, levels of productivity remain optimal if not higher when employees work from home. Other potential benefits such as improved work-life wellness and less commute time to and from the office are further reasons employees prefer a remote working lifestyle. Employers are noticing the benefits of remote jobs, too, and believe the new norm of work will surround a hybrid model. 

Nevertheless, many individuals struggled to balance their responsibilities and others became redundant because of the pandemic. It is worthwhile when, exploring potential opportunities to support employee needs follows both individual adjustments and organisational goals. This collaborative effort is necessary to sustain an organisation whilst amending models to suit current workplace trends. The following flexible amendments can include: 

  • Attending to work-life wellness: as previously mentioned, many individuals have adopted a carer role, be it as a parent or looking after vulnerable family members. For these reasons, employees may require amendments to their present working hours, to be able to balance between work and carer tasks.  
  • Reskilling and upskilling your workforce: the pandemic showcased a digital skills divide, where some employees struggle to keep up with the latest technologies to support remote work. Nowadays, employees want to grow in their roles and a pivotal way to achieve this is by upskilling.  
  • Being prepared for life’s emergencies: employers knowledgeable about workplace flexibility will understand that sometimes, employees suddenly require time off to support personal circumstances. This could be due to personal loss or illness, and organisations should fairly accommodate employee needs when these arise. 
  • Touching base with your employees regularly: as many employees work from home, it can be difficult to know whether they are struggling with personal or work matters. There are also fewer social opportunities where employees can share their experiences or seek guidance from peers. Ensure that as an organisation, communication remains an utmost priority, and there is a conscious effort to dedicate time to listen and cater to employee needs.  

To summarise the above so far, remote work is no longer considered an added job perk, but the workplace norm. Further, we expect many industries to continue remote first initiatives long-term, shaping the working society as a whole. However, the Covid-19 pandemic is not over yet, leaving managers and leaders alike the onus to ensure employees feel supported as they navigate constant work routine changes. 


Fostering a positive organisational culture 


The organisational culture of a company pivots values and norms employees align with. Depending on what the values are, these help amend policies and other practices to ensure stability and commitment as the company and employees develop. Although some companies implemented remote policies as a result of the pandemic, many organisations have yet to implement concrete strategies in planning a way forward. This article presents some ways organisations can begin planning work initiatives that prioritises inclusivity and flexibility. 

Because change can affect people’s attitudes and belief systems, amending organisational culture can take time. Leaders should not let this derail them from constructing changes in an organisation, rather they should carefully ensure amendments are well-thought-out and maintains a framework of trust. Ultimately, if an organisation is supportive, inclusive, and prioritises the wellbeing of its employees, clearly set policy amendments will attest to the transparency and positivity of a workplace culture, eager to assist in people development long-term.  

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