The co-founder of the flexible working conferences talks to us about agile working after Covid, and the role dads play in pushing for less rigid working arrangements.
“Companies that weren’t interested now want to talk about flexible working,” says Madeleine Cole, co-founder of flexible working event Flexpo. “Covid has certainly eased the challenges around flexible working, because to some extent everyone has had to meet them head on.”
In six short months Covid has turned the world of work upside down. Many of us have been unwitting participants in a huge global experiment in working from back bedrooms and kitchen tables. Lockdown has eased, but if the half-empty offices and commuter trains of the last couple of weeks are anything to go by, many of us are in no hurry to get back to normal.
Flexible working attracts talent
Part of that is down to fear of the virus, of course, but most experts think there’s something else going on too. Covid has accelerated trends that were already in play. As Madeleine says, “the pandemic has speeded it up, but flexible working is something employees were already asking for.”
HR professionals have known for some time that offering flexible working contributes significantly to meeting recruitment and retention targets. That’s likely to be even more true after Covid, but as Madeleine explains, flexible working is about far more than just working from home.
“Remote working – at least some of the time – can be one part of a flexible working policy, but it can also mean, for example, working from 7am to 1pm, or doing five days of work in four, or working term time only. These are all variants of flexible working that employees increasingly want.”
Employees want them and many organisations offer some or all of those alternatives, but they don’t always get it right. “Having a flexible working policy isn’t the same as genuinely offering flexible working,” says Madeleine. “Paying lip service to flexible working isn’t enough.”
Judged by results
That will only become more true over time. Younger generations look to work for more than just money, and they value freedom from the constraints of a 9-5 work life. Generation Z workers in particular are not driven by cash alone, but by experiences and the chance to be involved in something they see as worthwhile. They also want to be judged by results, and not by how many hours they spend behind a desk.
Another trend driving the concept of flexible working is men who want to be more involved dads. “Dads want to be more hands on, and we’ve certainly seen more dads asking for flexible working,” says Madeleine. “Dads no longer want to miss every significant moment in the early life of their child. They don’t want to be stuck at work every day for bed and bath time or, later, for school pickup.”
Offering REAL flexible working
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All these trends point in only one direction, and that is towards more organisations offering real flexible working options. But there are still challenges ahead. “It takes leadership to make a flexible working culture,” says Madeleine. “What flexible working really needs is a high trust culture, where nobody thinks that working remotely, for example, is an easy option, or that dads who leave early for the school run are getting an easy ride. In fact if anything Covid has shown that working from home can actually mean working more, and that’s not sustainable.”
There remains a certain negativity about homeworkers, employees who fit five days of work into four, and parents who only work during term times so they can be at home when their children are off school. The sense that only those who put in the hours at the office or workshop can be really committed to the cause is still pervasive in many British workplaces.
Dads want to be more hands on, and we’ve certainly seen more dads asking for flexible working
Flexpo aims to change attitudes
Madeleine started Flexpo in part to change such attitudes. Flexpo is really two separate events. The first, which happens this week (16 September), is the Flexpo Business Digital Summit, aimed at business leaders and HR professionals. Its goal is to help businesses “understand how to navigate and steer through the rapidly changing world of work.”
The second is the Flexpo Digital Summit on November 4, which is aimed at “facilitating the connection between those wanting to continue to work in a flexible, open and forward-thinking way, with employers and opportunities offering a variety of choice across a spectrum of industries and skillsets.” DaddiLife is a partner of this event.
Flexpo launched last year as an in-person conference, but both of this year’s summits will be held virtually. Madeleine believes events focusing on the positive benefits of flexible working are needed now more than ever.
“Covid has been a big shock to everyone, but it’s also an opportunity,” she says. “We don’t know when the pandemic will be over – a second wave is already a distinct possibility – or what may emerge. One thing’s for sure, though. Agile companies will be in a better position to tackle a second wave of Covid or any other crisis. Flexible working policies will mean they can recruit and retain talented people, and also that they will have the processes in place to change their working practices without losing productivity whenever they need to. More than ever, flexible working is an idea whose time has come.”
Find out more about Flexpo and register for either of this year’s events on the Flexpo website