Flexible work in the era of Covid-19 - RSA

Flexible work in the era of Covid-19


  • Picture of Lynn Houmdi FRSA
    Lynn Houmdi FRSA
  • Economics and Finance
  • Employment
  • Social enterprise
  • Gender

Covid-19 has rapidly increased the number of people working at home and flexibly; this has had a huge impact on many women.

Lynn Houmdi FRSA shares a new approach being piloted in Scotland to support women to reach their potential and change workplace culture for the better

At the start of 2020, prior to widespread Covid-related restrictions on movement, education and work, according to Timewise, nine out of 10 people in the UK wanted to work flexibly, and 60% of UK employees were lucky enough to do so. The latter number is inflated by workers who might be working part-time due to lack of full-time options that suit their skills, availability or aspirations.

This is especially true for women who make up 78% of the part-time workforce in Scotland, mainly due to a lack of flexibility to fit work around other commitments, such as caring and domestic tasks. Many of these part-time roles are in sectors hardest hit by Covid-related restrictions or by a surge in demand and pressure due to the pandemic, including caring, nursing, hospitality and retail, claims Engender, Scotland’s feminist policy and advocacy organisation. Part-time work is rarer at higher salary levels, meaning well-qualified women are often working below their potential.

Lockdown restrictions in highly developed economies, such as Scotland, quickly pushed aside frequently cited arguments against greater flexibility – of location and of hours – in the workplace. Working from home during a crisis, often with children in the mix, is typically not an optimal remote working set-up for the longer term. However, the greater acceptability of remote and flexible working practices is facilitating access to the workplace to a number of groups for whom the rigid nine to five does not fit. These are not only working mothers, but also fathers, those with other caring responsibilities, those with chronic illness, disabled people and many more.

Making Work Work

In collaboration with Challenges Catalyst, an Edinburgh-based social enterprise and accredited training provider for the Chartered Management Institute, I have developed Making Work Work. Encompassing a range of bespoke programmes, Making Work Work, aims to provide a peer-led, supportive online learning environment, complemented by workshops, masterclasses, mentoring and post-programme support, where participants have the opportunity for accreditation by the Chartered Management Institute.

Its purpose is to empower people to find work that works around all the other commitments and enjoyment of life and which is fulfilling and meaningful. The programme has been devised to contribute to more positive and productive workplace cultures where people are able to contribute in a way that fits with their lifestyles and commitments.

Making Work Work – for Women Returners, which is running throughout February and March 2021, is a pilot in this innovative approach. This first programme is aimed at women with at least five years’ management experience and is designed to unlock the innate confidence, talent and networks of these women to enable them to find and create work which fits with the other commitments and enjoyment of life. Women with a gap in their career history (for example, because of caring, motherhood, illness, menopause or redundancy) often face additional barriers to finding good jobs.

Leaving this programme, the aim is that women will not only be equipped to find fulfilling work that works for them, but also be advocates for greater flexibility and family-friendly approaches in the workplace to the benefit of all workers, not just women.

We will refine the programme with partners and participants during this pilot in order to adapt it for subsequent cohorts of women returners and other groups in future (for example, late career switchers, refugees and migrants, and disabled workers). The women in this cohort will be able to actively participate in designing their bespoke programme; fully reflective of the post-Covid-19 context, where flexible, off-site and asynchronous working are becoming the norm. They will also co-create an online peer support network to provide continued access to mentoring, networks and other help as they transition back into work and assume positions from which they can impact working culture for the better.

Changing work for the better

According to the UN, while everyone is facing unprecedented challenges, women are bearing the brunt of the economic and social fallout of Covid-19. This is true in economies of every size, and Scotland is no different. Making Work Work – for Women Returners aims to benefit the workplace, as well as participants’ personal and family lives. We aim to grow from this first programme, replicating it for women returners and other groups. Happy workers are productive, and diverse workplaces are profitable and impactful.

Covid-19 has given us an unexpected insight into workers’ personal lives: through them being on the frontline of the fight against the virus; through the experience of furlough and redundancy; and through a glimpse of children, pets and domestic chores via video calls. It is about time we stopped ignoring that people have lives outside of work, stopped pitting work against life in pursuit of an ever-elusive balance, and started making work work.

Lynn Houmdi is a consultant specialising in the for-purpose sector, and passionate about making work work with all the commitments and enjoyment of life. She is also a keen maroc-o-phile, having lived, worked and researched in Morocco for 10 years and contributed to four books on Moroccan culture and society. For more information on Making Work Work – for Women Returners, see: https://thechallengesgroup.com/makingworkwork/ or contact Lynn via the RSA or Twitter: @LynnHoumdi or @talentloom

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