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Is the rise in flexible and remote working an opportunity for women wanting to return to work.

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

The last decade saw a rise in technology and digitisation in the workplace across the globe. We had gone from fearing technology to understanding how to use it as an enabler. Companies had already started redesigning and adapting, to integrate technology into their operations. And when the dust settled, successful organisations were the ones that had adapted technology at its very core such that they could unleash the power of the human & technology together. This meant that ‘portable careers’, ‘hot desking’, ‘agile working, flexible hours, use of AI and more, became part of the day-to-day lexicon, rather than alien concepts.


The global pandemic has further accelerated this digitisation process for all organisations as people have been compelled to work from home and companies have had to adapt quickly to enable employees to do this efficiently. It has been a time of uncertainty and disruption that no one saw coming. But what we know for sure is that it will certainly change the future of workplaces.


In 2021, some of the tech giants such as Twitter, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft already said that their employees are going to work from home for at least another year or more and some may work from home permanently. While some companies adopted remote working more permanently, most took a more hybrid approach where part of the workforce works from home while the other half returns to work either by rotation or the job type deciding whether they must be physically present at the workplace. This approach was no doubt fuelled by the need to cut commercial & real estate costs, and perhaps more altruistically, by the huge positive impact that working from home has had on the environment. Companies may also look at having a core group of permanent employees and others employed on a contract or project basis.


This opens an opportunity for a huge segment of society – women/mums who have been wanting to come back to work, and women who have been struggling to balance work and home life. It will also help retain women on the verge of taking a break. So yes, many women could benefit from these new formats of working viz. flexible and remote working, portable careers, hybrid working models or even working on a contract or project basis. But is flexible and remote working the solution for all women? And does it come with a price?


Previously, going into the workplace was a clear demarcation between work and home space and time. For many women, it was the social aspect of the workplace that was incentive enough for them to go to work every day. Will we be able to develop a connection with our colleagues just as strongly as we did when we could see our colleagues working alongside us every day? Will we get a break from our home chores? On the other hand, one may argue that working from home and virtual interactions have given a greater insight into a colleague’s life/homes/families/kids outside of work. There is a feeling that we are all in this together. So, we are more empathetic to a screaming child or some other disruption in the background.


The truth is that there is no simple answer to these questions.


Every woman will have to work this out for themselves. Each situation is different. Some thrive in isolation while others need to be among people. Some thrive in an unstructured environment where they can take on responsibility and prefer free reign to work to their best ability while others need structures and rules to reach their full potential. The other factor to consider will be the company itself. Is the company mindful of work and personal time? Are they mindful of employee mental health? The right organisations have taken steps to raise their EQ to get a deeper understanding of their employees to see how they can enable them all to stay engaged, focused and productive.


One of the key success factors is going to be maintaining clear and open lines of (regular) communication. And when we say communication, we have to take into consideration “chat literacy” as well which will be extremely important with remote working becoming the norm rather than the exception. Along with formal scheduled (virtual) meetings for work, there should also be informal catchups to get to know colleagues better. This is very important to continue to nurture team spirit and collaboration.


The other key factor is digitisation which may sound like a cliché but now is the time if there was ever any for organisations to move quickly and adapt tech & digital solutions and processes to not just survive but flourish in the post-pandemic era as well as keep everyone safe. The same goes for women looking to return to the workforce. They will need to up their digital literacy.


Bottomline there are many arguments for and against flexible/ remote working. But it is an opportunity to be explored. However, the success of the same will depend on two factors. Firstly, on the type of organisations and if they can adopt and help enable and empower employees for remote/flexible working. Secondly, it will also depend on how employees adapt to the change. Now is the time to be fearless, creative, innovative and resilient. It is a time to reimagine everything.


A McKinsey report described the five qualities that are critical for business leaders today as resolve, resilience, return, re-imagination and reform. There may be overlap in these stages and the degree and order may differ depending on the business, sector, & country. They suggest in their report that this is a time when organisations need to reimagine their business model. The moment is not to be lost but face the challenges and opportunities that the new normal poses. It is becoming increasingly clear that these qualities not only apply to the organisation but to every employee in the organisation as well. Clearly, those who can pivot and adapt are the ones that will succeed.


If there is one surety in all this, it is this;

During the pandemic, we have all been forced to stop and take stock again. A chance to rethink our priorities and life goals. A time to show resilience and look for new opportunities, stop sticking to what we thought the future would be, and actively reimagine what the future should be.


If you have any questions and are considering returning to work or struggling with flexible working, please feel free to book a free session with me by emailing me on: coachsanjukta.mitra@gmail.com

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