In February, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the world’s largest work-from-home experiment. Six months later, many organizations have announced that their employees will never return to the office, while others have pushed the return-to-office date to June 2021.
According to a survey conducted by Harvard Business School, at least 16% of employees will continue to work from home post-pandemic. Another survey found that the expected growth rate of full-time remote work over the next five years has doubled, from 30% to 65%. The same survey found that 59% of hiring managers agree that organizations not currently adopting a flexible workforce risk falling behind.
Sara Sutton launched FlexJobs in 2007 after being frustrated with the lack of professional opportunities that offered flexibility. Today, almost 50,000 companies use FlexJobs, and thousands of people have found work through the site.
I asked Sara to share her views and insights on flexible work and the future of work.
What changes have you seen companies make due to the pandemic?
The landscape of remote work has shifted dramatically as a result of the pandemic. Since March, remote job listings have increased every month. Most recently, FlexJobs saw a 12% increase in remote job listings in August over July, and 20% in July over June.
The biggest increases have come in these fields, which have all seen more than 50% increases in remote listings since March:
- Customer Service
- Accounting & Finance
- Project Management
- Mortgage & Real Estate
Have you seen changes with respect to job seekers?
Initially, when the pandemic began, we saw a 50% increase in visitors to FlexJobs over 2019 levels, and we’ve continued to see a higher level of activity. People are mostly focused on 100% remote jobs where they don’t have to work in an office. Flexible scheduling is also very popular because it helps people juggle all their responsibilities during this unusual time.
How do you see the pandemic impacting the future of work?
The landscape of remote work will be permanently changed as a result of COVID-19. Instead of ad hoc use, we’ve seen the full deployment of remote work across many organizations. The expected growth rate of full-time remote work over the next five years has doubled, from 30% to 65%. One survey found that 69% of large-company CEOs plan to downsize their office space. And about 80%of CEOs say they expect a more widespread remote workforce due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to productivity, companies have talked about remote work’s positive impact in areas like safety, productivity, cost savings, environmental impact, emergency preparedness, employee satisfaction, and others. Overall, we have passed the tipping point where working from home will need to become a valid and important component of any healthy organization.
What recommendations do you have for companies who are implementing flexible work schedules?
It’s such an important point – that not all flexible schedules are beneficial in the long term, and people need to be creative and careful when designing their flexible schedules. Companies also need to be open to a wider variety of flexible schedules to make sure employees are engaged and supported. One of the most important things to remember, for both companies and employees, is that not every day has to adhere to the same schedule. We’ve come up with a variety of ways that people might use a flexible schedule, here are some of those:
- Change Your Set Work Hours: This option allows employees to shift their hours to non-traditional work hours, but still work a set shift that is predictable for their team and manager. For example, if an employee currently works from 9 am to 5 pm, they might shift to working from 6 am to 2 pm, or from 12 pm to 8 pm.
- Split Shift: A split shift is where an employee works some hours earlier in the day and the rest later in the evening. For example, the first shift from 6 am to 10 am, then the second from 4 pm to 8 pm, leaving those core daytime hours open for parental responsibilities.
- Reduced Schedule: Some people have so much to juggle during this time that they simply can’t meet a full-time schedule and need to reduce their hours. A reduced schedule typically involves a reduction in hours and a corresponding reduction in pay.
- Spread-Out Schedule: Instead of limiting the workweek to 5 days, an employee might expand to six or seven days but reduce the number of hours each day. For example, if an employee worked six days a week and had a 40-hour-per-week job, they would work about 6.5 hours per day rather than eight.
- Four-Day Work Week: This involves working 10 hours per day over four days, giving three full days off each week instead of two.
- Fully Flexible Hours: This option gives employees the ability to shift hours as needed, without necessarily checking in with their manager each time. Some days an employee might work earlier, others later. Some days may involve a split shift or reduced hours to be made up later in the week.
Your research shows working parents are struggling. What can organizations do to support working parents?
No one knows when the pandemic will finally end and allow people to return to a more normal way of living and working. Companies need to understand the difficulties faced by working parents and caregivers of all kinds and make changes that can help support their workforces’ mental and physical health over the long term.