We have finally reached the start of 2021 after the most challenging year that many of us have ever experienced and with a new lockdown in force, we are all now waiting for science to help end the pandemic.
2020 has been a year like no other and that has impacted the way we work as well as the way we spend our leisure time. We have seen a number of enforced changes on the business front with many of those who can do so, instructed to from home for a large chunk of last year and into 2021. As things start to get back to normal later in the year – we hope – I would like to see some of the changes we have seen this year, really starting to impact the way we work in future.
The legacy of 2020
Although working and home schooling hasn’t been the ideal scenario for many parents over the last year, the opportunity for sustained working from home for many parents has finally become a reality for many. When children are at school, this has been a welcome ray of light for working dads particularly, who have been able to take advantage of the flexibility that home working brings with it. It means that sharing the load at home has been made easier with both parents potentially available for school pickups and evening routines. This step forward has played well with the new dynamics of modern day fathers having more equalized parenting roles.
Where will 2021 lead us?
Gender balance and future of work discussions need to look at the needs of both parents
With a new generation of fathers who are more involved in family life than ever, we need employers to finish what they started in 2020 so that we see true gender balance for dads in the workplace and help to achieve the ultimate goal – work life balance for a thriving modern day family in all its different shapes and sizes.
Recent surveys have shown that productivity is as good if not better with employees working from home. If this is the case, businesses will be starting to understand that remote working is no barrier to competition over the long term. However, homeschooling has brought some severe challenges to working families and the Labour party is now calling for more help from the Government for working parents who have to juggle homeschooling and work. There is finally a recognition that parents cannot work at home and teach their children at the same time and parents must not be penalised if they struggle.
Workplace flexibility is just as important for working dads
I hope that 2020 has made employers more aware that work life balance is as important for dads as it is for mums. It is not a “perk” – it is a “must” for active dads who want to strike a balance between being fully present at home and at work. I do believe that if nothing else, this year has brought about a softening of attitudes by all employers towards flexible working. I hope that the future picture of the workplace may well be a mix – or hybrid – of office and home working designed to suit everybody’s individual needs.
Make flexible working truly flexible
Although great strides were made during 2020 in allowing working parents to switch to more flexible work, this has been driven by necessity over any true motive by many employers to allow their employees a better work/life balance.
In reality, for many former office-based workers, the shift to home working has caused real issues as employers have expected the same way of working from a different location. The consequence is that many parents have ended up doing long evening shifts after the children have gone to bed as they try to make time lost because of childcare or homeschooling during the day. While that is understandable to a certain extent when homeschooling, it is not acceptable for employers to have an “always on” approach to work the rest of the time. If someone requests flexible working, that means that they have agreed to work certain hours or days and outside of that, they are not available. Everybody needs downtime and for 2021 I want to see employers start to truly understand the difference between flexible working and working from home.
Future job vacancies to offer remote working as standard
Becoming a parent is a massive life change – as much for men as it is for women. Men face the challenge of limited leave and the financial and cultural pressures of being the sole breadwinner on reduced income. After becoming a parent, many new fathers do not want to go back to the high pressure, long hours culture that they worked in before. Our dads in lockdown survey which we undertook back in May of last year showed that 25% of dads plan to request flexible working post the pandemic.
It is my fervent hope that the recent trend of office-based job vacancies offering the option of remote working, at least part of the week, is one that will continue and that it will benefit both working mums as well as working dads.
Flexible working must be seen as a key enabler of a productive workforce
The current legislation on flexible working needs bringing up to date. The current law says that after 26 weeks of employment, you are able make a “statutory application” for flexible working. Everyone has a legal right to request, not just parents.
If we are to achieve a brave new world of a more flexible – and more productive – workforce, then this needs to change. Flexible working for dads matters more than ever and we need to build on the positive steps forward made in 2020 to make 2021 the year when real change happened.