Father reading to his infant child

This report is based on data collected in summer 2021 and is part of a broader research series begun at the start of the first UK lockdown in spring 2020.

The University of Birmingham Equal Parenting Project, has been providing evidence to help break down gendered barriers to childcare since 2017. We have worked extensively with CIPD, BITC, Working Families, Fatherhood Institute, private companies as well as other third sector organisations.

Our previous reports (available from our website link above) show that many employees, across industries and around the UK, have been working from home for the first time during COVID-19 and that many of them want to work more flexibly in the future as a result of their experiences during the COVID-19 lockdowns.  We also found, in our previous managers report in 2020, that managers had broadly positive experiences of managing people working from home and believed their companies would be more likely to support flexible working in the future as a result. This second phase of data collection undertaken in Summer 2021, more than a year since the beginning of the pandemic, offers insights into how work is likely to be organised post COVID-19. Specifically, this report provides insights into how supportive organisations are likely to be of flexible working in the future (including flexibility in senior roles) and how more men can be encouraged to work flexibly in order to break down gendered caring norms, improve gender equality in the workplace and help reduce the gender pay gap.

Key findings include:

  • Most managers surveyed agreed that flexible working increases productivity (71.0%) and is a performance enhancing tool (62.9%).
  • 59.0% of managers reported that they are expecting employees to be in the office fewer than five days a week once all COVID-19 restrictions are removed.
  • Altogether 32.8% of managers reported their organisation as having planned/planning to reduce office space. Only 38.8% of managers reported that their organisation had consulted with employees about working preferences before making decisions regarding the volume and use of office space in the future. 
  • Most workers are currently working flexibly on an informal basis with over 50% of managers reporting the majority of employees were working from home informally with no formal application made to the organisation. 
  • More senior jobs are reportedly being made available as working from home, part-time and as job share.         
  • Only 48.0% of managers now believe employees need to be physically present compared to 57.3% of managers before the COVID-19 pandemic. 35.2% now believe employees need to work long hours to progress compared with 43.3% before the pandemic.
  • 57.4% of managers surveyed reported that flexible workers in their organisations are just as likely to be promoted as their peers, an increase since phase one of the Working From Home During COVID-19 Project.
  • 65% of managers reported their organisations as being more supportive of flexible working requests.

We aim for our research to be informative and useful moving forward so we have also developed some free tools for businesses to help them with the transition to hybrid working. Hyperlinked you will find a two-pager briefing document to help organisations manage hybrid working post COVID-19 and a Preferencing Conversation Tool to facilitate a frank conversation between staff and managers around COVID-19 working practices, future working preferences and organisational requirements.

Dr. Holly Birkett and Dr. Sarah Forbes
The Equal Parenting Project, Flexible Working and COVID-19 Research