The recent shift to working from home and flexible hours came of necessity in response to COVID-19. Many organizations around the world have decided that while the restrictions are easing, there are many aspects of this new and often more flexible way of working that are worth retaining. The immediate day-to-day and business impact of these changes looks set to stay high on the agenda for some time to come. As the Scottish government tests a four-day work week and an ONS survey suggests older workers with the option to work from home will retire later, we’re also starting to see some really interesting indications about the long-term impact of these changes. Maybe.
Systematic changes in the approach to remote work
According to data released by the Office of National Statistics, in 2019, only 26.7% of the UK workforce reported working from home. Following the COVID-19 epidemic and legal restrictions forcing a shift towards remote working, by April 2020, the proportion of employees working from home had increased to 46.6%. While the percentage of the workforce working full-time remotely is likely to decline after UK countries relax their legal restrictions, it is generally accepted that permanent office work is unlikely to return to the UK. pre-pandemic levels.
The low percentage of workers who had worked remotely before 2020 reflects the previous systematic bias towards homeworking. Full-time office work was generally the norm, with all remote work, even part-time, tending to arise because of a specific business or personal need. Employees often had a specific reason for working from home, in many cases related to their own health or family responsibilities, the latter of which frequently resulted in a gender imbalance among those who worked from home. Employers were less likely to actively encourage homeworking, and may have been hesitant about its effectiveness from a workforce management, customer service, and IT perspective. In any case, if you were working from home before March 2020, people were generally wondering why. This question now seems obsolete.
Many employers embrace flexibility to promote recruitment, retention, well-being and performance. Employees reported that working remotely allowed them to enjoy a better work-life balance in a way that suited their personal circumstances. Rather than seeing the possibility of working from home as a luxury, or something relevant only for a small group with specific needs, for many workers it is now an expectation. For the first time, a large portion of employees have been working from home for an extended period, allowing employers to see more clearly the impact of this style of work. Because Homework 2020 was born out of necessity, it had to work, and the employers who could make it invested in it to make sure it does. He was adopted from top to bottom. Day to day, we see a level playing field that was created with video calling becoming the default for meetings, allowing people to call from anywhere and have the same presence. Both companies and employees have also developed teleworking systems that go beyond purely temporary measures and allow long-term hybrid work. And, in industries and roles where remote working is not a viable option in the long run, that decision may be based on evidence rather than feasibility assumptions.
The impact of teleworking on seniors
By adding flexibility to the working system, workers are increasingly able to work in a way that suits them (even if this means moving to another role where the flexibility they seek is offered). We know that those who suffer from certain health problems and family responsibilities have already benefited. Interestingly, a recent ONS study suggests that being able to work from home may also encourage older people to work longer. The study focused on the early exit from the labor market (i.e. before the statutory retirement age) of workers aged 50 and over. He found that in 2019, 13.8% of people aged 50 were economically inactive, rising to 51.9% by age 64. The reasons for leaving the labor market early are often related to poor health or family responsibilities. The study suggests that this has implications for the wider economy, noting that it has been estimated that while the employment rate of those aged 50 to 64 matches that of those aged 35 to 49 , that would add more than 5% to UK crude. domestic product (GDP).
The ONS report says that in June and July 2020, people with a long-term illness, disability or disability who work from home were more likely to say they now plan to retire later (10.9%) compared to those who did not work from home (4.9%). In addition, at all ages, those who work remotely have a lower sickness absence rate than those who never or only occasionally work from home. Employers should always ensure that staff do not feel pressured to work when ill and continue to report sick leave when it affects their ability to perform their role. The shift to hybrid work could be an opportunity to retain a skilled and diverse workforce now that the option of working from home has removed some of the traditional barriers preventing some older workers from continuing their jobs.
Flexibility in working hours
Flexible working isn’t just limited to the workplace. We have also seen discussions in recent years about adding flexibility to the number of hours worked. Different models of shorter work weeks have been tested globally as part of a larger shift to restore work-life balance for employees. Some countries have focused on restricting out-of-hours business emails and ensuring a right to disconnect. This month, IPPR Scotland published a report recommending expanding the four-day workweek pilot program in Scotland to cover more sectors and non-administrative roles. The report found that 80% of those polled believed that reducing their working days without loss of pay would have a “positive effect on their well-being.”
This follows a number of global trials of a reduced work week. Perhaps the most successful example is Iceland. As a result of a pilot program between 2015 and 2019, it is now reported that 86% of the Icelandic workforce has switched to shorter hours for the same pay or will be granted the right to do so. These workers reported feeling less stressed and said their health and work-life balance had improved. Employers may not need to be too alarmed by this change, as the researchers said productivity remained the same or even improved in the majority of workplaces involved in the trials.
It should be noted that the concept of a reduced work week has been discussed at length for a long time, with little or no substantial change (at least in the UK). However, as we’ve all learned, meaningful, long-term change is clearly possible, even if there is a lag between the initial catalyst for change and the long-term benefits it creates.