Employees want it, employers know they have to offer it; Flexible working has transformed almost every office during the pandemic and is here to stay.
It is a change that has been demanded for decades by groups that include women, people with care responsibilities and people with disabilities. But economists and employment experts warn that it could lead to more inequality in the office, especially for working mothers.
The latest to voice her concern was Bank of England policymaker Catherine Mann, who warned of a “handover of her” and said that women who accept their employer’s offer to work primarily from home run the risk of harming their careers, as they do not return to the country. office after Covid to the same extent as men.
Mann told an event for women in finance organized by Financial News that virtual technology and working methods cannot replace the spontaneous office conversations that are also vital to career progression.
“There is the potential for two tracks,” he said. “There are the people who are on the virtual court and the people who are on the physical court. And I am concerned that we will see how those two tracks play out and unfortunately we will know who is going to be on which track. “
Traditionally, more women than men, particularly those with children or caregiving responsibilities, have applied for flexible work. Women were found to take more responsibility for housework during the pandemic, and surveys suggest they are also the hardest hit by homeschooling.
The shift to working from home, more than 18 months after the start of the first shutdown, changed a traditional office-based culture forever, even inciting the government to consult on making work at home the “default” option.
For some, however, the more flexible approach has resulted in setbacks.
Jennifer *, a mother of two from Kent, recently returned to her role as a user experience researcher after her second maternity leave. During the pandemic, his employer decided to close its London offices and now rents space in a coworking building.
The 38-year-old has chosen to work three long days a week and continues to work from home, but worries she might miss something.
“What I’ve seen is people who can go, will and are, networking, having coffees and chatting informally, and meeting the new CEO. I’m very aware that it doesn’t feel like something I can do easily as I have to go pick up the kids, ”Jennifer said.
Her experience differs greatly from that of her husband, who was part of a rare group of remote workers before Covid. Her company has now moved to permanent remote work for all employees, which she believes has put it on an “equal footing” with the rest of the workforce.
“He is not a second-class citizen. Nor do I have the feeling that I despise him for being a father, ”he said.
Anna Whitehouse, broadcaster and founder of Flex Appeal, a campaign for the adoption of flexible working in all UK jobs, believes that women are at a disadvantage because they generally take on the responsibility of caring for children.
“I was so frustrated with Catherine Mann’s comments, which is a female problem, that we need to fix,” she said.
“Obviously we are going to take on a more flexible work because of the way the system is, the burden of childcare is still firmly on the shoulders of women. But that does not mean that there are unfortunate parents who do not want to accept the challenge. “
Whitehouse, who runs the popular Mother Pukka blog, asks families to discuss how housework and childcare are divided, and for more men to push for flexible working.
“We are in a system created for women to fail, to a certain extent, and I think we need companies to help us close that gender pay gap.”
Indeed, some activists advocate greater acceptance of flexible work by men as a way to improve the pay gap, especially given data from the Office for National Statistics suggesting that the gender pay gap widened during the pandemic.
Last Thursday marked Equal Pay Day, the date that women effectively start working for free each year, because on average they are paid less than men, as calculated annually by the Fawcett Society.
“Flexible working is here to stay,” said Andrew Bazeley, the society’s policy and public affairs manager. “There are a number of people who will prioritize it in job applications, so in a tight job market, employers will realize they have to offer it, especially if they don’t want to widen the gender pay gap.”
The challenge for managers is that many have not been trained on how to supervise remote workers, according to Ann Francke, executive director of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).
Nearly a third (29%) of managers said they felt promotion opportunities would decrease for remote workers, according to a recent CMI survey of 1,200 UK bosses, although 58% said they thought remote work would not do. no difference in staff perspectives.
Most organizations have yet to do anything to ensure that a home office is not a hindrance. According to the survey, 30% of managers admitted that their organization had not taken steps to ensure that employees were not ignored, while 38% did not know. Only a third of companies (33%) had procedures in place to ensure that telecommuters had the same opportunity to earn future promotions.
“Although both men and women want to work flexibly, of course more women than men will request it, and the implication is that they are the ones who will suffer,” Francke said.
“It is extremely important that organizations are not complacent. They need training on how to judge people and promotions by productivity, not presenteeism. “
* Not his real name
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism