During the COVID-19 UK lockdown, many organisations have been forced to move the majority of their workforce to remote working, often at very short notice. In many cases these businesses had previously discouraged flexible working and had very little infrastructure in place to support new ways of working. Researchers at the University of Birmingham and University of Kent have conducted research to assess how attitudes and support for flexible working and working from home may have changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. On 26th November 2020, this webinar marked the launch of an important report sharing the encouraging findings of this research which has been proudly part-funded by the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business.
To kick off the webinar, key findings of the report were shared by Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business Associate, Dr Sarah Forbes, and Dr Heejung Chung from the University of Kent. During 24th July and 11th August 2020 the team surveyed 742 managers on attitudes to working from home and trust between manager and employee, both before and since lockdown, and barriers that may have prevented employees from working from home or working flexibly previously. Ultimately the team wanted to answer the question: What impact has the shift to homeworking had on managers/organisations and what does that mean for the future of work?
Research showed that many managers have had predominantly positive experiences of managing staff who have been working from home since lockdown. This has subsequently influenced the likelihood that managers and organisations will be supporting more flexible working and working from home in the future.
- Most managers have had to manage staff remotely since lockdown.
The majority of managers reported a rise from 20% of their employees working from home before lockdown to over 80% during lockdown.
- Managers are much more positive about working from home and flexible working since lockdown.
Since lockdown, managers’ attitudes have changed towards presenteeism and productivity when working from home. They have reported an increase in trust between manager and employee and belief that working from home will be more common in the future.
- Lockdown has led to an increase in support provided for homeworking.
Most organisations supplied equipment to staff and online meeting software.
- Managers intend to encourage more flexible working and homeworking in the future.
The majority of managers are supportive of new requests for flexible working and will continue to offer tools and resources to allow staff to work from home.
- Wellbeing and mental health of employees when remote working has been a particular concern for managers since lockdown.
Increase support for wellbeing was shown in some organisations and managers felt they needed more training and guidance on how to manage employee wellbeing.
Dr Heejung Chung discussed recommendations supported by this research which included improving communication around flexible working policies, advertising all positions as open to flexible working as a strategy for improving employee attraction and inclusion, supporting mental health of employees working from home and offering employees compensations for their overhead costs related to working from home and claim back from HMRC. More can be found in the report.
Following the presentation of the research findings and recommendations, we heard from an impressive panel of speakers from Aviva, CBI and the Chartered Management Institute who shared the organisational perspective and best practice from their organisations.
Lauren Adams, HR Director of CBI, reflects on what the results of the report will mean for businesses: "A hybrid model of working, blending both remote and office based working, is emerging from this crisis which is going to bring benefits and create challenges for both organisations and employees. But offering employees a way of working that allows for more flexibility will increase wellbeing and allow businesses to attract a talented and diverse employee base - it's a no-brainer".
Speaking about the potential challenges and next steps for businesses, Lauren remarked that mental health is the biggest challenge of all. “We know that there’s just a plethora of different working situations and it’s really difficult to construct a one size fits all so the key is the element of choice. And I'd love to see businesses when they're thinking about their policies around this going forward to build in that that element of choice.”
Following Lauren we heard from Anthony Fitzpatrick, Employee Relations and Global Policy Lead at Aviva who discussed actions already in place at Aviva which includes guidance for managers, a crucial recommendations shown in the report: “What we've seen in work and from the research is that people are looking for a blended working approach. We've developed a leaders’ guide focussed on navigating new ways of working which includes info on managing dispersed teams and wellbeing.”
Our final speaker was Daisy Hooper, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) who raised the question ‘What does a flexible working culture really look like?’
“We found that productivity is not affected by where you work, but is affected by perceptions of trust. Those who felt their managers trusted them to work well had higher productivity scores.”
This research highlights themes key to the Responsible Business strategy at the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business; responsible crisis management and employee wellbeing; so we are proud to have part-funded this research which will have great impact and implications for businesses, policy makers and employees.
During the webinar we received many thought provoking questions. Due to time constraints, not all of them were answered live, but our excellent speakers have provided some further insights in response to those questions. Access them below.