Managers are more positive about flexible/home working since Covid-19

Olivia Miller
Picture by Unsplash

Managers feel much more positively about their staff working from home and working flexibly since the first Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, according to a new study undertaken jointly by the Equal Parenting Project at the University of Birmingham and the Work Autonomy, Flexibility and Work-Life Balance Project at Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, many organisations have been forced to move the majority of their workforce to remote working, often at very short notice. In many cases these businesses had previously discouraged flexible working and had very little infrastructure in place to support these new ways of working.

This research report titled ‘Managing Employees during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Flexible Working and the Future of Work’ discovered that fewer managers now believe that presenteeism and long working hours are essential to career progression within organisations. Many managers also reported that working from home increases productivity, concentration, and motivation due to their experiences in lockdown. 54.7% of managers reported that most (over 80%) of their employees have been working from home since lockdown.

However, managers also saw some draw backs, with 58.7% of those surveyed saying that working from home led to isolation, and others citing issues around blurring of boundaries as key negative outcomes. Regardless, most managers now believe working from home will become much more commonplace in the future, with more jobs, including senior roles, being advertised as being available for flexible working, and more support being made available for home working. Managers have also faced a steep learning curve regarding how to manage remote teams often with very little support or guidance.

This first academic piece of research exploring managerial experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, was led by Dr Holly Birkett and Dr Sarah Forbes (both Birmingham) and Dr Heejung Chung (Kent).

The report is based on a UK wide survey with managers which aimed to understand the organisational perspective on managing homeworking since the UK Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020. In total, 742 managers completed the survey between 24 July and 11 August 2020.

Dr Heejung Chung, Principal Investigator of the Work Autonomy, Flexibility and Work-Life Balance Project at the University of Kent said: ‘As we have also seen in our previous employee survey, the flexible working genie is out of the bottle – more workers want to work flexibly in the future, and as this report has shown, managers now see the benefits of flexible working. Flexible working can help benefit workers’ well-being, enhance gender diversity and reduce the gender pay gap in companies, as well as increase productivity as a way to overcome some of the economic issues we’ve faced during the pandemic. We can expect a cultural shift towards more flexible working, but not equally for all companies or workers. Government policies to help make that cultural shift, by introducing stronger rights to flexible working and better protection against discrimination for flexible workers may help this transition go smoothly after the Covid-19 lockdown measures end.’

The full findings and wider recommendations of the report, ‘Managing Employees during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Flexible Working and the Future of Work’, will be announced by Dr Heejung Chung, Dr Sarah Forbes and Dr Holly Birkett at a webinar on 26 November 2020 (13.00-14.00). The webinar, organised by the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business at the University of Birmingham, will also have presentations from: Lauren Adams (HR Director at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI)), Daisy Hooper (Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI)), and Anthony Fitzpatrick (Employee Relations and Global Employment Policy Lead at Aviva). Registration is available via this link: