The first new year’s return to workplaces since the full lifting of Covid restrictions is becoming a testing ground for often competing visions of flexible working held by employers and staff.
t now looks certain that many clerical and professional employees will never fully return to the traditional nine-to-five office-bound routine.
The pandemic was the initial driver of a shift to home-based and flexible working.
After two years characterised for many by contingency and flux competing efforts are now under way in many workplaces to either tighten up ambiguous rules or to retain maximum employee flexibility.
All experts agree that hybrid working is now the norm. Bar a few outliers like Elon Musk’s Twitter, firms are not rushing back to the traditional model.
The degree of flexibility is boosted by the ongoing recruitment and retention problems in many sectors.
That means catering to staff preference is playing a key role shaping policy, regardless of what bosses might really want.
“If they don’t offer [flexible working], they won’t find the people that are the right fit for them in terms of the project which means they won’t hit their operational goals,” according to Lynne McCormack, general manager of FRS Recruitment.
Remote and hybrid job posts were up 43pc in Ireland over the past year, according to a survey by Zoom in collaboration with FRS Recruitment.
The message emerging there is: “Yes, you can still work from home – but on the company’s terms
And workplace flexibility is becoming a regular feature of more jobs listings rather than a special benefit as employers look to attract fresh talent.
A third of job advertisements here now offer remote or hybrid work options, up 10pc from a year ago. The ability to offer this type of working is also dependent on the industry, with IT, accounting and finance leading the way.
The definition of flexible working is also shifting to no longer just mean where people are working from but encompassing more employee-centric organisational changes, according to Moira Grassick, chief operating officer at employment law consultancy Peninsula Ireland.
Bosses are trying to better codify and box in working arrangements that emerged ad hoc over the past three years
“It’s looking at flexible working hours, condensed working hours, shorter working weeks, term time for people who have got children. The most important thing is the flexibility of a business,” she said
At the same time however, managers want to reassert control of workplaces and are attempting to better codify and box in working arrangements that emerged ad hoc over the past three years.
The message emerging there is: “Yes, you can still work from home – but on the company’s terms.” This includes which days are mandatory office days and stricter rules on where exactly people can work from.
Ms Grassick said employers will look to strike a firm balance between trust and flexibility on the one hand and retaining company culture and community spirit on the other.
“What we find is that they may have made decisions in relation to what [flexible working] may look like but putting the policies and the procedures into place and how they are going to actually manage that is still something people are working on as we go into 2023,” she said.
Lynne McCormack said clarity is crucial: “With employers, any advice we’d give is right from the beginning – the application process to the interview to the onboarding which is critical – to have it really mapped out in terms of supporting remote workers so there’s a seamless integration into their company.”
Time- sapping Zoom and Teams calls have, for some, become so ubiquitous they’re a hindrance to getting work done
Another side effect of pandemic working arrangements was the deluge of remote meeting invitations as physical availability was no longer a barrier to holding an event or catching up with colleagues.
While technology massively enhanced communications during the pandemic, time- sapping Zoom and Teams calls have, for some, become so ubiquitous they’re a hindrance to getting work done.
Microsoft, which owns Teams, has calculated that the number of meetings per week had increased by 153pc globally for the average Teams user since the pandemic started. That pendulum is likely to swing back significantly for many of us this year.
Last week ecommerce platform Shopify instructed all staff to remove every recurring meeting with more than three people from their 2023 calendars.
Meetings on Wednesdays are also banned, while events with 50 or more attendees are only permitted on Thursdays and only during set hours.
President Harley Finkelstein said the move erased 10,000 events from employee calendars, which represented 76,500 hours of meetings.
Following the announcement, Shopify’s chief operating officer Kaz Nejatian tweeted: “Meetings are a bug.”
“Let’s give people back their maker time. Companies are for builders. Not managers,” he said.
A downside of flexible working was the blurring of lines between when people are on and not on the clock. Indian tech company Dream11 has also introduced a policy that sees the fantasy sports company fine employees who bother colleagues during their time off. Employees will pay $1,200 if they break the rules of the ‘unplug’ which sees workers log off completely from all systems.
With a four day week, you really need to ensure people aren’t getting stressed and trying to squeeze five days into four’
“No one wants to be that jerk who called someone who was on unplug,” chief operating officer Bhavit Sheth said.
Employers in 2023 also know that their employees are being productive when they are away from the office, according to a recent report from the International Labour Organisation.
Does this new-found respect for work-life balance across the global mean the chatter around the latest trend, the elusive four-day week, could become a reality for Irish workers?
Unlikely, according to Ms McCormack. “It can be a tricky one,” she said.
Both Spain and the UK have launched four-day-week pilots. So far, 100 UK companies have signed up for the programme, promising shorter work weeks with no loss of pay.
Non-profit group 4 Day Week Global reported that almost half of the UK companies that participated reported an increase in productivity, with a further 46pc stating that the same level of productivity across a shorter time frame.
“You really need to get it right if you’re doing a condensed four-day week – so that people are still getting the benefits of feeling more productive and less stressed and not trying to squeeze the five days into the four days,” Ms McCormack added. “That takes away the real benefit of the work life balance.”
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