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Why flexibility for non-office workers is key to an equitable workplace

Office workers enjoy greater flexibility since the pandemic than their non-office counterparts.

Office workers enjoy greater flexibility since the pandemic than their non-office counterparts.

Sander van't Noordende
CEO, Randstad
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Society and Equity

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  • Office workers enjoy greater flexibility since the pandemic than their non-office counterparts.
  • Three in five non-office workers now believe that flexibility is possible in their line of work.
  • Offering fair, flexible working to non-office workers is a business imperative and will help organizations recruit and retain talent.

If you work in an office, there is a fair chance your job is much more flexible than before the pandemic. Perhaps you work from home a few days a week. Or maybe you’ve shifted your hours to better suit family or lifestyle commitments.

If you don’t work in an office, your experience over the past three years will likely have been somewhat different. For many non-office roles, the work-from-home phenomenon is clashing against the more traditional approach still being taken by many employers.

And this uneven approach to flexibility is creating inequities and a divide in the opportunities and accessibility of some roles.

Flexibility is the new currency

It’s certainly not the case that office workers are alone in wanting greater latitude.

Randstad’s Q2 2023 Workmonitor Pulse survey finds that flexibility is as much in demand among non-office workers as it is for office workers. In fact, the data, based on the views of more than 7,500 workers in the US, UK, Australia, France and Germany, shows nearly half of the non-office workers deem flexibility as important, or more important, than pay.

But despite this, just a fifth of non-office workers have seen greater flexibility since the pandemic. This is in contrast to over half of the office workers who now enjoy a greater degree of flexibility in their roles.

Just a fifth of non-office workers have seen greater flexibility since the pandemic.
Just a fifth of non-office workers have seen greater flexibility since the pandemic. Image: Randstad

Flexible and equitable

Indeed, some roles are more easily done from home than others. And work tasks in industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, construction and mining, or people-facing roles like nursing or teaching, are among the least easy to do remotely, often requiring on-site presence.

But flexible working is about more than working from home – it also includes being open to adjustments in working schedules and number of hours worked. It is in these areas in particular that non-office workers feel their employers can and should be doing more.

This might mean working four-day or reduced-hour weeks, or split shifts, for example. Or it could be examining roles to split activities into those that need to be performed on-site during “normal” working hours and those that could be undertaken off-site at a different time.

Now, three in five non-office workers think that flexibility is possible in their line of work.
Now, three in five non-office workers think that flexibility is possible in their line of work. Image: Ranstad

The historic perception that flexible working is not possible for non-office roles is changing. Now, three in five non-office workers think that flexibility is possible in their line of work.

During the height of the pandemic, we saw how many office workers could work remotely while many frontline professionals didn’t have this benefit. The remote and hybrid working trends that have grown up since undeniably favour office workers, and their office-less counterparts have been unable to shake off this unequal treatment.

Flexibility is not a nice to have – it’s an essential

Whether people are working from an office chair or a cab seat, the reasons for wanting more flexibility are the same – a better work-life balance: more time to spend with friends and family, more time to rest and more time for a healthier lifestyle. It helps parents return to work, carers balance their responsibilities with work, and people manage their health conditions – it all comes down to having the ability to make the choices that matter to you.

And if an employer is unwilling to offer the flexibility workers are after, then they will take action, with many leaving their jobs or even changing careers over the issue. Without leeway to deal with personal responsibilities, many non-office workers have also taken sick days to resolve issues.

The remote and hybrid working trends that have grown up since undeniably favour office workers.
The remote and hybrid working trends that have grown up since undeniably favour office workers. Image: Randstad

So, offering fair, flexible work isn’t an optional extra, it’s imperative for successful, equitable, diverse businesses.

And against a backdrop of growing demand for non-office roles, it is also a crucial recruitment and retention tool.

Equitable work is about recognizing the same approach doesn’t work for everyone. Job flexibility will continue to be a battleground and point of differentiation. Businesses can’t stick with doing things the way they have always been done if they want to get the best workers – and get the best out of them.

Rethinking the approach to flexible working for hands-on roles is key to boosting workforce participation and morale, and driving business growth.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Forum InstitutionalJobs and the Future of Work
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