The corona crisis could lead the way to a more flexible working life

Working from home leads to higher levels of productivity, fewer sick days, and less transport time, but it should not be enforced upon all employees

French company Alstom had actually planned to expand their office facilities in Denmark. But the sudden corona lockdown meant that the 150 employees working primarily on the railway signalling project with Banedanmark had to be sent home.

And now the plans for extension have gone down the drain, says Madeleine Rydholdt, HR Director for Alstom’s Nordic divisions. Alstom’s experience with working from home has been so positive that she expects  most employees to work two to three days from home each week from now on.

According to Eva Jakobsen, working life consultant with IDA, the corona lockdown has removed some of the scepticism many employers feel towards working from home.

“I sometimes used to hear leaders speak of working from home as a half day off. It is definitely not like that anymore” she says.

“We are not proposing to lay down universal rules for structuring our work. In contrast, working life in the future should be based on creating a flexibility”

Thomas Damkjær Petersen, Chairman of IDA

A survey made by IDA asked about 2270 members about their experiences from the corona lockdown. It showed that a majority think that they spend their days working from home productively. 50 per cent claim that they work more effectively from home, 20 per cent less effectively.

Among the survey participants are 800 leaders, and among this group, 31 per cent respond that their employees have been more effective, while 21 per cent say that the opposite has been the case.  

Working from home gives more working hours

For the many IDA members who commute to work, working from home has provided more hours for work or free time. 71 per cent of the survey respondents say that the decreased transport time is a big advantage, and 48 per cent say that they are using either all or part of the extra time on work.

In addition, new measures related to social distancing, increased focus on hygiene, and regulations on gatherings has meant that one in two businesses has seen a decline in sick absences during the lockdown, while only 3 per cent have seen a rise.  

During the lockdown, many have also experienced that meetings have become more effective. 59 per cent of respondents say that meeting discipline is better at virtual meetings than at physical ones. 43 per cent, however, respond that the opportunity for everyone to share their views has worsened.

“We are social beings who need to meet physically. Using virtual tools to coordinate tasks in our workdays is fine, but in order to build trust and relations, you need to be physically in the same room. That is why we have to become experts at shifting between physical and virtual meetings, depending on the purpose”, explains IDA’s working life consultant Eva Jakobsen.

Working from home is stressful to some personality types

It is difficult to determine whether working from home minimises or increases stress levels. 29 per cent of survey respondents say they have experienced less stress in their departments, while 21 per cent say the opposite.

According to Eva Jacobsen, this might be caused by the changing nature of the corona lockdown.

“I think most people appreciate the opportunity of working from home. But there has been a large shift between the first and second half of the lockdown period. In the first part, many had to look after their kids and work from home at the same time, and having to live up to being a parent and co-worker simultaneously has definitely been stressful for many.”

“At the same time, there is a difference in people’s private circumstances. If you live alone and suddenly have to cancel all social arrangements, sports practice, and your weekend plans, then having to work alone on a daily basis from home can be very lonely.”

Martin Henriksen, employee representative in Sweco, has taken part in a series of focus group interviews about the experiences from the corona lockdown and agrees that the extent of working from home has been challenging for many.

“For many, coming to terms with being alone for this long is difficult. And unfortunately, as an employee representative, I have encountered several cases in the past two months of employees experiencing stress. There are two personality types that do not thrive with working from home alone. That is why we need to be careful with making it a common solution for everyone.”

He is hesitant to draw conclusions from the corona lockdown:

“We need to use this opportunity wisely. It is important not to jump to quick conclusions on the basis of five-six months and think that we have discovered the formula of the perfect working life. That being said, there are some elements that we can take with us because we have had good experiences with them. Examples could be that we might now think twice before driving across Denmark to attend a meeting, and we have become more focused on providing more flexibility for families with children so they can pick up their kids earlier and finish their work tasks in the evening.

More trust in employees

Based on our members’ survey and focus group interviews with employee representatives and HR Directors from various larger workplaces, IDA has formulated six principles for the working life of the future.

With these principles, we hope to spark a debate about how to use our experiences from the corona lockdown to organise a better working life.

Part of the principles is a proposal to introduce more working from home, although IDA’s Chairman Thomas Damkjær Petersen points out that the principles are first and foremost aimed at including employees in the structuring of  their future working life.

“We are not proposing to lay down universal rules for structuring our work. In contrast, working life in the future should be based on creating a flexibility that increases job satisfaction, to the benefit of both the individual, the workplace and society in general.”

“One of our most important lessons from the corona lockdown is that employees are motivated to work, regardless of whether they do so from home or in the office.”

IDA’s 6 principles for the labour market of the future

In the wake of the changes created by the corona pandemic, IDA has formulated 6 principles to help employees gain more influence over their working life.

  • 1. Co-management creates value
  • 2. Relations affect the accounts
  • 3. One size fits none
  • 4. No place like home
  • 5. Guidelines or chaos
  • 6. Alternative management

Read more here.