Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Is “Flexible Working” Actually Achievable in a Climate of Job Insecurity?

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How often have we heard the phrase “flexible working” during 2020? From the kitchen table, couches and armchairs, though to decks, caravans and garage offices, New Zealanders have been getting the mahi done from anywhere and everywhere as we’ve all done our part in the fight against Covid-19.

What used to be considered impossible was proven very possible as the bulk of our workforce worked from home, and many of us got used to – and even preferred – it. But now that most of us have gone back to ‘normal’, we’re craving the best of both worlds – in short, that much-thrown around word, flexibility. As HR expert Kirsty Anthony writes for Capsule, it’s the unicorn of work-life balance – but is it possible in a post-Covid world? 

“Before Covid-19 I was given a brief to write a policy on flexible working. The brief was clear. “We want a policy, but, not really a policy. More like a document that just describes our way of working. Something that shows that flexibility is just something we do around here. It’s just part of who we are as an organisation”. 

As we think about this “part of who we are” following lockdown, it’s fair to say the perceived value of flexibility has increased, with work-from-home and video calls being pushed into the spotlight and being a key part of the new normal.

Recent discussions with a senior member at a large corporate described the corridor conversations with peers and other employees since returning to the office, and the consensus appears to be that being physically in the office five days a week is just not something people want to do anymore. Avoiding the commute, getting outdoors, fitting in personal tasks or even spending time with the dog are some of the reasons people have come to embrace flexibility. 

Over the last few years, the need for flexibility has been at the top of graduates’ wish-lists, and as we look to the future we can expect this to continue to be at the top of job-seekers and existing employees requirements.

Before Covid a lot of us were focused on getting ahead – striving for the next job title, the next pay rise – and the compromises that this may have meant were accepted as par for the course. Now we can expect to see a longing for more balance between home and work, inspired by all the time we spent in lockdown.

Realistically though, what does that actually mean for employees? In a climate where job security is front of mind, can we really afford to be out of the office despite everything we’ve learned? 

When working from home, the need to be seen to be delivering is more important now that it has been for the last couple of months, as workforces return to the office.

One employee I spoke to stated that he feels the need to prove to his boss and others how productive he has been throughout the day when working at home, another said they deliberately choose to work on things at home that they’re able to share and make visible, suggesting the threat of job cuts has put the new normal on hold for now. Managers have had to adapt to trust their employees and output has never been so visible. 

“Before Covid a lot of us were focused on getting ahead – striving for the next job title, the next pay rise – and the compromises that this may have meant were accepted as par for the course”

With the inevitability of numerous job losses, Covid-19 has opened up opportunities for people to consider a career change, set up their own businesses or just take a break from their busy careers. 

How can managers assure their teams that their work is valued and they don’t need to focus their energy on proving their worth?

If you’re a manager, undoubtedly you will have been getting used to connecting with your teams in new ways, and now is the time to reassure your employees that they’re doing a good job, and that you understand the position employees are in and are conscious of the increased stress that this can cause. It is important to provide support and a listening ear at this time. 

With flexibility being so specific to individual you need to work out what is best for your role, organisation and your team while balancing the home life and needs of your employees. Because there really is no “one size fits all”, trust and open communication is as important as it’s ever been. 

What works now may not work in the future, so keeping communication channels open builds an atmosphere of trust – and then flexible working will become ‘the way we do things around here”.

So what would a flexible working policy be if it was written right now? Due to the fluidity of our current work environment there is no one rule that could fit an organisation now that would last 12 months. It needs to be inherently flexible. As businesses look to rebuild, it may even make sense to have people together right now. Maybe the best approach on flexibility is actually… to be flexible.”

Kirsty Anthony established Point HR Consulting last year following a requirement for flexibility after working full time and being away from home. She is now working from home full time and works with a variety of clients across different industries providing HR support, advice and guidance. For more information go to www.pointhr.co.nz

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