Being forced by the pandemic to manage a flexible workforce for the first time was eye-opening for many managers. This study, the third in a series, confirms that more managers have become open to flexible work arrangements, including remote work and flexible hours, while more companies are preparing to rethink the use of their office space.
The global pandemic left companies with no choice except for essential professions, where employees had to work from home. Abrupt and comprehensive, the workplace disruption caused by COVID-19 left managers in charge of a remote workforce for the first time in their careers. The shutdown of schools only added to the disruption for employees with children and their managers.
Beginning in 2020, research led by academics from the University of Birmingham and the University of York has studied the changing perspectives and opinions of managers on remote work and flexible hours. In this study, based on data collected from managers in July and August of 2022, the research focused on four areas:
Managers’ attitudes towards flexible working Management views of flexible working continued their increasingly positive trend as more managers linked flexible working to enhanced employee performance. For example, 62.8% of managers said working from home increased motivation, while 51.8% said working from home improved employee concentration. In terms of productivity, 59.5% of the managers surveyed linked working from home to increased productivity, which said 72.7% flexitime increased productivity. Flexible working in general increased productivity by 76.5%.
Managers’ intentions and behavior regarding flexible working since the pandemic Asked whether their organizations would approve flexible working arrangements, 58% of managers said yes, which is down from a high of 70% at the height of the pandemic but still a significant increase from pre-pandemic levels of approval. For 43.9% of managers, working from home was the easiest flexible working policy to approve, while 44.9% of managers believed job shares were the hardest to approve. Managers were more likely to apply for flexitime or to work from home than to apply for part-time, compressed hours, or job sharing. Only 20.1% of managers were currently working part-time or planning to work part-time, and 19.4% were either currently working or planning to work compressed hours. For a majority of managers, job sharing (53.1%) and compressed hours (54.6%) were not even available in their workplaces. Most managers (93.5%) believe that job advertisements should include the availability of flexible working to attract more job candidates.
Spatial flexibility and office space. Nearly 70 percent (69.3%) of managers stated that employees did not need to be in the office more than four days a week. Indeed, the portion of managers that spent one day in the office was often enough for employee presence, which doubled from 10.1% in just one year. About a third of the managers surveyed said their organization had reduced or was planning to reduce the amount of office space available. In terms of future office space use, 25.3% said individual offices would be reduced, 21.8% said there would be more space for events or workshops, and 12.7% said more space would become available for well-being.
Consultation and surveillance at work. According to 46.6% of the managers surveyed, their companies relied heavily on informal employee consultation rather than going through more formal channels. As far as surveillance, 27% of managers reported their organizations used software to monitor performance, and 28% of managers reported their organization monitored emails. While 34.7% of managers believed monitoring phone logs and calls and 42.9% of managers believed monitoring employee emails and browser history were acceptable, 78.9% believed surveillance at work implied employers did not trust their employees.
Managers’ new attitudes towards flexibility and remote work can have wide-ranging impacts on productivity, gender relations, and work-life balance, according to the researchers. That said, some pre-pandemic views are starting to reappear. In 2020, for example, 38.7% of managers believed long hours were needed for employees to advance in the organization. In the latest data, 41.9% of managers believed long hours were required to advance. The authors of the study thus urge companies to take the following steps to “entrench,” in their terms, the pandemic-related new attitudes:
Sarah Forbes’ profile at the University of York
Holly Birkett’s profile at Birmingham University Business School
Lowri Evans’ profile at the University of Birmingham
Heejung Chung’s profile at the University of Kent
Flexible Working and the Future of Work: Managing Employees Since COVID-19. Sarah Forbes, Holly Birkett, Lowri Evans, and Heejung Chung. Retrieved from Equal Parenting Project. (2022).
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