Workplace flexibility when COVID-19 becomes endemic

When our planet was in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, things at the workplace drastically changed. Most organisations responded with surprising agility by extending options for employees to work remotely. Even companies that had earlier frowned upon work from home options were really left with no choice but to make arrangements to enable employees to work remotely. Though flexibility for employees had always been a matter of debate, the pandemic drew focus on the need for it like never before.

What does flexibility at the workplace mean? Workplace flexibility for employees entails allowing them to work on a schedule and at a location that is most convenient for them, in the midst of managing their personal lives. It focuses more on what the employee has accomplished rather than when and where the work was done.

Workplace flexibility when COVID-19 becomes endemic

An absolute win-win

Two years into this pandemic, most companies have made remote work really work. Organisations reported positive experiences with remote work and flexible arrangements for their staff. With commute times becoming non-existent, productivity even went up during the initial months of the pandemic.
In general, the benefits to companies that provide employees flexible work options are multifold. Flexible workplaces are built on trust and communication, boosting employee morale. Such workplaces see improved productivity since the employees are able to bring their best selves to work, with working hours and locations that are most suitable for them. Flexibility promotes wellness and reduces stress for employees. Organisations also benefit from access to a larger talent pool. In fact, a LinkedIn study showed that women and Gen Z are more likely to apply for remote jobs.

The future is hybrid

Liz Fealy, EY Global People Advisory Services Deputy Leader and EY Global Workforce Advisory and Solutions Leader, says “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that flexibility can work for both employees and employers, and flexible working is the new currency for attracting and retaining top talent. Employers who want to keep the best people now and in the next normal will need to put flexible working front and centre of their talent strategy.
With the pandemic now showing signs of ending and moving to the endemic phase, organisations are wondering what the “next normal” will look like. Since job-seekers and employees have now experienced the benefits of flexible work arrangements, most are looking for similar options even in a post-pandemic scenario.
As per the EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey, approximately 54 per cent of employees surveyed from around the world would consider leaving their job post-COVID-19 pandemic if they are not afforded some form of flexibility with regard to the where and when of their work. The survey found that nine in ten respondents want flexibility in work location and timings, with millennials twice as likely to quit as baby boomers.
Business leaders are feeling the heat and realising that they need to adapt to the situation. According to a study conducted by Plugable, in 2021, 87 per cent employers stated that they were feeling the pressure as other employers begin offering more flexibility or fully remote positions.

The way forward

It is clear that before the pandemic employees hoped that their companies would provide flexibility at work; whereas, they now expect their companies to provide flexible work options. Flexibility at work could encompass several work arrangements — remote work, night shifts, shortened work weeks, opportunities for sabbatical or work breaks (depending on personal situations such as elderly care) or extended medical leave. While it might be difficult for employers to provide and accommodate all types of flexible working arrangements, it would be prudent to provide as many solutions as possible to support the maximum number of employees. If companies focus on the results driven by their employees instead of the number of hours they are clocking, it could lead to a highly thriving and productive work culture.
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