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Business And Careers Flexible Working Remote Working

If your employer hasn’t embraced Flexible Working, ask yourself why?

The historian David Schama once said that “History never repeats itself exactly.” Yet here we are in December 2021 facing identical challenges to the ones we faced on the run up to Christmas last year.

There’s a new variant of COVID-19 on the loose, social distancing restrictions have been put in place and everyone is waiting for the Government to make an announcement in a few days’ time that will dictate whether planned celebrations and family gatherings can go ahead (I’ll say “gatherings” not “parties!”). Despite Schama’s words, I feel a very real sense of deja vu!

Driving Home For Christmas

One of the biggest changes to have happened in recent days is the reintroduction of the ‘Work From Home’ order in England as part of the Government’s move to ‘Plan B’ (bringing England broadly in line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). My wife and I watched the No10 briefing last week as Boris Johnson made that announcement. I then turned to my wife and said:

“Employers simply have to embrace remote, flexible working. We just don’t know how long this is going to go on for.”

While many employers have embraced more flexible working practices, it’s not a completely rosy picture. Over recent months, various employers had said they wanted staff back in the workplace.

Among them were Goldman Sachs, Future Publishing and JP Morgan. KPMG had just announced it wanted staff back in the office four days a week when Plan B was introduced.

When Employers Don’t Fully Embrace Flexible Working

Of course, these are big employers. Anecdotally, I’ve heard of smaller employers coaxing, nudging, persuading and pressurising employees back to the office.

Employers in this position need to reflect on their working culture and ask why they are behaving like this? Why are they so wedded to making employees commute to a desk and a computer in an office when most people have desks and computers at home?

Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen that remote, flexible working really does work. Yes, there are exceptions such as the manufacturing sector, but for the most part, we’ve not seen the possibilities, we’ve experienced them. Employees are often much happier working this way and a happy workforce is a more productive one.

Why Isn’t Your Employer Accepting Flexible Working Into Their Culture?

If you are an employee, and your employer was demanding you come back to the office, you need to think about the culture of the place you work. At the very least it suggests your employer has learned nothing from the pandemic and has an outdated approach to its operations.

Historically people were concerned about the tech not holding up, but we’ve seen that it works. Let’s not forget, a group of NASA scientists landed the Perseverance Rover on Mars while working from home! If they can do that, why can’t you work remotely and just visit the workplace when necessary?

The focus should be on results and productivity, not on your presence in the office. Just because you’re sat at a workstation in an office doesn’t mean you’re being productive. It suggests the employer doesn’t trust their staff and if you don’t trust your staff, it says a great deal about your recruitment process.

Pandemic Priorities

Let’s get back to the reintroduction of Plan B and the impact of the pandemic. Since September 2020, there have been numerous variants of COVID. We’ve had: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Eta, Iota, Kappa, Lamda and of course Omicron.

If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that there will be more variants. No, I don’t mean to be a doom monger. If there’s one thing I want to see, it’s this pandemic to come to an end.

Unfortunately, that looks unlikely any time soon. If an employer is making a sweeping statement about wanting you at your desk while an ever-changing virus is still sweeping the globe, you have to wonder what their priorities are. It certainly doesn’t seem to be the well-being of staff or staff retention.

Talent Flourishes Under Employers With Flexible Working Culture

The reality is that employers who have embraced flexible working will attract and retain the best talent. Individuals who work this way have been given agency and autonomy and know they are trusted.

I think there will be a brain drain away from the dinosaur businesses who want you in the workplace as often as possible. Those are the old ways and those employers who haven’t seen and accepted this face a very limited future.

To read from more great things from John, check out his piece on who you and your employer need to recognise that; Remote Working is Not Working From Home.

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Remote Working

Remote Work is Not Working from Home!

One of the most misleading statements I’ve seen banded about during the pandemic is that it’s going to lead to huge changes in the world of work. I’m even guilty of saying it myself.

If we seize the opportunity presented to us by remote work, it will be a lifestyle revolution. It’s a more inclusive approach that enables more women to enter the workforce, opens up career paths men traditionally wouldn’t consider, opens up job opportunities to those with disabilities and it removes the need for us all to be tied geographically to a workplace. At the centre of this revolution is the ability to work remotely.

The Reality of how people view Remote Working

The reality, however, is that most people think of remote working in a very limited way. Employers and employees alike confuse remote working with working from home.

Why are we limiting ourselves this way? Remote work should really be about where you are at a given time. Assuming you are producing the work expected of you, does it matter whether you are on a beach in Brazil, a Parisian café or sat on a bench on Wigan Pier? You could be working from anywhere and your home office is just one location.

If I think back to my working life, I was, many years ago, a travel journalist. Among other locations, I filed news reports from The Seychelles, the Hilton Hotel in Toronto and conference centres in France. In many respects, that job was the ultimate in remote work. Hold that thought, I’m going to come back to my travel journalist days in just a moment.

The Remote Work Pandemic

The introduction to remote working for many people was during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Many employers were forced into accepting this way of working, but remote working during a global health pandemic is not what remote working should be.

Restrictions on movement meant the only place most people could work was their family home. Added to that, many people were having to oversee the remote schooling of their children while also doing the day job.

What the pandemic has done is shown us that remote working is possible. My brother-in-law made a fascinating observation on this point. He said:

“Imagine if every IT department in the country was told: ‘On 23 March, you’ve got to make it possible for every employee to be able to work from home.’ They’d have said it can’t be done.”

When it was forced upon employers, IT departments made it happen. We’ve seen that remote working is perfectly feasible. We’ve also seen that when men are released from a long, daily commute, they do more at home (Check out the fatherhood Institute’s Time With Dad campaign for more on this).

Remote Work Anywhere, so long as the Work gets Done

Yet when people talk about remote working, they only ever talk about working from their home. If they’re being really innovative, they may talk about working from a local café for an hour or two.

Remote working should be possible from anywhere. If it’s a glorious day and you fancy working from the beach, why not do it? Fancy catching a ferry to France and having lunch in Calais? Why not plug your laptop in and work during the crossing? Got to visit family in Aberdeen? Don’t take a day off work, catch the train and use the journey time productively.

We must not be limited by the experience of remote working we’ve had during the pandemic. The pandemic set the bar very low. The idea that you can only work from your office or your home is simply an extension of the culture of presenteeism. If accepted and adopted properly, remote working could free us all up to work from anywhere.

Remote Working does not mean Flexible Working either

I shall leave you with one final thought. Back in those days when I was a travel journalist, I worked all over the world and filed content from wherever I was at the time if needed. This aspect of remote working was never called into question. It was a part of the job.

Interestingly, I can’t ever recall working from home when I had that job. I can’t recall any of my colleagues working a single day at home either. To be honest, the culture of the place didn’t permit or encourage that kind of thing. If you were in the United States and had to email something back to the office, that was great but woe betide you for wanting to work from home because it would have made it easier for you to attend a medical appointment.

Isn’t it fascinating that my employer at that time had such an approach? Unfortunately, I think many employers still do and that’s why it’s vital we sing the praises of remote, flexible working and good job design. I, for one, want to join that choir!

If you what to read more from John, check out his take on if the media is driving divisive culture.