July 29, 2021Published by: Drew Benvie

Here we are in the new normal: flexible working

For anyone that hasn't been paying attention over the last year, flexible working is the new normal. For those that can work remotely – which is mainly office workers, like me – anywhere safe with a broadband connection can be our nerve centre. We're powered by Zoom, everything is in the cloud, and there’s a broad acceptance nowadays that flexibility is good.

There, that's a good start. If you have access to the right tech, you're in good hands right now. Which is why yesterday's strange news that one of the UK's main political parties is looking to legislate flexible work feels like a big game of catch-up. 

Telling people they are allowed to work flexibly is absolutely the first hurdle jumped successfully, but the next ones are fast approaching. And some of these hurdles aren't the ones that just fall over if you run hard enough at them. Flexible working is a steeplechase, and it started many years before COVID-19. 

The early days of flexible working

In 2013, one of Silicon Valley's most influential leaders moved from one of the world's highest profile brands to another, and her lasting impression right now of that time (for those who remember), was a move made to bring culture back to a company that had been advocating flexible working – without having a real focus on making it work. 

Marissa Mayer, one of Google's first employees and a titan of tech, took over at Yahoo!, and in 2013 told all staff they had to knock this WFH malarkey on the head and start coming back to the office. It was a move that sent ripples around digital circles, where flexible working was already becoming a pretty common work perk. But according to reports, Yahoo! needed a culture reset. 

Working from home is not the panacea many think it can be if taken blindly. You have to look at the lessons learned from others to get a picture of what will come in the future once you rip off the plaster and go for totally flexible working. 

What flexible working means now

For me, perfecting the new normal has been a 10-year learning process where many twists and turns have fine tuned my understanding and approach to what totally flexible working really means, what matters to people, and what delivers benefit to a business. How often someone spends in an office versus home versus other places is a relatively small part of the picture. Other factors include team structures, limiting work hours, diversity and inclusion, technology innovation, protecting colleagues from burnout, and different ways of empowering people to create transparency and responsibility. 

We should also remember that many workers will never be able to work from home, for all sorts of reasons. You might not have the space or the job that allows it. But making any profession work in a more flexible environment, and evolving the approach to work to be more innovative, is absolutely the way forward. 

So here we are in the new normal. It started longer ago than many of us might realise, and history tells us that it can cause problems as well as bring solutions. But as we embrace the cultural changes that come with flexible working, we will see many more workplace innovations and “new normals” for years to come. 

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