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The new normal

Can we shape our 'new normal' to create a work pattern that is fit for purpose? With 73% of people considering flexible working in a post-pandemic world, is this an opportunity like no other to make fundamental changes to the way we work?

In my blog below, I look at what a flexible future might look like on the other side.... 

“The new normal”; it’s a phrase being coined across the whole world right now. But, as we navigate our way through the current global pandemic, what does “the new normal” really mean? How do we learn from the past to create a future with a more meaningful and fulfilling work-life balance?

The 9-5, eight-hour working day, made popular by Henry Ford in the 1920’s, is no longer fit for purpose. Despite the technological and cultural advances over the last 100 years, many employers have failed to modernise their working practices. Inflexible office hours, long commutes, and business trips away from family, have been the norm for many of us.

Fortunately, before COVID-19, things were starting to slowly change and more progressive employers were open to increasingly flexible ways of working. Forward thinking companies were clear about their purpose and had an aspirational vision aligned with their strategy. They were communicating and engaging with their workforce by proactively utilising new technology to pivot to a new reality.

But no matter what the “old” world of work looked like before this unprecedented pandemic, it’s clear it will never be the same again. According to the IWG’s 2019 Global Workplace Survey, 73% of people in the UK consider flexible working the new norm.  Employers now have an opportunity to embrace the changes they have already made, to how, when and where their employees work during the pandemic. Companies need to think strategically about their purpose, core values and culture in order to remain relevant and competitive in the future world of work.

So, what is “the new normal” and how do companies transition to a more flexible way of working? We all have a unique perspective on what the future of work should look like but it’s those differences that employers should be focusing on to attract talent in the future. The employee experience has never been more important and, underpinning this, is the way in which organisations connect, engage and communicate with their people. Flexible working plays a significant role in the happiness of employees. Gartner has predicted a 10% boost in employee retention when employers support a “choose-your-own-work-style” culture.

“Companies need to start from a position of trust”[i]. As the world of work changes, so too do the attitudes and expectations of the workforce. The demand for flexibility is greater than ever and, after what is probably the longest flexible working trial period in history, employees are going to start to expect flexible working practices to stick around. If we treat employees as the adults they are and trust them to use their judgement, “they’re more likely to behave responsibly and be more productive, creative and forward thinking”[ii].

Employers have been forced to make flex happen with nearly 50% of adults in employment working from home as a result of the social distancing measures[iii]. It’s important to note that flexible working is not just about working from home as it incorporates a range of other working practices such as part time hours, job sharing and flexi-hours to name just a few. But, as employees have (in the main) experienced greater autonomy during the pandemic, there really is no going back.

The advantages of flexible working are mutually beneficial for both employers and employees:

– 79% of employees have said they’d be more loyal to a company if they had flexible work options[iv].

– Flexible workers have a higher level of job satisfaction and commitment, and are more likely to increase discretionary effort compared to those who do not work flexibly[v].

– Reducing office-based roles releases costs and companies can save an average of nearly £7000 per year for every employee who spends half of their time working remotely[vi].

Along with a wider and more diverse talent pool, increased staff retention and improved health benefits, the advantages of flexible working far outweigh the challenges of implementing it. So how do we continue to embrace flex in the future? What should companies be focusing on to embed flexible working for good? Below, are some suggestions;

  1. Live your Purpose – Be clear about what you stand for as a company. Don’t just talk about it. Live it. Embed it in everything you do.

  2. Accept differences – Design work for wellbeing so employees can bring their best selves to work. Ask your people what they want from work and what’s important to them so that you can create a truly unique experience that connects with individual values and ambitions. Think about your employees as customers with different values, needs and aspirations. Customise and tailor your employee experience to stay ahead of the competition.

  3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate – The most successful Companies communicate consistently and with transparency. Use technology to help you create virtual communication channels enabling your teams to stay connected wherever they are based.

  4. Review and reflect on policies and procedures – This is an opportunity for HR to change the rules and to re-brand themselves. Advertise all roles as flexible and think about job descriptions based on outputs rather than long “to do” lists. Involve your staff to experiment with new ideas.

  5. Use tech to help you – Most companies have had to quickly adapt to new ways of working over the last few months due to the increased social distancing measures. Employees are now using technology to communicate and collaborate with each other thereby enabling a fundamental shift in how and when work is done.

Increased flexible working is going to change work culture as we know it. We are living through a new era of work as employers and employees alike are embracing the benefits that flexibility can bring us. Flex is not going away – it’s here to stay!

[i] HR Disrupted, Lucy Adams

[ii] HR Disrupted, Lucy Adams

[iii] ONS, April 2020

[iv] Dizzion

[v] CIPD

[vi] Global Workplace Analytics

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