Coronavirus is sweeping the world. Every day brings news of fresh cases, and tragically, more deaths. The threat of contagion amongst employees is prompting multi-nationals such as HSBC and Facebook to shut their doors and send their workers home. The effect on the economy has been catastrophic, with markets tumbling globally. With businesses losing billions in productivity, there’s a new and urgent focus on the subject of flexible working. Could covid-19 re-define the relationship between companies and employees – and leave a more mutually beneficial corporate culture in its wake?

Reducing the risk of contagion

Around the world, governments have taken drastic measures to contain covid-19. China has quarantined large areas and the Italian government has placed the entire country in lockdown. In the UK, the government has said it is prepared to ban large public events and encourage people to work from home. Such measures are part of the next step in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s covid-19 battle plan. If the government decides to go ahead, an Italian-style national shutdown could force tens of millions of staff to work remotely. Could this herald a shift towards a truly flexible workforce?

Flexible working – a better option for employees?

In China, the traditionally conservative corporate culture has been turned on its head, with employees instructed to work from home in order to self-isolate. For many people, it’s meant less stress, no commute and more time to spend with family. With today’s advanced technology, communication between home-working colleagues is as easy as clicking on an app. While some fear that the intrusion of work into the home space could lead to longer hours, many report a greater sense of wellbeing thanks to a better work-life balance.

Permanent vs flexible workforces

It’s not just employees that are discovering the benefits of working from home. Covid-19 has given momentum to the trend for agile working, accelerating a shift away from traditional, linear models. With an agile philosophy, people are generally free to work in the way that suits them best. It’s not just about working flexibly – it’s about taking advantage of new technologies to maximise efficiency. Agile working removes barriers, enabling people to operate wherever and however they like. This typically makes for a happier, more productive workforce, which then improves customer satisfaction. There’s also the fact that agile working means companies can adapt quickly to change. When businesses are more nimble, they can gain a competitive edge.

Having said that, every company is different and agile may not be right for all. Traditional models and permanent staff also have advantages. For example, on-site teams may feel more committed and develop closer working relationships. However, the need for healthy, productive workforces could trump such benefits as we enter a new age. MERS, SARS and now coronavirus have demonstrated how terrifyingly quickly disease can proliferate in a globalized world. If fast-spreading pathogens become the norm, traditional working models will have to be re-thought.

Is the future agile?

If businesses are forced to implement agile working until the outbreak is over, the experience could have major implications for the way we work in the future. Once companies realise the benefits and have laid the ground for cultural change, we could see the practice becoming more widespread and accepted after covid-19 has finally peaked. Businesses may well embrace agile by augmenting or even replacing parts of their permanent workforce. Could covid-19 spark a new phase of workforce innovation?

What do you think about flexible working and coronavirus? Are you working from home to avoid infection? Share your thoughts and stories – contact Colnort at [email protected] or on +44 (0) 203 971 5667.