A small life science consultancy is embracing flexible working models amid shifting norms and expectations.
Working models have evolved steadily for decades. But in today's business world impacted by COVID-19, remote working is transforming in leaps and bounds.
How can businesses reconstruct working models fast within their digital ecosystems, to accommodate employee challenges such as childcare and isolation, while staying productive and meeting client demands?
We want to explore the benefits of the job-share and remote working models that have proven a success at KVALITO and consider current working trends.
The firm has the same challenge as a lot of businesses: finding skilled people to run and execute its projects.
It hired professionals who wanted to use their skillset in life sciences and IT (scientists, IT specialists and quality professionals), but with more flexibility in terms of working hours and commuting.
Claire Murtagh moved to Westport, Co Mayo, with her family while working remotely on a part-time basis. When this project finished opportunities for part-time, flexible work were non-existent in the west of Ireland.
KVALITO had a project which urgently required team members with laboratory, pharma and GMP experience. The organisation recognised the opportunity to complete the project by splitting the workload between Claire Murtagh and Gemma O'Neill.
The two consultants were able to provide the same service to a local life sciences company to complete a laboratory instrument validation project that would have ordinarily required a full-time resource.
By sharing the responsibilities and workload, the project was a success, while allowing them the flexibility they needed to handle their family commitments.
We asked O'Neill and Murtagh to explain how flexible working models work for them from day to day.
Gemma O'Neill: "Yes, we have an office in my home. I share it with my husband, who also works from home. I work in the morning, and he works later in the afternoon/evening as he deals with the US a lot."
O'Neill: "We started working from home during the Covid lockdown, the toughest things to deal with was no childcare providers, so it isn't easy to hold down five jobs at the same time, work as a scientist, home school teacher, parent, chef and house cleaner.
"You had to be very flexible and dynamic to find hours in the day to focus on specific tasks. It took a lot of negotiations with work and family to agree to change working hours and timelines while attending daily meetings remotely."
Claire Murtagh: "IT support can be challenging to access if required."
O'Neill: "At first, I tried to get as much done early in the morning, and since I was now sharing an office, and the family home at all times with my family members, this added another day to my week to allow life to run smoothly. Changing from 2.5 working days a week to four five-hour days has helped."
O'Neill: "Share knowledge and project updates. Trust your working partner and their standard of work/opinion. Be flexible to take on different responsibilities when required of each other. Rely on your partner."
Murtagh: "Children and dinner ensure an end to the working day!"
O'Neill: "I think a successful job share is when you each have different strengths, but similar mindsets which ensures there are no gaps in any work covered and your approach complements that of your job share partner.
"You can present work that has already been reviewed/edited by your partner to capture any mistakes/omissions before submitting. You get two people, two brains, two sets of experience working for the price of one."
O'Neill: "Job sharing is excellent with a young family and husband who travels a lot; it gives me great flexibility. Claire and I work independently but are supportive of each other in meetings if they fall outside our daily hours. She is a great sounding board to run new ideas or approaches by, and a great information sharer.
"I feel it is very beneficial for companies; they get the knowledge and experience of two people but only pay the salary for one employee. With job sharing, companies expect a similar approach and standard from both people – that's why communication is so important."
O'Neill: "As a consultant, you are expected to hit the ground running, with minimal onsite training. You need to have expert knowledge of regulations and GMP [good manufacturing practice] requirements and industry standards, working independently and with little direction.
"It's essential to be a self-starter to schedule customers' needs, and to have strong communication skills to keep customers up to date with the project process, and successes."
Let's consider some of the inherent wins and challenges of remote and flexible working models for businesses today.
With workers scattered across the globe, companies are realising that remote working presents its own set of challenges.
Communication/disconnection: although it seems like a contradiction, people in a digitally connected society can become isolated; overuse of digital communication technologies means we are facing a loneliness epidemic.
Know when to instant message: (low bandwidth conversation, quick, simple questions), and when to in-person message. Encourage meaningful face-to-face interaction for brainstorming high-level decision-making or in-depth conversation and avoid digital avenues where you can, so employees can profit from each other's energy and body language and to boost feelings of togetherness, engagement and belonging.
Regular short meetings: check in with your employees – ask 'how are you feeling?' Don't only focus on work matters.
Ensure you have technology solutions in place, identity-driven security, a cloud-based document management system, a chat and collaboration system, and IT support to empower your teams to work off-site.
Trust your employees to work productively. Avoid micro-management as this is demotivating for employees. Hire people who are:
Leaders need to stay calm, positive, pragmatic, and present/mindful as the energy they put out will be absorbed by your team. Amid a crisis and during regular business, you need to embody the attitude that you want your team and your company to emulate. Support your employees to combat stress and live a healthy work and lifestyle.
The chart below shows the percentage of people working remotely by industry:
Figure 1: Remote work by industry; Global Workplace Analytics' special analysis of 2016 ACS data(2)
In her post COVID-19 US workplace forecast, Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, explained: "Our best estimate is that 25-30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021"(3).
The 2018 report on business and communications technology from Irish VoIP group Blueface(4) predicts that remote working will rival fixed office-based models by 2025 and reveals that 78% of businesses have implemented a remote-working policy.
In its The Year in Job Search report(5) search engine Indeed observed that the number of searches in Ireland for 'remote' positions surged by 171% in late 2017.
In April 2020, data from the UK's Office for National Statistics revealed that 49.2% of adults in employment were working from home(6).
On a global scale, the World Economic Forum has identified flexible working and the virtual office as "one of the biggest drivers of transformation"(7).
Adam Coleman, CEO HR Locker says, "working from home (in addition to the Trojan work of parenting) can take many forms(8).
"But let's be clear about one thing: there's working from home, and then there's working from home during COVID-19.
"Anybody who had worked remotely before the coronavirus struck will tell you there's a world of difference between having a designated workspace at home, compared to working from home when you're sharing that space with a partner, as well as children who need home-schooling or supervision"(9).
Employers must support workers with families to manage their competing commitments.
The onset of COVID-19 resulted in an unprecedented adoption of remote working models almost overnight and is a fundamental part of the way we work today.
It is too early to say to what extent we will return to the old way of working after the pandemic, but now is the time for companies to prepare for this back to the new normal.
Flexible and remote working provides many answers to current challenges, and employers have observed that a work-from-home scenario is more than feasible.
Remote work statistics show benefits across the board, from environmental to results-based benchmarks. Although businesses have been quick to adopt new working practices, they have not been quick to act on clear signals of work-life balance pressures with many employees working more than before.
Equally, employee isolation must be kept in check, as a healthy workplace provides human connection and employees rely on their leaders to provide this.
Flexible working, virtual teams, video conferencing, and co-working spaces are disrupting the traditional workspace, transcending the physical confines of the office and redefining the boundary between work and private life in the process.
Digital workers' unions and new labour market regulations are beginning to emerge around new organisational models. The challenge for individuals and employers is to make sure that the changing nature of work will benefit all.
Author: Lara Bartlett, digital communications manager, KVALITO Consulting Group
1. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/283985/working-remotely-effective-gallup-research-says-yes.aspx consulted on 20.08.2020
2. https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics consulted on 17.08.2020
3. https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/work-at-home-after-covid-19-our-forecast#:~:text=Our%20best%20estimate%20is%20that%2025%2D30%25%20of%20the%20workforce,by%20the%20end%20of%202021.&text=The%20demand%20for%20flexibility%20in,least%20some%20of%20the%20time. Consulted 24.08.2020
4. https://www.blueface.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/The-2018-BCT-Report.pdf consulted 17.08.2020
5. The Year in Job Search Report https://www.indeed.com/lead/the-year-in-search consulted 24.08.2020
6. https://www.hso.co.uk/leased-lines/technology-news/homeworking-news/50-of-uk-workforce-to-work-remotely-by-2020 consulted 24.08.202