There’s a lot of speculation around how workplaces may change post-covid, primarily focused around physical changes to spaces (such as a reversion from open plan offices), through to an increase in remote working. Whilst I’m sure that both of these will play out to some degree, an overlooked consequence of our covid isolation maybe a increased shift to part-time arrangements.
Many consultancies have moved staff into some form of part-time arrangement as a way of preserving their cash flow. The governments stimulus to businesses in the form of Job Keepers has also significantly saved a number of employees from redundancy and kept them in a role, albeit at diminished part-time hours. The expectation is that as work returns, employees will return to full-time work. In theory as they are already employed by the companies and will know the clients, systems, protocols etc, these employees will rapidly increase the capacity of the employers giving them a surge in productivity and help them avoid the scrap for talent in the immediate recovery as everyone tries to find the cream of those released due to covid on the upswing. I propose that not everyone will want to return to the status quo.
For employees this slower period may offer a chance for self-reflection. Whilst part-time was talked about pre-covid, with everyone supposedly moving to side-hustles, this self-reflection may see employees wanting to spend more time with the family, further education or just more time for themselves as opposed to branching out into new ventures.
For employers, who have seen the introduction of Zoom/Teams platforms and developed more confidence in teams performing in non-traditional office settings, flexible part-time arrangements also offer advantages. More part-time people vs fewer full-time staff offers more people with a greater diversity of skills to attack problems. A well planned flexible part-time arrangement is also potentially more economical for an employer whilst also offering them the capacity to quickly ramp-up their capacity by offering part-timers more hours during project peaks.
For employers considering pro-actively offering part-time arrangements, here are a few things to consider:
• Starting conversations early. Whilst it is unclear now how it will exactly look, like governments employers will need to have a Covid Exit Strategy. For example are they looking at a staged return to full-time hours or everyone returning to normal hours en-masse? As part of this strategy they need to be talking openly with employees about the potential option for continuing part-time work. One option would be to bring people eager to return to full-time work in initially, and offer those who want to continue part-time on a trial basis for an additional time period (during which they can return back to fulltime if requested).
• Develop a Policy. Flexibility looks different to different people, some will want a traditionally defined part-time role where work and personal work don’t intersect (for example those with family or study commitments), others are happier for a blurred mix of roles. In either case having a set policy that ensures consistency in how employees requests are treated fairly and equally are essential. The policy should include:
- Engagement – a mechanism to understand what the employee wants, and where possible “why”. In my experience whilst all reasons are to be frank equally as valid (a single person for example has equally as much right to flexibility to learn a new skill/follow their passion as a parent needing flexibility around childcare); understanding the reasoning behind an employee’s request can help develop a better outcome – for example knowing that someone is studying may give the parties chance to block out classroom days, build in additional time off to cram for an exam, but make up the time during their non-term time. Equally understanding that a parent is ran off their feet between the 8-9 and 3-5 school pick up times may set firm “no-call” boundaries.
- Documentation – A signed agreement, outlining hours, flexibility, KPI’s, review and an option for the company to review if it becomes unsustainable from a business practice point of view.
- KPI’s – A clear expectation of what is expected (and not expected). This could include core hours, expectation about client contact in these hours and speed of response and overall project output. To protect the employee, it could also have stipulated times where the employees are not expected to work/respond to clients.
Review – In order to ensure that the policy is working, it should be regularly reviewed to check that it meets business objectives. Things to consider in that review could include – productivity, customer satisfaction (if you send out customer service questionnaires include a specific question around any effects that part-time may have had on them), employee satisfaction, employee attraction, absenteeism among others.
• Set KPI’s – There’s been a general consensus among the employers that we’ve spoken to that productivity has been surprisingly high during this period of forced remote-working, often higher than they would see when working in a normal office environment. Whilst some have pointed to this being the new working utopia, as a natural cynic I personally feel that this is driven by the lack of outside stimulus and things to do, as opposed to employees being inspired to work harder in their home settings. Especially where employers/employees are comfortable having a degree of blurred lines around core working times, its essential that there are clear expectations around productivity and customer service. This protects the employer in giving them confidence that the work will get done (and stops the need for them micro-managing outputs), whilst also protecting the employee by stopping productivity creep (they get paid less working part-time so it is unfair to expect outputs similar to 5 days a week by gradually increasing their productivity every time they hit a milestone).
• Stop Pointless Meetings – One benefit that both employers and employees have commented on during isolation is the elimination of pointless meetings. There is a potential that as we return into a normal working environment these meetings will creep back. Quite frankly people who work part-time have not got time to attend these meetings if they are expected to be a productive employee as well. Eliminating these meetings, or at least giving them a detailed synopsis of the meetings prior to sending an invite will give the employee a chance to prioritise and only accept meetings that will benefit them.
• Maintaining Culture – In my opinion, whilst a number of people may opt to take up part-time arrangements, most of these are likely to be a subtle shift from 5 to 4 days as opposed to a dramatic halving of hours – so be a reasonable crossover of staff bumping into each other (which is required to maintain culture) will remain. It is worth considering though how to include part-time staff in events that help to build culture.
• Handovers – One of the main impediments to employers considering part-time roles in recent times has been the loss of time caused by hand-overs, especially on job-share roles. More than one client has complained that “We lose half-a-day a week for the outgoing person writing handover notes, another half a day a week for the incoming person reading them and then by the end of the week its time to write all the notes again”. Hopefully, the increased use of platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Slack and other software should minimise this time and allow for more cohesive working arrangements.
• Flexibility – We have successfully operated with several part-time employees. In our experience flexibility and mutual respect is the key to it working successfully, from both employees and employers. Both parties need to recognise that life is not perfect (either the home or work versions), and there will be times where the demands of one impact on the other. Understanding the others predicament and accommodating their requirements where you can helps for a flexible, reciprocal and mutually beneficial relationship.
To be frank I am sure that my prediction will be somewhat inaccurate, and probably dwarfed by the changes in remote working and re-designed office spaces but as a futurist once told me when I asked him about his job, the key isn’t accurately predict the future, but it was to get people asking the questions. So, whilst the answer may not be in part-time work, it is worth asking the questions if your company is fully accommodating it.
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