Flexibility as the Frontier: Why Businesses Can’t Afford to Ignore WFH (Or Women)

The conversation around working from home (WFH) has become tainted by irrelevant matters, often depicted as a concession rather than an evolution in the world of work. Yet, the reality that most women experience suggests a different story. Initially a pandemic inspired temporary fix, WFH has become a part of the working week for many. Far from being detrimental, WFH is proving crucial for mothers, those with caring responsibilities and businesses alike, stimulating outdated corporate cultures and fostering more inclusive and diverse workplaces.

 

But (some cry) WFH will turn workplaces back into male-dominated environments! If we are just talking about the physical geography, perhaps, but only until offices evolve into a different type of working space, which is inevitable. Think, destination wedding. You go there for an event and go and carry on your everyday life elsewhere.

 

The idea that WFH might side-line women just doesn’t hold water. In fact, a recent study in the United States, suggests that remote work increases female participation in the workforce. WFH won’t harm women’s career progression but provide an opportunity to balance work and personal obligations without sacrificing their professional ambitions.

 

Further, the flexibility offered by WFH can play a real role in reducing the “motherhood penalty,” the career setbacks many women face due to childcare and parent care. The traditional office setup, with its rigid schedules and commuting demands, often disproportionately affects mothers. The ability to work from home can lessen these impacts, offering mothers the ability to manage their time more effectively. So WFH not only supports women in their career trajectories but also lessens some of the logistical challenges mothers face daily. 

 

Critics often argue that remote work might isolate employees from corporate culture and in-person mentorship opportunities. Although this seems like a reasonable concern, it is just a lazy way of thinking. How do global organisations manage to maintain their culture beyond country borders? When I was in corporate, at one time, I had teams in the US, Malaysia, India and the UK where I was based. We had to navigate time zones and domestic cultural differences and operate to one corporate culture. It took effort, creativity and flexibility on the part of all those concerned, facilitated by the right tools.

 

In fact, one of my team members based in Malaysia who was only the start of her career thrived under my mentorship and we remain friends to this day even though we both don’t work for the organisation anymore. So, let’s stop being lazy in our thinking that the solution to the isolation and the breakdown in culture requires a full return to pre-pandemic office norms. 

 

Furthermore, there is a broader societal shift at play. The pandemic has shown us that many jobs can be performed outside of traditional office environments. This shift has prompted a re-evaluation of what productivity looks like. No longer being seen to be in the office at 7.30am but moving to more outcome-based metrics. Organisations that cling to pre-pandemic work models risk a significant portion of the workforce (women and men alike) voting with their feet. 

 

Some have said that WFH could deepen class divisions. How many women stacking shelves in the supermarket or delivery drivers get the chance to WFH? Not so sure of a class divide though as medics face the same issue of not having location flexibility. To me, this is the crux of the problem, it is not about remote working but rather flexible working. Employees might not mind not having location flexibility if they can get flexibility another way like choosing their working hours. It is about giving them control over their working life. 

 

There are at least seven different types of flexible working:

 

  1. Flexitime: Employees have the freedom to choose their start and end times, as long as they complete their required hours.
  2. Compressed Hours: Working full-time hours but over fewer days, such as four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days.
  3. Part-Time: Working fewer hours than a full-time schedule, often by working fewer days.
  4. Remote Work: Working from a location other than the traditional office, like home or a coworking space.
  5. Job Sharing: Two people sharing the responsibilities and hours of one full-time position.
  6. Annualised Hours: The total hours for the year are fixed but can be varied across different weeks or months, depending on the workload.
  7. Staggered Hours: Employees have different start, break, and finish times, which can help manage rush hours or extend service hours.

 

Yet, most people just get stuck on the WFH part. Again, this is lazy thinking. The modern workplace should avail of different types of flexibility to suit the work they do and their employees.

 

The transition to more remote and flexible work arrangements is not just a relic of the pandemic but a forward-looking adaptation to contemporary life’s demands. Why would female top talent, who value the flexibility that WFH offers, settle for anything less? Organisations that fail to recognise this shift and adapt accordingly run the risk of not just a female exodus, but the exodus of anyone who has a life outside of work!

 

The future of work isn’t about where it’s done but how it’s done, and flexible working including  WFH is an integral part of this new paradigm.

 

P.S.

If you want to find out how to increase productivity in your workplace or efficiently juggle as a working mother, grab a slot in a diary here for a chat.