Employees will demand flexibility as they return to work.

13th July, 2021

From the 19th July the Government no longer requires people to work from home, forcing a conversation to be had between employer and employee.

Let’s go back to the start. On the 23rd March 2020 the UK Government announce a national lockdown and the UK Prime Minster ordered people to “Stay at Home”. 

 

Two days later the Coronavirus Act 2020 was passed and on the 26th March lockdown measures legally came into force across the United Kingdom. Steps that were unprecedented in the UK even during either World Wars or the Spanish Flu pandemic.

Image by Kevin Bhagat

Prior to this the UK business landscape had largely been one of people commuting, in some cases hundreds of miles a day, across counties and even country boarders, normally to offices that hold anything from just a few people to literally thousands of employees at a time.

 

And, in a matter of days that way of life, known to many since as long as they could remember, if not all their life, ended. Instantly. And an enhanced work life balance debate began as a result.

 

It was an uneasy ride for some. Businesses scrambled to move hundreds of call centre seats from offices to homes for example. Desks, chairs & IT equipment moved. VOIP systems investigated and implemented in days. A real military operation was mobilised as remote working was previously seen and utilised by the few not the many. 

 

1 year, 3 months & 26 days

 

Admittedly most believed this would only be for a few weeks, a month at most, but the “Stay at Home” message, or a conditional lifting of lockdown for those people who “cannot work from home” lasted 483 days. Yes, 1 year, 3 months & 26 days.

 

According to a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes between 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit. The study also concluded that, on average, it takes 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic. 

 

In this lockdown time we’ve all had time to adjust to a new way of life...and form new habits or automatic behaviours. And in a matter of days, if you’ve not already had that discussion, your HR department or line manager will potentially be asking you to start that 60-mile commute again from the 19th July. 

 

Granted it might be appealing to some right now. Finally getting in the car and listening to music on a warm summer’s morning in July. These perceptions or visions of tomorrow might not be so appealing though if the restrictions were lifted on say a cold January morning when you have to scrape the car at 6am, leave for work in the dark and return home in the dark. But that realisation is for another day. What about now?

 

So, what does that mean for UK employees? In our recent LinkedIn poll we asked “if your employer required you back in the office full time or at the very least for the majority of the working week, what would you do?”

 

The answer was they would expect or even demand flexibility continued nearly 18 months on.

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Nearly three quarters of UK employees want flexibility

 

72% of those who responded said they would return to an office for a maximum of 3 days a week (so long as they could choose which 3 days) or if that wasn’t an option they would start to look for a new job. The difference between those accepting 3 days on their terms (38%) or looking for a new job (34%) was almost equally split.

In even simpler terms, a third of people will look for a new job that provides flexibility. A third will continue with their employment so long as their employer is flexible and a third will do as requested by their employer.

 

A clear indication that the old ways of Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm is no longer acceptable to UK employees. The dividing lines have been drawn. Potentially.

 

Only 10% of those who responded advised that they would be happy to return full time and a further 18% said they would accept 2 days working remotely and 3 days in the office however that schedule was implemented by the employer.

 

Flexibility in truth sound simple but how do you plan if you don’t know when employees might attend for their 3 days? It’s clearly going to be easiest if employers can get a rota established for when employees are in their physical locations for health and safety and capacity planning reasons for example, but that’s out of kilter with the flexible model UK employees are now expecting. 3 days when you tell me to come in isn’t flexible working.

 

It’s going to be a difficult transition period for businesses as they balance up the needs of employees whilst ensuring the operation remains efficient. Ultimately the balancing act cannot be at the detriment of the customer, whatever the outcome of employer vs employee. 

 

And, then there is also the lure of potential cost saving which a remote working model brings the employer like reduced rent, energy costs and business rates for example. 

 

Like we said, interesting times ahead as the UK workforce settles into a new rhythm. Hopefully it won’t be as binary as potentially laid out above, but one thing is for sure, there needs to be flexibility on both sides otherwise battle lines will be drawn.

 

What’s our predictions?

We expect a shift of talent from full-time employment towards self-employment both out of choice and necessity as we come out of this pandemic. Especially, if businesses are not willing to offer this level of flexibility that has worked over the past 18 months.

 

We're already seeing our community of multi-disciplinary marketing experts grow quickly as more people double down to focus on the work they love. The pandemic has reset what a lot of people want from life, both at home and at work. It's focused the mind. But crucially self employment if you can make it work also offers people the flexibility of where they work and when.

 

With the IMG community we're creating the UK’s biggest marketing department. Populated with the brightest and best marketing talent who have the autonomy, flexibility and support to do truly exceptional work that delivers outstanding results, wherever you want to do that from.

 
So, if you’re being pushed back into a full time return to the office, or that summer commute with the roof down turns into a winter of discontent then The Inspired Marketing Group and its community could be your soft landing and supported transition from full time employment to freelance.

 

You can find out more about the IMG community below or on our dedicated community page.