There’s no denying that whatever sector you work in, there is a high chance that your work patterns or environment will have changed at some point over the last 12 months. From hospitality to corporate banking, staff globally have had to adapt how, where and when they work. Flexibility from both employer and employee has been key to navigate challenging conditions such as home schooling, furloughing of staff and office closures.
With the ‘stay at home’ order that we’ve lived with on and off for a year, many office workers have discovered the joys and frustrations of working-from-home life. There are the benefits of no commute and the improved quality of life that comes with that. But of course, you miss out on the team bonding and creativity that can come from collaborating in the same space.
With all this in mind, where does that leave us in the post-pandemic era? With the vaccine rollout going strong and a government goal of at least some (if not all) lifting of restrictions by the Summer, what aspects of the last few months are businesses going to keep, and which will be the ones to become a distant memory? What does the future of flexibility within the workplace look like?
Cutting down on space
Last month, listed firm Fever Tree reported that they have converted half their office space into a bar. The premium drinks producer made the change after deciding that they were never going to return to working in the office full-time. Instead, the company have opted for flexi-working, meaning that the office will never be at full capacity. The result? Half their office space is now a fully-stocked bar, ready for when their employees make the return later this year.
More recently, Sainsburys has announced a reduction in office space, with the supermarket giant closing one floor at its Manchester office and two floors in its central London site. This is the result of a major staff restructure within the firm. HSBC also reported that it would be cutting down their office capacity by 40% globally. While some smaller firms, such as iVendi, decided not to renew their leases at all last year; iVendi’s saving of £280,000 per year from lack of rent has meant it can invest more into its people.
The four-day week – a trend or the new normal?
However, flexible working isn’t just about working from home. Some businesses have dived into the idea of a four-day working week. The idea behind which being that with less days in the week, you may capture that spike in productivity often seen before an employee leaves to go on holiday.
This has been the leap taken by recruitment company, MRL Consulting Group. The business made the decision to trial a four-day week for six months. The goal was to combat staff turnover and burnout, challenges often experienced by many businesses within the recruitment sector. The results of the trial speak for themselves, with MRL reporting a 95% retention rate, 25% increase in productivity and a reduction in short-term absence by 40%. A four-day working week is now the norm at the company.
Unilever New Zealand are currently undergoing a similar year-long trial from December 2020 to December 2021. Unlike MRL, which decided to dedicate every Friday as a non-working day, Unilever NZ have empowered staff to choose their day off based on team and personal requirements. Their interest in the trial came after seeing results published by Perpetual Guardian, which claimed they’d seen a 20% rise in productivity following a similar pilot scheme.
Difficulties within flexibility
While the idea of a four-day week may sound appealing, there are naturally going to be challenges for some industries. There may be practical problems in sectors such as hospitality or manufacturing, where the standard 9-5 working day is less common.
Issues around remuneration may also arise; companies may have to decide whether to pay the same wage and expect the same output, or adjust pay and holiday accordingly. As businesses consider their options this year, it is likely that adaptations and leeway from both employers and employees in how we work will be required as we steer through the unfamiliar ground of returning to normal life after a pandemic.