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Getting the Most from Flexible and Remote Working

Covid-19 has brought a renewed focus on flexible working as we all struggle to adapt to the new normal. However, Covid-19 is not the first or last major disruption we are likely to face in the future and businesses will have to adapt.

Some are further ahead of the curve than others – not only have they embedded flexible working, including remote working – across their organization, but they have also measured and monitored its impact. They have the data on what works and what doesn’t and it is worth looking at what they have learned in the process and any adjustments they have made.

Although remote working is the thing of the moment, it is not just that those employers need to prepare for. The increase in people over 50 in the workforce, demands for greater diversity, rising childcare costs, cuts in social care, the skills shortage and the boom in the number of women – traditionally the main carers – in the workforce all mean that employers and policymakers need to take a more holistic view of work in order to get the most out of their workforce.

Despite increases in automation, societies are still connected by what makes us human – something that the Covid-19 response makes abundantly clear – and that means that work needs to take into account the different pressures on people throughout their working lives. It makes both business and general sense. Moreover, experience and understanding of those pressures make for better companies, products, and services.

Best practice

So what are the best companies doing? Workingmums.co.uk’s annual Best Practice Report, now in its 10th year, presents detailed descriptions and case studies of the winners of workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Awards.

They include Vodafone UK – who talk about their global returners policy which enables those returning to do so on a reduced week at full pay and also their Global Domestic Violence and Abuse Policy which allows anonymous time off for dealing with the impact of domestic violence; London Borough of Waltham Forest – the first large employer to introduce premature baby leave; the Food Standards Agency – who talk about the way they have transformed their workplace culture by trialing and embedding different ways of working through three different contracts – home-enabled, multi-location and office/site based; insurance firm Aviva – recognized not only for its pioneeering equal parental leave policy, but the measurable success this has had; Now Teach – highly commended for its innovative approach to getting people from diverse backgrounds into teaching and promoting flexible working in the profession; motor dealership Arnold Clark – who talk about the way they have changed their shifts, reducing the traditional six-day week for sales staff and bringing in more women and  Independent Living Fund Scotland – which has a highly flexible workforce, many of whom are home-based, and has led the way in tackling issues such as the menopause at work.

Carolanne Minashi, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at UBS, was named Working Mums Champion and she speaks extensively about the challenges and successes associated with embedding a more flexible and supportive culture at the bank, from creating a Global Diversity & Inclusion Council to brainstorm ideas to its innovative returner program which hires returners directly into senior roles. She says of the latter:

“The program brings an increasingly interesting, richly diverse group of people into the organization with a different level of life experience. There is a different quality to them. Our teams are better as a result of having these people in them, asking different questions,” Carolanne Minashi, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at UBS.

Workingmums.co.uk’s recent employer survey shows that, although most employers think the demand for flexible working is likely to increase – and employee surveys show demand across all age groups, over four in 10 [42%] would like more support to implement it. Some of the areas that present particular challenges are introducing flexible working into the frontline, location-specific jobs, and larger SMEs, changing mindsets about flexible workers, ensuring career progression for flexible workers through the development and the provision of flexible – particularly part-time – senior roles and increasing training for line managers in managing flexible teams, including dealing with issues such as the potential isolation of remote workers. Highlighting how others are doing this and sharing views is key to making progress.

All of this may require new approaches to HR, for instance, experts who are able to work on longer-term strategic issues that anticipate changing needs and demands and are able to withstand sudden disruptive currents. What is clear is that employers need to embrace a lifecycle approach and join the dots between the different pressures workers face at different times in their working lives to create jobs that work for everyone.

About the author: Mandy Garner is the editor of Workingmums.co.uk.

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