With covid-19 there's a colossal opportunity to change the rules.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind

Pandemic momentum

Since the start of the pandemic, the demands and complexities of our lives have become more visible.

The children and parents we might be caring for, our physical and mental health needs, our personal circumstances, the moments that brings us joy and the times we struggle, and many of the other considerations and factors that make up our 'whole self' are suddenly in full view.

While covid-19 made some of the challenges more extreme, these impossible demands of 'doing it all' have always been here.

Why do we need a 1930s working model for 2022? Let's lead by example as a sector – and create organisations to include.

Sarabajaya Kumar, Trustee, NCVO

The inflexible working practices that have made it so hard for people to manage the different elements of lives in a healthy and positive way. The hidden messages that it's up to part-time workers themselves to 'make it work' and over compensate for their shorter hours by working late at night or early in the morning.

The many workers who have been denied flexibility, missed out on roles, or not applied for a great opportunity because of overwhelm, stigma, and outdated ideas about how work and jobs should be designed. At the same time, covid-19 has taught us that we can work differently – and more flexibly – when the will is there.

Ways of working that previously seemed impossible in roles where we thought flexibility 'couldn't be done' are now routine.

In my mind, flexible working is the future of working.

Marcus Wratten, Social Media Manager, Hestia

This moment, when we are both acutely aware of the many different parts of colleagues' lives and are braver and more innovative about how we work, should be a critical opportunity to bring about lasting change and not fall back into our previous standard working practices.

With the courage to build on what we have learnt, we have a unique chance to redesign work in the voluntary sector so that wellbeing, inclusion, supporting people's whole selves and productivity go hand in hand.

The pandemic has meant 'home working' has become something of a shorthand for flexible working, but in reality there are multiple forms of flexible working.

It's important that employers and employees don't get too stuck on just one type of flexibility for a role – and explore different options that might work for each individual. Building a deeper understanding of the wide range of options available will be crucial to embedding flexibility successfully in the voluntary sector.

The need for flexibility also goes far beyond parenthood and caring responsibilities.

It feeds into:

  • Supporting mental and physical health
  • Creating inclusive practices for disabled people
  • Where people can afford or want to live
  • Personal development
  • Supporting portfolio careers
  • Bereavement
  • So much more

Flexible working should be seen as the way work is organised – it's not a benefit, concession or exception. It is how organisations carry out their work.

Kirstie Axtens, Head of Employer Services, Working Families

Why does flexibility matter?

With so many people 'falling into' flexibility and homeworking because of the pandemic, and emerging discussions about the 'new normal', it is easy to see flexibility as a tactical reaction to the new circumstances rather than a purposeful strategic choice.

A choice that can promote deeper inclusion, wellbeing, access to talent, and a focus on productivity and impact over the number of hours worked within organisations.

Prolonged homeworking due to covid-19 has rightly led to important conversations about what we have lost from not being in the office: connection, creativity, community and culture. It is easy to focus on what we have lost, rather than what we have gained.

There is a real risk we lose the progress we have made on flexibility through a knee-jerk slip backwards to old ways of working. It is important not to see flexibility as a barrier to the benefits of connection and coming together, as the best of face-to-face connection can still be done flexibly. Instead what is needed is a bold, human and trust-based response to how we organise our work in the future.

There is an opportunity post covid-19 to think deeply and courageously about how we reshape our workforce – and design things differently. We need to share more about what's possible.

Katharine Sacks-Jones, Chief Executive, Become

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 10 February 2022