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Straight outta lockdown – what’s next for flexible working?

By Mathew Cutts

As we emerge from lockdown restrictions and reflect on the future of the workplace and an increased demand for flexible working options, it’s no surprise to see headlines that hybrid working is here to stay.

But is it really something new, is it all about location and what are the issues in making it a success as we head into the ‘next normal’?

For most people working within the pharma marketing industry, the transition to remote working during the pandemic was relatively smooth. The technical infrastructure used by medical sales representatives, teams at international congresses and across time zones helped us connect and continue working once we were all based at home.

In fact, for as long as I can remember I have been working on a laptop at home, on a plane, train, in a congress hall, hotel room, lobby... anywhere I can rest my MacBook. Hybrid working has been around for a while, just without the label.

But now that it is to be more widely adopted, there are some key things that will impact its success. There will need to be appropriate flexible and remote working policies in place and all of the technological issues that remote working revealed over this past year will need to be ironed out, but a more fundamental consideration is culture. How do we support one another to connect and collaborate, while successfully achieving the work-life balance that the hybrid working model is often associated with?

It’s good to talk (face-to-face)

Remember that feeling when you first met with someone for an in-person business meeting following lockdown? That excitement, the feedback, the new directions that the conversation took? We’ve all missed it – to varying degrees and for different reasons.

In fact, more than a third of younger workers surveyed in a recent poll felt that their professional development had suffered during lockdown, and more than 75% were concerned about missing out on networking opportunities. Online learning and Zoom calls provided a sticking plaster when we worked remotely but they are not the long term, and complete, solution.

For the whole team, including those more established in their careers (and more likely to be comfortable working from home), developing cultures based on empathy will be important to help everyone recognise their role in sharing experiences and supporting one another face-to-face.

People need time with people (in person) for spontaneous day-to-day interactions; interactions that help teams collaborate, mentor and coach effectively. This doesn’t need to be a full revert to the office 9–5, but you may wish to explore core office days, introduce collaborative work spaces or set up mentoring programmes; the range of solutions available to you will depend on your specific business needs and circumstances.

No more long hours

A significant assumption of the hybrid working model is that it helps everyone achieve a better work-life balance – something that is to be applauded and encouraged. However, during the pandemic, researchers found that the time saved from the daily commute was replaced with an average of two additional hours of work per day and reduced lunch breaks.

Essentially, the line between home and work became blurred, and workers found that they were ‘always on’ as presenteeism went digital. Working long hours has been seen as a badge of honour in our industry for way too long. Pulling an ‘all-nighter’ was around before the pandemic, throughout the lockdown and will continue (regardless of location) unless we take active steps to address it.

Failure to do so affects team morale and well-being, as well as any ability to deploy fair flexible working policies across teams; part-time workers feel pressured as they juggle deadlines with additional responsibilities, while full-time colleagues often feel burdened by additional last-minute deadlines that land after their colleagues have gone on the school run.

For hybrid working, flexible working and the pursuit of work-life balance to become a reality, we need to resource projects properly, plan a lot better, work smarter and have a shift of mindset so that no one is constantly doing more than their contracted hours.

We should all try to lead by example, leave on time, cut down on out-of-hours emails and encourage the team to have a bit more empathy for colleagues. Of course, there is a time when we all have to put in that little extra but that should be the exception not the norm.

Hybrid working works best when you have a team culture that incorporates flexibility, trust, interaction, collaboration and time to learn.

Mathew Cutts is Director of Cuttsy+Cuttsy

In association with

26th July 2021

From: Marketing

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