With the global response to the Covid-19 crisis, amidst many sudden changes to daily life, huge swaths of the workforce have been suddenly told to work from home. For many people, this means learning to navigate a new style of productivity, while also juggling responsibilities like parenting. Over the past week, there has been an outpouring of advice from the more seasoned remote workers among us with tips on how to manage this. Recommendations range from getting dressed for the day, setting manageable goals and avoiding distractions. While there are challenges to operating professionally outside the traditional environment, or working hours, there are also many compelling benefits. For the foreseeable future, we are effectively embarking on a massive test drive for remote working. The implications from this stand to influence the future of work even after the threat of the pandemic has passed.
The 9 to 5 workweek was originally a workers’ rights victory — a much needed reprieve from the outrageously long shifts factory workers faced during the Industrial Revolution. However, society and the nature of work has changed since and the imposed structure of the 40-hour work week has begun to face criticism of being outdated. Calls for the 4-day work week have grown louder. Last year, Microsoft tested a 4-day work week in Japan and found that it led to a 40% increase in productivity. Overall, flexibility has become a greater priority. Irish jobs website, Indeed, reported that searches for keywords related to flexible work, including remote and home working, have risen by 196% in the past two years.
Flexible work gives employees a greater sense of control of their time, and in many cases, saves them money and stress. For employers, offering flexibility allows them to continue to attract top talent, and include more people. Flexible work can be a huge benefit to people with disabilities, caretakers and those who live rurally. Gender also plays a role, as women are more likely than men to cite flexible work arrangements as an important criterion when considering a role. Ireland’s Employmum, began as a flexibility-specific recruitment agency for mothers but have since broadened their mission to help a variety of people and to coach businesses on how to adapt to this rising need. Their motto is ‘Life is short. Work somewhere flexible.’ All this can also improve a company’s bottom line. According to a recent study by Stanford Graduate School of Business, when employees were given the ability to work outside the office, they were 13% more productive. Resignations also dropped by 50%.
Of course, technology has evolved to make remote working options nearly seamless. The expansion of co-working spaces and groups like Grow Remote means that remote workers can still carve out community. The biggest barrier to adoption is corporate culture. Pervasive ‘presenteeism’ in many organisations keeps employees from seeing flexible policies as genuine options to avail of. Some feel too ashamed to ask about them. But this may change. Today, many people across the globe are transitioning to their new ‘home offices’ in the interest of public health. However, businesses should look at this situation with a long-term lens. Use this time to workshop new, flexible, and compassionate models of work, which will ensure an agile workforce for whatever lies ahead.