There’s nothing like living and working through a year of uncertainty to provoke some serious thinking about what we want from our careers.
Research carried out last year by Aviva estimates that half of UK workers plan to make changes to their careers as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the most popular career aspiration emerging from the crisis is the desire for flexibility, with one in ten UK workers saying they want to find a role that will allow them to work remotely in the next year.
And as the UK gears up for the hopeful end of lockdown, the great return to the office debate is heating up both at home and in businesses up and down the country. February 2021 ONS data shows an estimated 35% of the UK workforce is currently working exclusively from home, with many appreciating the new found flexibility it brings.
So will this pandemic-enforced home working experiment drive long lasting change in flexible working policies and working cultures? Will employers be more open to negotiating flexible, remote ways of working? Or will things eventually go back to the pre-Covid ways of stressful commutes and standard nine-to-five office hours?
As much as the last year has been difficult and devastating for many of us, it has also proven that our working cultures can adapt, and that people can be productive - perhaps even more so - outside the office. And it’s also taught us that flexible working patterns are an opportunity for everyone, not just those with childcare responsibilities or pressures on their time.
Although many organisations are now publicly ruminating over what sort of model they’ll adopt post-pandemic, it remains to be seen whether the right to work flexibly will be granted to everyone.
Right now, only employees in England, Scotland and Wales with more than 26 weeks of service with the same employer can apply for a flexible working arrangement, and they can only make that application once a year. But the CIPD recently launched its #FlexFrom1st campaign to make the right to request flexible working available from an employee’s first day at work, meaning that a more flexible future might soon be open to all.
Making the case for flexible working
Outside of the past year’s public health-mandated move to home working; flexible and remote working can take on many guises from part-time roles, compressed hours, flexitime, jobs shares and annualised hours to fully remote, ‘work from anywhere’ cultures.
Working in different ways can be positive for a range of people and organisations, although it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s not right for everyone, and many people are excited about returning to office environments when they can.
Only time will tell whether the learnings of the last 12 months will result in permanent shifts, but as things stand employers can refuse the request on various grounds, including increased costs burdens, worries about performance dips or the ability to redistribute work effectively, amongst others. So it’s worth thinking now about how to make the case for flexible working if that’s what you want post-pandemic.
Here are our top tips:
Make a business case for your request
When deciding whether or not to accept your flexible working request, your employer will need to be convinced that it is workable from a business perspective. Even with a proven track record of working flexibly over the last year, take some time to consider the impact to your employer of your request. What adjustments and changes will they need to make to accommodate your request? Work through the reasons an employer could use to reject your request and put forward a written business case that heads them off. Be very clear in your application that you have considered the situation from your employer’s point of view as well as your own.
Understand your organisation’s culture and approach to flexible working
This may involve a bit of research, especially as business practices have changed so much over the last year. Even in the current climate, some employers will be more open to flexible working requests than others. Has your employer generally accepted flexible working requests in the past? Do many other employees have flexible arrangements and how did they find the process? Does your organisation have a flexible working policy and any guidelines? Have they been updated due to Covid-19 or might they still be under review?
Be clear and factual in your rationale
Whatever your reasons for making the request, your employer is unlikely to want to know all the details. They just need to be convinced that you are committed to contributing and performing well in your job role. Write your request rationally rather than emotionally, even if the reasons for wanting more flexible are personal.
Prepare to negotiate
Consider your ideal arrangement and then think about what you are prepared to compromise on. Being flexible and taking into account your own needs, along with those of your employer, will show greater commitment to and understanding of business needs and priorities.
Set the request in the context of your long-term career at the organisation
If you can, show your commitment to a long-term contribution as it will make your business case more compelling. Demonstrate your plan to continue to learn and develop in your role and areas of responsibility.
Know your audience – who are the decision makers?
Is this a decision being made by your HR department, line manager, departmental director or business owner? If you are not sure, then find out as you will be better placed to assess any objections they may raise and structure your request in a way that will appeal to them.
Ask for a meeting to demonstrate your commitment and confidence
Consider arranging an informal meeting, albeit a virtual one for now, with the decision makers to present your case personally. It is easier to believe in someone’s commitment and confidence in getting the job done when you see and hear it first hand.
You have the right of appeal
You have the right to appeal against a rejected application and you might consider changing your request to accommodate some of the reasons given for the decision.
Advocate for change!
Consider if you want to be an advocate for change within your organisation if your request is not handled well or you don’t get the outcome you want. We’re at a moment where the pressure is only going to grow for employers to embrace flexible working longer-term, so you can take some comfort that you will be swimming with the tide.
By joining Voco you can take control of your career and discuss the ways of working that matter to you with a wide-range of relevant peers, who can offer fresh perspectives and valuable insights based on their own real-world experiences.