As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the globe, many of us find ourselves having to work from home for the first time. While this may prove daunting for some and a delight for others, flexible working and working from home has become a growing trend in recent decades.
Maya Middlemiss is a Flexible Working Consultant based in Spain and has been working from home for 20 years. She believes that while the definition of remote working has changed a great deal since then, what we are witnessing is the world of telecommuting coming full circle as people begin to work from home.
Speaking to me over the phone she said, “it’s very interesting because obviously it’s been a trend for a while now as the technology has improved as have the collaboration tools people can use. It has been a movement, it has been a trend and as businesses move to cloud based application storage anyway, it becomes less and less important where you are physically located.”
However, Maya has concerns about how people may cope with working from home being forced upon them and feels that the current situation is not ideal. “We talk about office optional working which is about choice and we talk about it being a changed management process of that choice is the ultimate goal and not something you do in response to an emergency so the point that I would like quite clearly to make is that it’s not normally like this, don’t judge the experience by what you might be going through right now.”
I also spoke to Marilyn Devonish, a Flexible Working Implementation Consultant who has also been working from home for almost two decades. She believes that more people will continue to work from home but spoke of the challenges that she faced initially when she was headhunted by a consultancy firm. “They asked me [to work for them] and I said, I love what you are doing but I want to work part time and not only part time, I want to work flexi so I made up this thing called ‘Annualised Hours’, on a spreadsheet it looked really fancy and they agreed. By the time I left 9 or so years later I would say 80% of the company worked the model that I created and it got to the stage where there were so many people working my model that we did downsize and we had a massive three story building in Central London and we downsized to a one floor office within another office.”
When I asked her if she felt that companies may be more inclined to allow their employees to work from home after the COVID-19 crisis is over, she was not convinced. She told me, “many managers manage by seeing. You feel relaxed if you can see your staff and that is why I feel that many of them are resistant to flexible working because they don’t know how to manage someone remotely so I don’t think they will be doing it from that point of view unless the intention is to downsize.”
One employer who has embraced flexible working is Am Golhar, a Creative Business Media Strategist and founder of Abstract PR. Prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus, she allowed her employees to work from home a few days a week which she believes has helped them cope better than some within the current situation.
She told me that she has found that having a structure to the day has meant that her employees stay productive and focused on their work. Outlining how she manages her team remotely, she described how, “you have to put protocols in place and at the same time make sure that a routine is in place and met, some of the tools that I put in place regardless of working remotely or not is a structured strategy or a structured schedule for the day where we still have a Zoom call in the morning so you still see each other and you go through certain tasks and you have another zoom conference call in the afternoon so that there is a routine.”
Prior to founding her PR company, Am had previously worked in the fashion industry, having a Manufacturing Consultancy business and was the first British Asian female and youngest to design an exclusive men’s knitwear collection for online retailer ASOS, before working with the likes of Harrods and Burberry. When she founded her PR firm, they worked exclusively from home, however it came to the point where her team needed to meet face to face on a more regular basis and eventually they moved into an office space.
When I asked her if she would consider allowing her employees to continue to work from home after the lockdown measures are lifted, she was open to the prospect, explaining, “there is going to be a financial crash and it is just something that we have got to overcome together and you have just got to obviously come back from all of this so of course it is something that I will have to look at again when we come out of this crisis.”
Addressing the fears of some employers who may have reservations about allowing their staff to work from home she was quick to point out, “if you have got a loyal team and loyal employees that you have employed in the first place and you have got to give your team that reassurance and you have got to keep some stability still in play.”
“At the end of the day, these are not your children, they are all adults and they should have their own accountability at the same time and you know they have tasks so you have got to make sure that you have got a scheduled routine, you have got to make sure that that communication is still going on and that is all key.”
It is clear that while more and more employers are coming around to the idea of allowing their employees to work from home, when staff realise that a meeting which can take roughly an hour and a half in an office setting can be completed in a 45 minute Zoom call, we will start to see more employees asking for the flexibility to work from the comfort of their own homes.
In the words of Fifth Harmony, “you don’t gotta go to work… We can work from home.”
James McCarthy is Journalism Masters student at Ulster University having recently graduated with a BSc in Politics.