Lovewell’s logic: Could Coronavirus alter flexible working in the UK?

With Coronavirus now firmly front and centre in UK consciousness, businesses are well underway with preparing for staff to work from home, where it is feasible for them to do so. For some organisations, this will be the first time they have incorporated remote working into their business strategy.

Setting employees up to work remotely for the first time can be a huge task in ensuring staff have access to the necessary equipment and systems to continue to work as usual away from the office. According to a poll of 81 HR directors by Incomes Data Services, just 4% said they have the ability for their entire workforce to work from home. A further 58% said that a quarter of their workforce at most is able to work from home. Obviously, remote working is not an option for some job roles, organisations and sectors.

Culturally, employers may also find that they have some work to do ahead of implementing remote working to ensure staff are aware what is expected of them, particularly in terms of output. Anecdotally, some of the press releases we have received this week suggest that some employers have experienced members of their workforce perceiving any periods of enforced remote working as additional paid holiday. Clearly communicating exactly what is expected of employees, therefore, is vital.

Ensuring line managers are fully prepared for managing a team working remotely is also crucial for business continuity and effectiveness. Managing a team in this environment can be very different to managing individuals that they see on a regular, if not, daily basis.

As well as monitoring productivity and performance, line managers should also consider how such a working arrangement may impact on an individual’s mental and social health, due to the lessened opportunities for social interaction. Carefully considering how to foster team communications while remote working can go a long way towards addressing this; for example, managers should consider encouraging individuals to pick up the phone to speak to one another, rather than simply relying on methods such as email or messaging systems.

The logistical demands are staggering, but this begs the question: if implemented successfully, could an enforced period of remote working be a game changer in the long term? If organisations are left with no choice but to move to such arrangements, could this sidestep some of their previous preconceptions around barriers prohibiting flexible working?

Ultimately, if remote working arrangements prove these can work successfully, will this be case enough for organisations to offer greater flexibility around working patterns and locations on a more permanent basis?

Debbie Lovewell-Tuck
Tweet: @DebbieLovewell