Employees want it, employers know they have to deliver it; flexible working transformed almost every office during the pandemic and it is here to stay.
It is a change that has been demanded for decades by groups such as women, people with family responsibilities and people with disabilities. But economists and employment experts warn it could lead to more inequalities in the office, especially for working mothers.
The latest to voice concerns is Bank of England policy maker Catherine Mann, who has warned of a “surrender” and said women who accept their employer’s offer to work primarily from home risk harm their careers, because they do not return to the office after Covid to the same extent as men.
Mann told an event for women in finance hosted by the Financial News newspaper that technology and virtual working methods cannot replace spontaneous office conversations that are also vital to career progression.
âThere is the potential for two tracks,â she said. âThere are the people who are on the virtual track and the people who are on the physical track. And I’m afraid we’ll see both of those tracks develop, and we’ll pretty much know who’s going to be on which track, unfortunately.
Traditionally, more women than men – especially those with children or dependents – have requested flexible work. Women were found to have taken on more responsibility for household chores during the pandemic, and surveys suggest they also paid the price for home schooling.
The shift to working from home has, more than 18 months after the start of the first lockdown, changed a traditional office-based culture for good, even prompting the government to consult to make working from home the “default” option. .
For some, however, the more flexible approach has resulted in setbacks.
Jennifer *, a mother of two from Kent, recently returned to her role as a user experience researcher after her second maternity leave. During the pandemic, her employer decided to close its offices in London and now rents space in a coworking building.
The 38-year-old has chosen to work three long days a week and continues to work from home, but is worried that she may be missing out.
âWhat I saw were people who can go, go and be, network and have coffee shops and informal chats, and meet the new CEO. I am very aware that this is not something. which I can do easily because I have to pick up the kids, âJennifer said.
Her experience is very different from that of her husband, who was part of a rare group of teleworkers before Covid. Her company has now switched to permanent remote working for all employees, which she says has put her on “a par” with the rest of the workforce.
âHe is not a second-class citizen. I also don’t feel like he’s looked down upon for being a parent, âshe said.
Anna Whitehouse, broadcaster and founder of Flex Appeal, a campaign for the adoption of flexible work in all jobs in the UK, says women are at a disadvantage as they usually take responsibility for looking after children.
âI am so frustrated with Catherine Mann’s comments that it is a female issue that we have to deal with,â she said.
âWe are obviously going to adopt more flexible working because of the way the system is, the burden of child care is still firmly on the shoulders of women. But that doesn’t mean there are those hapless dads who don’t want to take the challenge.
Whitehouse, who runs the popular Mother Pukka blog, calls on families to discuss how they divide up household chores and childcare, and calls for more men to push for flexible work.
“We’re in a system that’s put in place for women to fail, to an extent, and I think we need companies to help us close that gender pay gap.”
Indeed, some activists advocate an increased uptake of flexible working by men as a way to improve wage disparities, especially given data from the Office for National Statistics which suggests that the gender pay gap is s ‘is expanded during the pandemic.
Last Thursday marked Equal Pay Day – the date when women effectively start working for free each year, because on average they are paid less than men – according to annual calculations by the Fawcett Society.
âFlexible working is here to stay,â said Andrew Bazeley, the company’s head of policy and public affairs. âThere are a number of people who will prioritize it in job applications, so in a tight labor market, employers will find they have to offer it, especially if they don’t want to expand it. pay gap between men and women. “
The challenge for managers is that many haven’t been trained on how to supervise remote workers, according to Ann Francke, CEO of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).
Almost a third (29%) of managers said they believed promotion opportunities for remote workers would decrease, according to a recent CMI survey of 1,200 UK bosses, although 58% said they believed that working remotely would make no difference to staff prospects.
The majority of organizations have yet to do anything to ensure that a home office is not a barrier. According to the survey, 30% of managers admitted that their organization had not taken steps to ensure that employees were not ignored, while 38% did not know. Only a third of companies (33%) had procedures in place to ensure that staff working remotely and homeworkers had an equal chance for future promotions.
“Even though men and women want to work flexibly, of course more women than men will ask for it, and the implication is that they are the ones who will suffer,” Francke said.
âIt is extremely important that organizations are not complacent. They need training to judge people and promotions based on productivity, not presenteeism.
* Not his real name