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The great return to the office: How to request ongoing flexible working

17 / 06 / 2021

As we adjust to the ‘new normal’ and many organisations consider a slow return to the physical office, many professionals are hoping that some degree of flexibility around remote working are here to stay long-term. 

According to the University of Southampton’s report, Work after Lockdown, almost 90% of employees felt they were just as productive, if not more so, working from home during lockdown, with 73% wanting some degree of home working to stay.
Having a flexible working arrangement can be a win-win situation for both employers and employees alike, due to evidence of increased productivity, a contented workforce and reduced costs for both parties.

How to make a successful flexible working request

Businesses are seeing that remote working can support productivity with some considering flexible and or hybrid working a permanent fixture for the foreseeable future. There are others that will revert to a full-time office environment, in which case flexible working will have to be requested, as it was before the pandemic. 

Understanding your company’s flexible working policy and being prepared when asking for it will help increase your chances of making a successful flexible working request. We have prepped some guidance on how to ask your manager for flexible working below:

  • Talk to HR to find out your policy 

Before speaking with your line manager find out the company position on flexible working – what is its policy? HR may also be able to tell you if any other employees work flexibly, or how other requests have fared before. 

  • Prepare a ‘defense’

A flexible working request is likelier to be better received if you can show as much evidence as possible for how it will work, and that your productivity will remain the same (or proportionately equivalent, if requesting reduced hours). Show that you understand and will be supportive around business-critical times and when your manager or team are likelier to need your presence. 

  • Be prepared to be flexible yourself 

Looking to go from five days a week to four? Which day you drop could be negotiated. Likewise, if looking for full-time hours that are partly remote, being flexible as to when and how these may happen might mean the request is received more favourably. 

Office of the future trends 

No one could have accurately predicted work environments for 2021, however, now we are returning to a greater sense of normality we can now start to see what trends will emerge for the office in 2022:

1. Flexible working
With it being clear how many businesses can operate well remotely, many will take the lead and offer flexible working as standard practice, without needing to request it. Some may offer hybrid working – where there is a mix of set home and office days – as the regular work pattern for all staff.

2. Changing office environments 
Given the likely rise (from pre-Covid levels) of home and flexible working, the office space will change in its primary functions. ‘Desk’ work will likely be the reserve of home days, with the office a site for innovation, group work and creativity. 

Hot-desking will likely be more common, as fewer employees need set desk space at one particular time. This is likely to shake up the office energy and dynamic.

3. Health and wellbeing at the heart of business culture 
There was an increased awareness of mental wellbeing in particular within the workplace before the pandemic struck, with the realisation that employers have a duty of care to their employees, and that the happier and healthier the workforce the more productive they are likely to be. This awareness has been heightened with the onset of lockdown.

While the shift to homeworking has been a boon to many, combined with lockdowns it has also created a sense of loneliness for many of the working population, in particular for younger employees who thrive on the sociability of the workplace and for those who live alone. This has forced businesses to consider the mental wellbeing of their employees, and pushed health and wellbeing to the top of the agenda. 

4. Organisational change 
Flatter hierarchies and collaboration will likely become increasingly prominent, a trend that was emerging pre-Covid but that working throughout the pandemic has expedited, given the democratisation working remotely offered businesses. Stodgy hierarchies enabled by full-time office environments can be shaken up, with a focus on innovation and creativity over authoritarianism and rigid corporate structure.

5. Adapted management styles
Management has had to adapt to remote supervision, with trust and communication at the heart of it, skills that will be in strong demand in 2022. Focus will be on delivered outcomes rather than measuring input and activity. Appraisals and feedback between manager and employer are likely to be more frequent but less formal.

6. Sustainability 
In our changing world, sustainability has to be key to business operations, with knowledge of how to drive profit with minimal damage to the planet critical. This includes policy but also innovation, with ‘green’ roles focused on sustainability likely to increase in numbers.

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