A post-Covid workplace: How do we make sure no woman is left behind?

The impact of Covid-19 has sparked conversations across the globe about what the new normal might look like in the workplace going forward.

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Overnight, companies had to make quick decisions on how to cope with the crisis. For most companies, they had three options on the table: accept government support schemes, collapse, or adapt.

For almost half of the British workforce, their bosses chose to adapt and they found themselves working from home.

Prior to Covid-19 homeworking was rare - reserved as a luxury for those with extenuating circumstances. According to the Office of National Statistics, only 5% of employees worked from home regularly before the lockdown, and only a quarter worked from home sometimes.

While homeworking might have been on the horizon regardless, the pandemic certainly accelerated the speed at which it became normalised. Bosses were forced to skip the steps which would usually hinder the process of remote working - meetings about why it was necessary, how a lack of presence in the office might impact the team, technical considerations, issues around trust...

But the imminent impact of coronavirus meant there was no time to debate homeworking, and instead accept it as a way to survive.

The positive impact of working from home

After a year of working from home, many businesses have commented on the positive impacts it has had on employees and productivity. An increasing number of companies are announcing a permanent shift in the way they will work in a post-Covid world, with terms like 'virtual first' and 'hybrid working' becoming more commonplace.

From an employer's point of view, having remote workers invites top global talent and streamlines business growth.

Twitter was the first major U.S. company to make a public announcement in May 2020 about its permanent work-from-home plans, after the measures during the lockdown had been a success. The company hopes the new model will attract and retain talent, and give them greater ability to hire diverse and more affordable employees from all parts of the country.

JPMorgan Chase, an American investment banking company, have also said employees will from now on benefit from working at home for part of the week. Its Chief Operating Officer, Daniel Pinto, cited one of the reasons as being the need to attract the best talent in the very competitive financial recruitment market.

Some companies have also found that giving employees more autonomy and freedom improves morale and productivity.

File hosting company Dropbox, based in the U.S., has become a 'virtual first' company, meaning that remote work will be the primary experience for all employees. They found in an internal survey that most employees say they’re able to be productive at home - nearly 90%.

Similarly, English financial technology company Revolut conducted an internal survey which found that while teams have been working remotely, 92% of employees found that their individual productivity had not changed, or if there was a change it was positive. 80% of employees felt that team collaboration had not changed or had a positive impact, and 96% of employees considered that team performance was not negatively impacted, or experienced a positive change.

Moreover, having employees work from home means bosses can opt for office space that is smaller and less expensive, reducing the cost of utilities and rent. Companies can also save on office furniture, coffee, food and more; not to mention the rise of video conferencing meaning that businesses can save thousands on flights, hotels and expensive lunches.

From an employee's point of view, working remotely means they can reinvest their usual commuting time; save money on travelling; effectively manage their personal lives; feel less distracted by office chit-chat; create a work space that suits them; and have better overall work-life balance.

And while all of the above is beneficial to most people, for women in particular, remote working might create a more level playing field.

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In February 2021, The Female Lead unveiled its Women at Work research, looking into why women have still not achieved equal progression and pay in the workplace. The goal was to understand why women make certain career-shaping decisions, focusing on those in their mid-stage career, where female progression typically plateaus at the same time that male progression continues to soar.

One positive finding from the research was that the lockdown facilitated greater balance between men and women. There was more family and domestic work to be done, and the women’s partners, also working from home during the strict lockdown, were more available for support, including childcare.

However, global data from UN Women released in November 2020 showed that women are nonetheless doing significantly more domestic chores and family care, because of the impact of the pandemic.

"Everything we worked for, that has taken 25 years, could be lost in a year," says UN Women Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia. "The care burden poses a real risk of reverting to 1950s gender stereotypes."

Though this data is alarming, The Female Lead's Women at Work research