In the wake of the covid-19 outbreak, I ordered my eldest daughter a laptop at the weekend. As I was placing the order, the salesman made a fascinating comment. “You’ve bought at the right time. Stocks are getting low. We’re getting loads of managers buying laptops for their staff.”
Unfortunately for my daughter, the shortage of laptops meant I couldn’t order her a machine in the colour she wanted. That small fact aside, isn’t it amazing that, of all places, PC World is running low on laptop computers because businesses are making preparations for staff to work from home?
An opportunity for change
While I don’t want to make light of coronavirus, it’s potentially handed us a huge opportunity to change working culture. We have a chance for mums, dads, carers or anyone in need of flexible working to prove they can get their job done and that flexible working works.
We’re going to see a surge of people working remotely and those balancing caring responsibilities will inevitably work non-traditional hours that suit them better, maybe from home or possibly in their usual workplace. Conference calls and video conferencing will, at least for a few months, become the norm. I’m also hearing of employers who are encouraging staff to work for a set number of days in the office and a set number at home in rotation.
I’m not saying dealing with the impact of Covid-19 will be easy, but if workers keep working and businesses keep operating, it will be that bit harder for senior managers to refuse flexible working requests when normality returns to the workplace. In fact, I’m going to go further still.
If the Government closes schools, insists upon family-wide isolation and travel becomes even more difficult, many businesses will only be able to keep running because their employees are working flexibly. Put another way, flexible working has become the only way to keep many businesses afloat so suddenly many more employers are encouraging it!
Of course, not everyone wants to work from home and there are occupations, such as policing or the armed forces, that can’t be done remotely or at hours the worker chooses. Where flexi-working is an option, the extreme circumstances caused by the coronavirus have handed us a gift.
Some employers are already doing well
Credit where it’s due, I have been heartened by the messages I have seen on social media. It seems a lot of employers, those who have already embraced flexi-working, have instructed staff to work to do so.
The fact laptops are selling at such a ferocious rate, however, shows that many employers still have some catching up to do and maybe aren’t as flexible with their working practices as they could be. It’s these employers I hope will see how far tech has come and will realise the old, rigid, nine to five working culture is a relic of a bygone age.
The big challenge of the Covid-19 outbreak
The big challenge on this occasion is not so much how everyone will work from home, but how people will entertain their children when the schools and childcare facilities are shut (I have no special information, but I say “when” because my prediction is a very, very long Easter break!). Balancing children and work is never easy.
It’s not a situation home-based workers usually face, or if they do, it’s for a few days because a child is ill. When the schools close, who knows when they’ll open again? I’ve seen two news reports suggesting schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland could close for 16 weeks. It would be odd if England and Wales didn’t follow their example.
In our family, we know there’s a good chance Mrs Adams will work from home for a protracted period. When the schools close, we’ll be like many other families: Two children and two working parents balancing work and childcare at the same time.
We will no doubt work at obscure hours. Screen time will increase. Housework will be ignored. Even so, work will be completed remotely and flexibly.
This brings me back to that computer salesman. It was how to handle all of us being at home at once that persuaded me to order Helen a laptop. Allow me to explain.
Toilet roll vs laptop computer
Buying a laptop because of the Covid-19 outbreak may seem like a very extravagant step, but I know the kids’ school has prepared online lessons when its doors are closed. We simply didn’t have enough computers for Mrs Adams and I to work and the kids do school work at the same time.
We had already planned to buy Helen a laptop computer because she starts high school in September. With the arrival of Covid-19, we’ve simply purchased it a few months early. I hope you’ll agree there was much more logic in our decision to buy her a laptop than there is in many people’s decision to buy a shopping trolley full of toilet roll.
Best of luck and may it lead to change
If you do find yourself working from home / flexibly / remotely in the weeks and months to come, best of luck. I especially think of you if you are not used to working this way as it will represent a change. That said, if this way of working is new to you, I hope you like it.
I just hope that out of all of this coronavirus-induced chaos, we see some change to working culture. This is a chance to prove that flexible working can work for employees and employers alike. Let’s not squander it.