For years the discussion has raged about the pros and cons of flexible working – and now, suddenly, we’ve been dropped into a real-life field test. COVID-19 has effectively forced employers, whether they were ready or not, into a virtual working model at breakneck speed.
Huge numbers of employees are now working remotely, many of them simultaneously juggling childcare and significant family commitments. The transition has been easier for some organisations (particularly those that were already practising flexible working) than others, but it’s all happened quickly and in an atmosphere that is hardly conducive to wellbeing.
Now that employers have worked through their initial crisis response, with some furloughing workers and others setting up the technology required for employees to work from home, the focus is turning towards the challenge of managing a virtual workforce on a large scale.
It’s likely that maintaining productivity will be a significant challenge in the coming weeks, not least because sickness absence is far higher than normal and many people will need time away to cope with family issues. But there are useful techniques and tools that can help maintain engagement in this extraordinary situation.
This is an extraordinarily difficult time for everyone but with mindful management it will be possible to show that a flexible working model can work for many people, not just now but in the long term. Many organisations are already considering their approach for when we come out of COVID-19, and are thinking about how they can make the positive elements they’ve encountered stick. If we rethink leadership, digital and operating models for the future, we can make sure that the good elements of virtual working become the new normal.