What are the gains?
Increased communication between leadership and teams, and the same with peer to peer communication is one benefit of the work from home experience. But leaders, particularly those who worked in more traditional structures before the pandemic, are searching for ways to sustain the new levels of transparency.
New approaches to flexible work, compelled in the first instance by the lockdown, are now an opportunity for more conservative workplaces to become employers of choice through designing and implementing new flexible work policies – not just flexibility to work remotely but for one’s work structure in terms of days, or hours worked or buying flex leave.
“There’s more to flexible work than giving someone a laptop and saying, work wherever you want,” Lovegrove says. “People have done well to make changes, and to adapt quickly, whether that’s moving entire workforces to remote working within days,and doing so in some instances where there wasn’t even a strong IT platform to support that move,” he says.
“For others, it’s a dawning realisation that contrary to what you assume, there may be a large cohort of workers who don’t want to return to the traditional office environment.” Or, for that matter, that a traditional office is what businesses should be aiming for.
Even without the onslaught of changed behaviour and operating models brought on by the current pandemic, there is considerable value for organisations to be perceived (and act) as forward thinking and flexible. Those requiring all staff to be in the office all day, every day, risk being viewed as dinosaurs that will be left behind in a rapidly shifting work environment.
“We have organisations that were already looking at $30 million projects to rethink everything from provision of HR services, to how to better listen to their people, break down silos and business units, and re-think their workforce structures. And, crucially, the skills they need, not just for the post-pandemic world but new skills full stop,” Lovegrove says.
“You’d assume that’s something organisations would put on hold, but we’re seeing some bring the start date for wholesale change forward. It’s that cliché of in for a penny, in for a pound.”
Comfort in the familiar
While the opportunity for a reimagined workforce, and workspace is enticing, EY partner and psychologist Dr Juliet Andrews cautions that flexibility has been on the agenda for a couple of decades and while there’s been some success, there is still a strong cultural bias in our institutions against flexible work.