Possible, flexible futures

If you read this blog regularly you will know that I am a big advocate of flexible working. In recent weeks I have seen it suggested that we will never go back to the old ways of working, that the case for remote working is now made, we will all be flexible workers now.

I am yet to be convinced.

Firstly, let us not conflate flexible working and remote working. Working from home is just one way that people can work flexibly, outside of the default 9-5 model. Secondly, we also need to acknowledge that what we are doing now is neither remote working or flexible working – not in any typical sense anyway.

Remember toom that research shows that there are strong biases against flexible workers, and these are unlikely to have gone away over night.  The current situation has challenged some of the myths about flexible working (technology being the main one) but many of the barriers and stereotypes remain.

When an organisation moves towards flexible or remote working it usually does so in a strategic, organised way. Thought is given to ways of working, equipment, communication, manager training and support. It isn’t normally something that we do with notice of just a day or so. It does not usually involve trying to simultaneously home school children, cope without a decent workspace, manage increased levels of anxiety, support friends and relatives with care or practical matters and cope with restrictions on our lives and freedoms.  We are not working from home, we are working during a crisis.

There is a potential different future on offer. There are certainly indications that there will be an increased demand for flexible and remote forms of working now that people have realised just what is possible. There is another future however. One where the old ways pull us back in strongly. Where the desire to manage once again by presence will return. Where those managers who have personally had a difficult time whilst working from home will simply return to turning down requests using that personal experience as evidence.

The business case for flexible working is strong. It is about talent, engagement, wellbeing, inclusion and sustainability. It can contribute to solving some of our big problems – if we let it. And that is the key. If we want a more flexible, remote future we cannot assume that this situation will deliver it to us on a plate. We will need to craft and create it.

HR – time to step up.

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