POSTED Friday 15-10-21
Is the 9-5 Working Week Dead? The Rise of Flexible Working
When the pandemic hit in early 2020, there was long-lasting uncertainty over when, if ever, employees would be able to head back into the office. Some missed the company of their fellow colleagues, but as the pandemic droned on, people became more and more accustomed to working from home in their newly and personally adapted workspaces. More than just being able to rock up to your laptop in pyjamas, working from home meant less time, money, and energy spent on commutes; longer lie-ins; and more control over break times and lunches. (I, for one, was grateful for fewer limp salads and messy sandwiches). Many workers were quickly swayed by the benefits, as they realised the home could offer a productive and convenient place to work.
As we move into a greater sense of normality, with vaccine passports allowing more audaciously virus-spreading events to go ahead safely, there are pertinent questions about the efficacy of returning to offices, even if they are safe again. This isn’t to say that workers want no time in the office: the four walls of any room, even your own, can become claustrophobic at times. Further, it’s certainly true that some find working from home less than ideal due to particular circumstances (for instance, having little to no solitary or quiet space for meetings, etc.). The possibility of either, or both, means that there is now always a bit of a question mark over what will happen for employees emerging in new roles.
What candidates are keen to know from the get-go, then, is what sort of flexibility companies and organisations are going to offer. The 9-5 working week has proven itself not only unnecessary, but inefficient too. This is especially the case for output jobs; if the work that needs done gets completed at home before the end of the workday, this frees up more time for employees to get some fresh air, do some dishes, or attend to family members without the restrictions and implicit pressure of constant productivity that an office space imposes. In my personal view, as long as the employee is adding value, I don’t particularly mind where they complete their work: be it at home, in a coffee shop, or even abroad. I myself have enjoyed being able to step outside, plug in my earphones, and have calls or meetings while out for a brisk stroll; funnily enough, I often find others doing the exact same on their end of the line!
Convenience and wellbeing are at the heart of this flexibility, but it has wider sociological benefits too. In the interests of gender equality, for example, if an employee needs to collect their kids from school in the afternoon but is free to work later in the evening, why should they not be able to do so, especially if that work can be completed from home? While the pandemic has of course had many adverse effects, why not take the opportunity to cast aside old norms, and grant greater flexibility to workers and families whose wellbeing will benefit?
As an employer, now is the time to consider and draw up what kind of flexible working you would like to offer. Studies have shown time and time again that a four-day working week, for instance, results in similar or even greater levels of productivity as well as a vastly improved sense of wellbeing for workers. With this in mind, you can be more open to offering a four-day working week, knowing that it will attract new recruits without impacting your productivity or output. Now is also the time to consider and ask about the amount of time spent in offices; it might the case, for instance, that you find team morale is boosted when one or two days a week are spent at the office, where you can physically get together and discuss ideas and share resources. You might decide to offer working from home where it suits the individual needs of your employees, or you may need to make it clear from the outset that a position requires the employees’ physical presence at the workplace, depending on the role. Establishing this early on in the recruitment process is becoming more important for candidates, and in my experience, it ranks higher on their list of concerns than salaries or benefits (!).
Ultimately the decision is yours; what I would recommend, however, is to draw up a plan of what you intend to offer in terms of flexibility, as this may make or break a candidate’s interest in the company. Will you have the flexibility to work some evenings instead of mornings, for instance, and will you have two days a week at the office? Although it may take a while to figure out exactly what will suit everyone, it’s important to recognise that it is not only your employees that will benefit from greater flexibility and work-life balance; your organisation too will become a happier, healthier, more productive space for everyone. After a year and a half of lockdowns, poor health, uncertainty, and grief, a more flexible work culture is needed now more than ever.