Reimagining the Future of Work
Birmingham University Business School lecturers Dr. Holly Birkett and Dr. Sarah Forbes consider research undertaken with the University of Kent into the lasting legacy of Covid-19 on employment practices.
The COVID-19 lockdown has significantly changed our daily lives by disrupting and quite often changing our usual work and family routines. The outcome has been new working patterns, changes in the division of unpaid work in the home and a widespread desire for more flexible working and shorter working hours in the future.
The University of Kent and the University of Birmingham have undertaken research to understand how employees working from home have coped during the COVID-19 lockdown. Specifically, the research explored how employees perceived the support they received from managers and organisations, how employees shared housework and childcare (if applicable) between them and their partner, the impact on productivity and what their attitudes to flexible working in the future were following the COVID-19 lockdown.
What have we learned?
Rather expectedly, the data collected from the survey confirmed that mothers were taking on a lot more housework and childcare during lockdown. In fact, during lockdown, mothers were also likely to undertake their paid work in the evenings to cope with the increased childcare. However, our research also found that Dads stepped up during lockdown, taking on more childcare. Interestingly, the data also showed that fathers that took more than two weeks leave (more than two weeks paternity leave) after the birth or adoption of their child were more likely to have their female partner report that childcare was being shared equally during lockdown (compared to fathers that did not take more than two weeks leave).
Were employees more productive during lockdown?
Due to an increased need to balance work with housework and childcare, one may have thought that productivity would have suffered during this time, but actually, productivity improved for many in the sample. Overall, 30% of our sample reported that their productivity increased during lockdown. Indeed, many in the sample outlined that they wished to work from home in the future ‘to be more productive’ (40% for mothers, 43% of fathers, 49% of women without children, 46% of men without children).
What is novel about this research?
Unlike other research that has been undertaken during the COVID-19 lockdown, our research has looked into managerial support as well as the tools and support organisations supplied their employees during lockdown. 72.7% of those working from home said they felt their manager cared about the effects that work demands had on their personal and family life during lockdown where 65.9% said their managers has cared prior to lockdown. This suggest that the experience of lockdown has led to a broader understanding among managers of their employees responsibilities outside work.
Another key finding from our research showed the change in the level of support being supplied by organisations during the COVID-19 lockdown. Organisations moved quickly to support their employees to be able to fulfil their jobs. Only 41% of employees said they were supplied appropriate tools for homeworking before lockdown but during lockdown this increased sharply to 62%. Effective support for using those tools also increased from 47% to 65%, which demonstrates that organisation have made significant investments into homeworking and the infrastructure around homeworking and flexible working have been greatly increased across the country, so it is likely that working from home will continue to be popular in the future.
All groups of workers want more opportunities to work flexibly in the future
The experience of being with family and loved ones for a prolonged period of time during lockdown led 76% of mothers and 73% of fathers to suggest they would like to work more flexibly in future so they can spend more time with their children. Furthermore, 64% of fathers and 59% of mothers also said that they would like to reduce their working hours to spend more time with family. This reflects a possible shift in how housework and childcare may be shared between partners in future. 58.5% of non-parents also said they would like to work flexibly in the future in order to spend more time with family. 55% of respondents are now intending to apply for flexible working on return to the Office so the Future of work could look very different.
What recommendations can be made based on the research?
- Improve internal communication of flexible working (FW) policies to all employees
- Advertise all positions (if possible) as open to FW as a strategy for improving employee attraction and inclusion.
- Invest in new ways to connect with employees, to recognise their contribution and to celebrate successes when they are working from home.
- Implement a reverse mentoring programme by Millennials with board and Senior Management Team members to help improve intergenerational understanding and explore changing cultural attitudes around presenteeism, FW, gender and caring.
- Make FW a day one entitlement for all to ensure that all employees are able to access the benefits experienced with FW and to remove the stigma associated with using it.
- Consider mandatory publishing within Gender Pay Gap (GPG) reporting for large organisations to outline whether or not they advertise all jobs as open to FW and whether FW is available from day one and to include a question to ask whether companies have advertised positions as available for FW.
- Launch a communication exercise to promote FW (particularly to fathers) to detail the benefits of FW and help address the perceived barriers and consequences.
- Look at ways to support organisations to deal with wellbeing and mental health issues cause by the COVID-19 lockdown and long-term homeworking.
The report titled ‘Working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown: Changing preferences and the future of work’ has been undertaken jointly between the Work Autonomy, Flexibility and Work-Life Balance Project (Kent), and the Equal Parenting Project (Birmingham)