Flexible working arrangements post-COVID are likely to remain, say experts
During COVID, most of Rachel Wright’s IT support team was working from home, but she soon ran into logistical issues.
- Many experts think flexible working arrangements are here to stay
- They are considered an essential option for a growing number of employees
- Some companies offer incentives for office workers
“I find we always need to have one or two people in the office…because we get a lot of deliveries, someone always has to be there to accept them,” she said.
“And employee communications, it’s easier to just talk to the person next to you.”
She has now mostly brought everyone back to the office.
But she also wants to give her employees flexibility where she can, and they can still work from home in certain situations such as school holidays or days when they just need to do some life administration.
As the COVID pandemic recedes, Ms. Wright is one of many business owners trying to find the right balance between meeting organizational needs and giving workers the flexibility they expect.
Employees, employers not always on the same wavelength
Research from the Melbourne Institute in July this year found that many workers and employers disagreed on what the parameters for working from home should be.
Some 61% of workers said they have tasks that can be done at home.
But while 88% of workers wanted to spend at least a few days at home, only 49% said their employers would accept a hybrid working arrangement.
Melanie Atkinson works for Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) and helps design projects that reduce carbonization.
Partly for this reason, she enjoys working from home two days a week, which helps reduce the environmental impact of car travel.
But she also appreciates the flexibility that allows her to be more involved with her two young children.
“For me, it’s about being an integral part of my kids’ lives and being able to pick up and go back to school, but also being able to flex between some thought work that you have to do at home, but then, you know, face-to-face time in meetings,” she said.
“I’m going to help them get ready for school, take them to do that drop off, and then I’ll come back here, so I’m only 15 to 20 minutes late,” she said.
“Whereas if I have to drive to work after school is out, I don’t come in until after nine, which means I can extend my working day from here, instead of miss the other end of the day.”
She is one of a growing number of workers who will settle for nothing less than flexible work options.
Employee expectations are changing
FMG’s Managing Director of Leadership and Talent, Jackie Oates, believes flexible working is here to stay, with the company seeing a 30% increase in such arrangements.
“We are clearly seeing in the market that a number of our potential candidates expect flexible working hours,” Ms Oates said.
She sees flexible working as important to support workforce diversity.
“We’re actually seeing an increase in the number of women joining the Fortescue team, and I’m sure flexible working plays a very important role in that,” she said.
But like a number of big companies, Fortescue also offers office perks like a wellness center with yoga and meditation classes and an in-office crèche, in a bid to keep workers coming back for at least a few days a week.
“We were actually really encouraged when the COVID restrictions were lifted, we actually saw that our team members really wanted to come back to the office,” she said.
“What we’ve seen emerge is a true hybrid working model where people have the option to work from home, but they also enjoy coming into the office and connecting, interacting and collaborating with their team members.”
The cost of living plays a role
Organizing expert Scott Fitzgerald said the current economic climate is influencing workers’ desire to stay home.
“Particularly during this cost of living crisis, it’s attractive for many people to work from home and avoid travel costs, parking costs, that sort of thing,” he said.
And he believed that creating effective workplaces wasn’t as simple as just putting people face-to-face.
“Organizational culture is based on trust, respect and work-life balance. So if organizations can provide that kind of flexibility, they will provide a much better organizational culture,” he said. declared.
But seeing the impact on businesses that depend on municipal workers, some governments are pushing for a return to a more traditional way of working.
WA Premier Mark McGowan is encouraging people to return to the city, citing psychological benefits.
“I know I’m old fashioned, I actually think there’s big benefits to be gained from people talking to each other, looking each other in the face,” he recently told ABC Perth.
Working from home “a huge and natural experience”
Darja Kragt, professor of psychology at the University of Western Australia, said that while mental health problems had increased during the pandemic, it was not yet clear why this had happened.
“Was it just the social isolation of working from home, or was it because it was COVID and it’s a pandemic and it’s raging out there and people are feeling stressed and anxious?” she says.
“Working from home, we’ve had this huge natural experience over the past two years.”
Dr Kragt said the benefits of working from home included the ability to negotiate your own time, be closer to family and manage work-life balance.
But there were downsides, including social isolation.
“COVID working from home has been forced, so I think autonomy is really important to consider here,” she said.
“We need to give people autonomy of choice.
“What they want to do, what works best for them, what’s the flexible mix and negotiate that like [an] individualized approach.