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What’s the future of office working post-Covid – and will it help caregivers?

Caregivers and hybrid working

There’s quite a debate going on right now about getting people back to the office. The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been trying to encourage it, but many organisations are seeing potential benefits in cutting down on expensive office space by enabling staff to continue working remotely, at least some of the time.

It looks like a number of major employers are opting for what’s being called ‘blended’ or ‘hybrid’ working.

This could be a helpful move for caregivers if it gives them a little more flexibility in how they balance their working time against family time.

What are employers saying right now?

Some organisations are convinced they want ‘normality’ to return as soon as possible. Goldman Sachs is one institution that is clear that everyone back in at the earliest opportunity is the only way to go, but not everyone is so emphatic.

We’re seeing businesses such as the Nationwide announcing a ‘work anywhere’ strategy that enables staff to choose to work from home, head office or local branches – while the business saves costs by closing offices. Banking does seem to be frequently hitting the headlines in this respect, with several taking the opportunity over the last year to announce branch closures. Santander is just the latest. Banks HSBC and Lloyds are among many other companies looking at split working arrangements.

Oil company BP has told office-based staff they can spend two days a week working from home once lockdown restrictions have eased.

British Airways is reported to be considering selling off its headquarters at Heathrow Airport as part of a move to flexible working for about 2,000 staff.

For and against remote working

There is plenty for employers to think about before making a decision about future working practices, such as:

  • Do employers feel they can trust staff to work productively when they are at home? The last year will have helped them to make up their minds on this one.
  • Might employers be tempted to reduce salaries to reflect the lower travel costs that staff would enjoy? It has been mooted. Or, on the other hand, will they have to compensate staff for requiring them back in the office?
  • Will employers help out with IT infrastructure and utility bills for those working from home?
  • How can new staff receive the on-the-job training they need and how will staff collaborate informally beyond their Zoom calls if staff spend too much time apart?
  • How will businesses deal with sensitive information being shared across public networks and into private homes?

What about those with caregiving responsibilities?

The big question for us at When They Get Older is whether hybrid working will help caregivers. There are a few arguments on either side.

Working from home can give us more flexibility to juggle – to take and make phone calls relating to the care of our family, for example.

But, and it’s a big but, working from home does not necessarily give us any more flexibility to drop everything and go to the rescue of our relatives – or to take on more of the visiting. Work still needs to be done, meetings still need to be attended, attention still needs to be focused on work during working hours. This is important to explain to other family members, who may assume that working from home makes you permanently available, so they don’t have to be!

The ability to focus better really depends on the home environment, and for some getting back to the office is the best thing to do. An interesting study found that home workers were actually 13% more efficient than office-based workers, because they found offices noisy and distracting. This trial was conducted in 2010, so the extra childcare and other pandemic distractions at home weren’t a feature. We would hope that they won’t be again in the foreseeable future. Other studies have put the figure at a lower rate, but it’s still not showing the drop in productivity that managers have feared.

The head of staff recruiter Manpower has gone on record as saying he expects employees to combine collaborating in an office with remote working. But he points to the unequal burden that home working has put on women and minorities over the past year, including childcare, home schooling and lack of space, which means a wholesale switch to home working isn’t necessarily desirable.

Overall, research and anecdotal evidence suggest that many people would prefer to work in the hybrid model, with two or three days in the office, and the other days working at home.

Building a business case for flexible working for carers

Caregivers have already been asking for flexible working that gives them more of the benefits that some parent enjoy, and this could be a good time to introduce it again into the conversation.

Carers UK has prepared a set of tools to help you start the conversation with your employer about flexible working. They’re aimed particularly at those caregivers over 50 who are struggling to juggle.

If your employer is sympathetic to flexible working for caregivers, they will find a wealth of useful information on the Employers for Carers website, although membership may be needed to access some of the information and support.

We also created a couple of articles in recent years that may help you argue the case to your employers:

 

Article author Kathy Lawrence is editor at When They Get Older

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash.

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