The pandemic has “fast-tracked significant changes in ways of working for many people”, according to researchers at think tank the Institute for Employment Studies.
Rosie Gloster, senior research fellow and James Cockett, research fellow, argue in an analysis that in early 2020 the right to request flexible working covered all employees working for the same employer for at least 26 weeks but take-up was relatively low, and the reasons behind the varied take-up of flexible working were complex.
They include seeming reluctance among some employers to change long-standing models of working and at times a difficult balance between the employee, their team and the organisation, as well as hesitancy among some employees to request it owing to perceptions that it was for women with children and the potential sacrifices such as slower progression, lower pay or downgraded job roles.
But when the pandemic hit, an estimated 43 per cent of employees were working from home during the pandemic (up from 6 per cent beforehand).
Gloster and Cockett’s analysis states that research suggests that nearly nine out of 10 (88 per cent) of employees who worked at home during lockdown would like to continue to do so in some capacity, and numerous studies have found more appetite from employees for flexibility going forward and no rush to return to business as usual.
They contend that this is “a seismic shift in working patterns and attitudes, yet it is also worth remembering the 57 per cent of employees who were not able to work from home during this time and that many employers would have to have allowed flexible working to many employees out of necessity rather than desire”.
They also state that there are different kinds of flexibility in work and if government consultation requires employers to offer flexible work for new job opportunities, the information provided in job adverts needs to be clear about the types of flexibility that can be offered in each job role. This includes whether the flexibility is formal and contracted or informal, whether there can be flexibility in the place of work; and whether or not aspects of what that flexibility entails can readily be determined by the employee and what the organisation and wider team will require.