The UK is in its 8th week of lockdown and the majority of the UK working population cannot go to work or see their friends and family. Currently, 7.5 million people cannot even work from home as they have been furloughed and are not permitted to do anything for their employer.
But perhaps harder still, is the challenge facing parents who even pre-pandemic were already struggling to juggle the responsibilities of childcare and work.
With schools looking like they could remain closed until September, excepting Reception, Year 1& 6 from 1 June, there is a significant cohort of the British workforce that is silently struggling.
Last week (12 May) the Government released its Covid-19 Recovery Strategy mapping out the three phases to contain ‘R’ (the transmission rate) and a timetable, taking the UK up to 4 July, for parts of the economy to return in a measured and safe way.
Wednesday 13 May was officially the UK’s (well, England’s), first day back in the workplace, if you cannot work from home. But what if you have school age children? For those who cannot work from home, such as in the manufacturing or construction sectors, employers are gradually bringing their workforce back. For people looking for childcare solutions with school doors firmly shut, many employees find themselves in a position of being unable to return, adding to the stress with reasonable concerns over job security. Their stress levels are further exacerbated by the worry that their employer may not going to be sympathetic to the quandary of what to do to keep their children safe and cared for, but still be able to turn up to work and fulfil their contractual obligations.
The answer has to be more flexible and agile working as the new norm. A dynamic approach to a Covid-19 world, one where all the normal patterns of working have disappeared for now.
So what can employers do to help their staff and reassure them as they look to return to work?
The most important has to be to look to imaginative and collaborative flexible working patterns, bearing in mind that visibility does not necessarily mean optimum productivity.
This means different shifts, staggered hours and a routine that fits best for the employee and works for the employer too.
All employees have a right to request flexible working however, is it time for employers to go one step further and make flexible working the default, whenever possible, in our new virtual world of work post-Covid-19?