The Future of Work – What’s next for flexible working?

The Future of Work – What’s next for flexible working?

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring a range of aspects relating to the future of work. We ran through the top 10 future of work trends in our first article, and this is our first “in-depth” look at what businesses and employees can expect as we move forward. If you would like to have each of these posts delivered straight to your inbox, be sure to subscribe to our Future of Work-dedicated newsletter.

COVID-19 has seen businesses adopt flexible working in their droves. What was once a relatively niche human resources strategy has become a commonplace practice.

The widespread adoption of flexible working during the pandemic has helped to curb the spread of the virus, protect jobs and enable business continuity. Now, the UK Government is even considering an expansion of employees’ rights to work flexible hours or from home.

Woman working from home with baby by her side - Credit to @standsome, image supplied via Unsplash

Could laws around the current state of flexible working be strengthened?

Aside from the obvious business continuity and wider economic benefits, remote working, which is one of the most popular types of flexible working, has the potential to significantly enhance the employee experience. Eliminating the commute and providing people with some autonomy over their schedule can work wonders for productivity.

On the other hand, if not managed properly, flexible working can lead to feelings of loneliness and burn-out. Also, not all jobs are compatible with remote working, especially those that aren’t office-based, such as manufacturing.

That said, there’s always room for some form of flexibility. 

Even jobs that rely on the employee being on-site or in the office can offer flexible arrangements such as staggered shift patterns and leave during the school holidays.

Latest flexible working statistics

Before we delve a little deeper into how flexible working could work in the short-term, let’s take a look at some recent statistics. In February 2021 Citrix released this poll on remote work during the pandemic.

3,750 European office-based workers were questioned on what they thought about their current working situation, company culture, and the impact of the pandemic on their wellbeing, career and work/life balance. 

Here are some of the key findings:

  • 85% of UK respondents agreed that remote work will be more common post-pandemic.
  • 62% said that businesses will miss out on top talent if they don’t offer flexible work options.
  • 46% said that if they were to change jobs, they'd only accept a role that offered flexible and remote work options.
  • 54% of respondents went a step further by saying they’d like remote work policies to be regulated by the Government.
  • Post-pandemic, 51% of respondents want a hybrid model where they can work from both the office and remotely, while 12% want to return to the office full-time.

What does flexible working mean today?

The flexible working concept is evolving to incorporate many different aspects. Essentially, flexible working is a way of working that offers employees a degree of control over where, when and how they work. 

Employers can include flexible working policies in their employee handbook or amend an individual’s contract when flexible working arrangements are implemented. Some, however, decide to offer flexible working as an informal agreement. 

Remote working (also known as “teleworking” or “telecommuting”) isn’t the only type of flexible working. Flexible working also includes:

  • Part-time working

  • Term-time working (where the employee can take paid or unpaid leave in the school holidays)

  • Job sharing (a type of part-time work where two or more people share a role)

  • Flexitime (an arrangement that gives individuals some freedom over when they start and finish work)

  • Compressed hours 

  • Career breaks 

  • Commissioned outcomes (where there are no fixed hours; instead, the employee works towards an output)

  • Zero-hours contracts 

  • Shift swapping

  • Time off for volunteering or training

CIPD, the leading professional body for HR and people development, asked people from across the HR profession what flexible working means to them on both a personal and professional level. Here's what they said:

How can we make remote work...work?

Although remote work has huge benefits, it can be detrimental to people’s mental health. In fact, 35% of respondents in Citrix’s study said that their mental health had deteriorated over the last 12 months. 85% said that a company culture that promotes mental and/or physical wellbeing is important to them.

man sitting at desk working using laptop in home office - Credit to @ianharber, image supplied via Unsplash

An ONS study also found that remote work is taking its toll – of the respondents who reported high anxiety levels, more than one in five said they had been asked to work from home (a similar number said they were experiencing difficulties working from home).

So, what can companies do to ensure their remote work and wellbeing policies align?

As the employee’s first point of contact, line managers must be equipped to spot signs of mental ill-health, have supportive conversations with workers and be able to signpost them to relevant resources. The mental health charity Mind has a wealth of useful information and resources that employers can utilise and adapt for their own organisation. 

E-presenteeism is when remote workers feel like they always need to be in front of their screen and working. This leads to low productivity levels, and eventually, burnout. 

To combat e-presenteeism, employers should encourage their remote workers to take screen-less breaks throughout the day and take time off, even if it’s just to have a break from work for a few days.  

Physical health is also important, of course. Sitting in an unsupportive chair or at a kitchen table can wreak havoc with posture and lead to back and neck issues. Increasingly, employers are committing to funding equipment such as desk chairs, desks and screens.

Focus on performance over “presence”

As remote working “beds in” to work culture, we also expect employers to focus more on output over input. Measuring someone’s performance against how many hours they spend at their desk can be detrimental to confidence and success. 

Speaking of people management, Claire Campbell, programme director at the flexible working consultancy Timewise, explains that measuring performance on results could also boost opportunities for a more diverse group of people. 

“If we properly manage staff by outcome, and they work their day more flexibly from home, then we could see different people rising to the top and being successful.”


For guidance, practical tools and resources to help you embed flexible working in your organisation to be “future-ready”, visit CIPD’s flexible working content hub.


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