When Boris Johnson said that working from home isn’t productive because of the ‘distractions of cheese and coffee’, and when Lord Alan Sugar came out and said that the pandemic has ‘unleashed a workshy, entitled culture in which people demand — and are allowed — to work from home’, there’s perhaps no surprise that the business world divided into two.
On one side we had those who rooted for flexible working and on the other side, we have those who began to question whether this post-pandemic way of working was truly as innovative as it might have sounded 24 months ago.
Whichever side you may be on, one thing is for certain; employers are finding it hard to strike the right balance.
On one hand, we’re finally breaking down the ingrained stigma around flexible working that was rife pre-pandemic. Even if you left your desk dead on 5pm, there would likely be a few grumbles from other members of staff. This has completely disintegrated in the past two years.
On the other hand, we’ve got productivity challenges and culture issues. Some fear that we may have a generation of workers who aren’t being nurtured or developed as they start their careers because they are working from home and aren’t benefiting from the wisdom and guidance of those around them.
In my opinion, the concerns some employers hold about the progression of their staff if working fully remotely are valid. However, I struggle to agree with employers who are questioning the trust they have for their team when they work remotely.
In August 2021, two-thirds of employers still didn’t trust their teams to work from home and with comments such as those recently made by our political leaders, the matter isn’t going to be helped.
But trust – or a lack of it - is not a concern for staff. This problem lies with leaders.
If employers are questioning the trust they have for their teams, then they must look inwards and understand whether this is a potential insecurity they have in their own leadership or problematic communication streams which have not been improved and adapted for this post-pandemic world.
How big is the demand for flexible working?
Indeed, nearly 6 in 10 employees want flexible working as a perk at work over any financial reward. Furthermore, nearly three-quarters of respondents in the same survey said that they believe that having an office space will eventually be considered an employee benefit rather than the usual way work working. Nine times out of ten, a lack of trust is not warranted, and may be extremely detrimental to the retention of top-quality talent.
Additional research has shown that nearly half of all UK employees would consider leaving their current roles if flexibility wasn’t on the cards. This rises to 60 per cent for those aged 25-34.
The figures are clear, flexible working models are already the expectation from most employees – especially those in younger demographics. Undoubtedly, it will soon become the normal way of working for the most innovative and forward-thinking businesses. In tandem, these businesses will surely outrun their competitors and be able to poach top talent.
Times are changing for the working landscape, and there’s certainly no going back to how things used to be. It’s crucial that business leaders work hard to be part of that change or run the risk of being left behind.