How COVID-19 Will Reshape Flexible Working

How COVID-19 Will Reshape Flexible Working

In the space of a few short weeks, the world has changed in a profound way. COVID-19 has impacted every corner of our lives, and in the midst of all this uncertainty, one thing is clear: it definitely isn’t business as usual.

As the pandemic has deepened, many organisations have responded by implementing new remote working policies, driven by the need to keep businesses running while keeping people safe.

As the weeks in quarantine have ticked by, we’ve all settled into new working routines. We commute from our bedrooms to the study, dining table or couch. We stay connected over video calls and instant messages, try to hit KPIs and carry on as normal. Despite the circumstances, we’re making work work for us in the best way we can.

But things aren’t normal. And while it may look like it, this isn’t flexible working in any shape or form — this is the most inflexible form of work the world has seen yet.

Yet when the pandemic passes and we slowly return to normality, many companies will have the tools and infrastructure — and the option — to implement true flexible working as part of their culture. The question is: How will the state of work change in the world post-COVID-19 — and will these remote working policies remain when the pandemic has gone? 

As we found in our Employee Expectations 2020 report, employees globally — and across multiple regions, sectors and generations — are already expecting work to work for them. When we dive into this data by generation and industry, we can see exactly where employees are making their voices heard.

Employee expectations on flexible working grew 18%

Over the past year alone, employee expectations on flexible working grew globally by 18%, with terms such as ‘WFH’ and ‘flexible work hours’ rising in prevalence in employee comments.

However, when we look a little deeper at our data, we can see which generations, industries and countries are leading the charge for this expectation.

Generation Z employee comments on flexible working grew 36%

While we saw growth across all generations for the flexible working trend, we saw the biggest growth among Gen Z employees with a 36% increase in employee comments. Just one generation up, the Millennials followed them with a 34% increase — with both generations seeing an increase two to three times that of their peers.

Raised in a time when the internet and smartphones became mainstream, Gen Z and Millennial employees don’t see being out of the office as a barrier to completing their work. Their tech literacy means that they place a high value on being able to work from anywhere, and they appreciate being given the tools and the autonomy to do so.

Together, Millennials and Gen Z are estimated to make up 60% of today’s workforce. Businesses that don’t respond to this rising expectation right from the hiring process and placing their ad risk failing to attract new generations of talent.

Employee discussion on flexible working grew 52% in the Transportation sector

All sectors are not created equal when it comes to flexibility — and it’s the sectors that don’t have the option of flexible working that are making their voices heard on this topic.

Over the past year, employee mentions of flexible working related topics grew 52% in the Transportation sector, and 51% in the Consumer sector.

From shipping services to the shop floor, many employees in these sectors perform roles that are site-specific in their nature, making it impossible for them to take advantage of flexible working policies.

As ride-hailing companies such as Uber have proven, flexible working can be possible in the Transportation sector under a gig economy. The question remains: Would employees be willing to trade their job security for increased flexibility?

Employees in the UK and Germany are most vocal on flexible working

Local culture and geography can have a profound impact on the way we work. We only have to look to Finland, which implemented a new flexible working law just this year, to see how some countries are driving the flexible working trend in new, people-forward ways.

Employees in the UK and Germany are the most vocal countries overall on flexible working, with over 2% of comments over the course of the year focused on this topic. New Zealand, however, saw the greatest increase in employee comments on the topic, with a year-on-year rise of 44% — which was more than twice that of the global average.

The Finland model may be too radical for some, but it does serve as a timely reminder that while working culture may differ from country to country, the flexible working trend is global. In organisations with large, distributed workforces across multiple regions, understanding this expectation and responding to it in a way that is inclusive to all will be critical to engage and retain their workforce.

How you can respond to employee expectations on flexible working

Our data makes it clear that flexible working is now longer a perk, it’s a necessity. And as we return to normality once more, we can only expect this expectation to grow. 

Now that employees have had a taste of working from home, and organisations have seen that they can maintain a productive workforce without the need for daily face-time, it’s likely that employees will expect more flexibility.

So what can organisations do to embed a more flexible working culture moving forward, and make work work for their people?

The key will be technology. Many organisations now have the tools, infrastructure and knowledge to successfully implement new remote working policies. In a post-pandemic world, businesses will need to build on the contingency plans they established during this time to establish more robust policies and help each employee flourish at work while balancing the demands of their personal and professional lives. This may require role redesign, changing working hours or patterns and implementing a job-sharing system.

However, providing the tools is one thing, building the culture is another. As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, flexible working is about more than allowing your people to work from home — it’s about fostering an environment where autonomy and mutual trust can thrive. This can only be achieved through maintaining two-way communication. Now, more than ever, businesses need to pay greater attention to the needs of those working remotely, listen to their feedback and be proactive in finding viable solutions.

Do you know what your employees expect at work in 2020?

As our data shows, understanding your employees’ expectations is critical if you want to retain your best people and attract a new generation of talent. 

This post represents a small snapshot of the findings from our full Employee Expectation Trends 2020 analysis. However, our research revealed three additional employee expectations for this year — expectations that are well within your reach to meet.

To find out the key trends for 2020 and how you can meet them, click here to download the full report.