How male bosses are having lightbulb moments about flexible working

Katy Fridman
·4-min read
Katy Fridman
Katy Fridman
Equality Check - embed - fix
Equality Check - embed - fix

Working in an office is something I did for decades. It wasn’t until I had children that I realised that the 9-5 was completely incompatible with nursery drop-offs and pick-ups. 

Leaving work became a thing of dread. Even when I had agreed my flexible hours with my employer, as I reached the end of my contracted day I would start to shift in my chair – and feel the eyes on me in the office as I started to pick up my bag to leave. 

I had to collect my  kids on time but instead of doing so confidently and proudly, I would slope off “to the loo” with my bag and hope no one would notice. It was utterly exhausting. 

But all that is now changing – for men as well as women. 

The pandemic has been a time of devastation. But in the workplace it has opened the floodgates to flexible working; testing people's resilience and capabilities – even those people who once rolled their eyes at working mothers leaving the office “early”.

It has started to end the outdated notion that, unless you are physically sitting at your desk in an office, you aren’t actually working.

A poll of over 10,000 people by Flexible Working People showed that 75 per cent of us would now like to work from home at least half of the time. Just 24 per cent would like to be in the office for at least 80 per cent of the time. This is huge and, it’s not just parents – it’s the UK workforce asking for change. 

The CEO at an accountancy firm told me that his PA had been asking for flexible working for years, and he just couldn’t get his head around her not being in the office. Then Covid hit, his business went remote... and everything carried on as normal. “I just always felt like I needed her sitting next to me, but the reality is that I don’t,” he says.

Others have had a complete 360 degree turn within their family dynamic. Chris, an executive manager at Academy Engagement, is now saving at least 15 hours per week on travel. He explains: “I am able to get much more done. I am able to have breakfast with my two-year-old daughter every day. Drop and collect her from the nursery and be there for every bedtime. At her age, I feel like I have been able to grow much closer to her than I would have done otherwise and she is now commonly known in my house as my ‘shadow’.”

The new normal? Working from home with your partner...
The new normal? Working from home with your partner...

The reality is that companies which don’t listen to their people on flexible working will struggle to retain their people, attract new talent and to remain relevant. The tide has changed, people don’t want to just “get back to the office” – they’ve lived the alternative and they want to have some control over how and where they work.

And businesses are also seeing the benefits and are working with their people to create a new type of workplace where it’s not one size fits all – it’s not home or office, it’s a blend of both. 

Before Covid, Matthew was travelling four hours a day and staying away from his family for half the week. But he’s now there every day and getting all of those hours back with his family. As the head of talent for O2, Matthew explained that they have been able to open up over 40 roles internally for progression of staff: “Location just doesn’t matter anymore, so there’s opportunity for people to go further and to take on new roles.”

The genie is out of the bottle. There will be teething problems as we move to a new agile way of working, and it will take time to adjust for some more than others. But at the end of it all, if we have knocked down the presenteeism barriers and if we can focus on the role not the location, then we will have made some incredible progress in the workplace. And no more sneaking off “to the loo”.

Have you benefited from a shift to flexible working? Let us know in the comments section below.