Covid changes attitudes to telecommuting

Managers are much more positive about flexible working and staff working from home since the pandemic, according to a study from the University of Birmingham.

The report – titled ‘Managing Employees during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Flexible working and the future of work’ – was  undertaken jointly by the Equal Parenting Project at the University of Birmingham and the Work Autonomy, Flexibility and Work-Life Balance at the University of Kent.

Taking the views of 742 managers from across the UK, an array of industries and all levels of management, the survey involved questions around norms for working from home, attitudes toward working from home, trust, key learning experience what tools the organisation supplied to employees to enable them to work from home and what support was made available to the employees.

And the results are good news for anyone who is enjoying at least enjoyed the work from home aspect of this new normal.

How have work from home numbers changed during the pandemic?

As the first academic piece of research exploring managerial experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, this research discovered the following:

  • 55% of managers reported over 80% of their employees have been working from home since lockdown.
  • 59% of managers surveyed said that working from home increases productivity – only 44.1% agreed with this statement before lockdown.
  • 59% of all those surveyed saying that working from home lead to isolation, and other citing issues around blurring of boundaries as key negative outcomes.

Changing attitudes to remote working

One of the most striking findings was how attitudes have changed to remote working.

Whereas some managers may have felt that being present in the office and being seen to be working long hours was key to career progression, this is an attitude that’s gradually changing due to the new normal of working from home.

Many managers also reported that working from home increases productivity, concentration, and motivation due to their experiences in lockdown.

Managers were also sympathetic to the draw backs, with more than half of all those surveyed saying that working from home lead to isolation, and other citing issues around blurring of boundaries as key negative outcomes.

The good news is that most managers now believe working from home will become much more commonplace in the future, with more jobs, including senior roles, being advertised as being available for flexible working and more support being made available for home working.

A steep learning curve

Commenting on the report Dr Holly Birkett, Co-Director of the Equal Parenting Project at the University of Birmingham said:

“The report shows managers are much more positive about working from home and flexible working, than they were before the pandemic.  Managers say their organisations are going to be more supportive of homeworking and flexible working in the future, including more likely to support working from home, job shares and part time working even for Senior roles.

“This change along with the breakdown of the presenteeism culture and the removal of a flexibility stigma, which existed before COVID -19, could help improve employee wellbeing, help to support people to take on caring roles and break down many of the barriers women face to balancing career and family, with the potential to improve female representation on Boards and close the gender pay gap.”

The findings revealed that managers faced a steep learning curve regarding how to manage remote teams, often with little support or guidance.

The good news is that most managers have been pleasantly surprised about the results with their teams generally performing really well during this time. While there have been some performance issues these were generally where this was already an issue prior to lockdown.

Dr Sarah Forbes, Co-Director of the Equal Parenting Project added: “Due to positive experiences of working from home and with flexible working patterns amongst their staff, managers are keen to support more working from home and flexible working in the future. This could take the form of better flexible working policies and tools to facilitate this as well as training being readily available for managers to learn how to better support remote workers in their team. However, we also need to understand working remotely over long periods of time can also be very isolating and that some people much prefer working in an office environment.”

It seems that flexible working is here to stay now though – the genie is out of the bottle and more workers will want to work flexibly in the future. It’s likely to become a more prevalent benefit now that a growing number of managers see how flexible working can benefit companies.

The full findings and wider recommendation of the report will be announced by Dr Sarah Forbes, Dr Holly Birkett and Dr Heejung Chung at a webinar on 26th November 2020 which has been organised by the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business at the University of Birmingham.

How a conference call can help when working from home

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