Flexibility and family-friendliness boosts pandemic productivity

Organisations with flexible and family-friendly policies have seen increased levels of productivity throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

To mark the start of National Work Life Week, work-life balance charity Working Families has launched the results of its survey of employers which shows how organisations have supported their staff during the pandemic.

Of the 26 employers surveyed, 25 felt productivity had been the same or better than usual during lockdown.

This was due to an emphasis on trust and outputs rather than presenteeism, employees being focused on remote and agile working, reduced commute times, working hours that suited employees and efficient technology.

The main challenge employers faced were employee morale, engagement, communication, avoiding burnout and mental wellbeing.

Some had also had to furlough staff or make redundancies, yet many employers said they had made “positive learnings” from the growth in flexible working during lockdown.

An anonymous responsible business executive in the legal sector said: “Office working will soon be a thing of the past, and if we equip our staff correctly, our productivity and client service isn’t affected negatively at all.”

HR urged to prepare for winter slump as workers flag potential burnout

How businesses are helping people back to work

Coronavirus boosts engagement as employers pay more attention to people’s needs

How to decide if hybrid working is for your company

Before COVID-19, just over half of respondents’ staff flexed their hours and a half of their staff worked at least partly remotely.

Yet throughout the pandemic, 85% of respondents said at least half of their staff had flexed their hours, and 84% said at least half of their staff had worked exclusively remotely during lockdown.

With the pandemic ongoing, most employers expected a mix of working part remotely and part in the workplace through to the end of 2020.

Two out of three employers surveyed plan to continue allowing the majority of staff to continue flexing their hours.

As employees with children have faced particular challenges during the COVID-19 lockdown, nearly all employers said they now had a better understanding of who those employees were and overall support for parents and carers had improved.

Sixty-five per cent of employers said support for parents and carers was good or very good before lockdown, which increased to 100% after lockdown.

Jane van Zyl, Chief Executive of Working Families, said lockdown had proved to be a challenging time for working parents and carers.

She said: “But a silver lining to come out of it is that employers have realised that flexibility is possible in many more jobs than they had ever considered before.

"It’s clear from this survey that our employer members have found ways to improve their flexible working practices and offer much-needed support to parents and carers—all while improving performance overall.”

The pandemic has also questioned archaic attitudes towards flexible working, with two-thirds of employers reporting more interest in flexible working from male employees who are parents and carers.

All employers surveyed had offered employees with children the opportunity to work from home and flex their hours. In addition, many employers had offered wellbeing support, paid leave, acceptance of children appearing on video calls, and changed deadlines and objectives to reflect caring responsibilities.

Van Zyl is now encouraging other employers to follow this example.

She added: “The fact that so many of our members are planning to retain this new level of flexibility into the future is a testament to how well it’s worked. Employers should harness the gains in productivity, engagement, and diversity that flexible working offers.”

Working Families’ full report Working through COVID-19 and beyond: the perspective from employers is available online here.