These are Mavis’ own personal views and not of her current employer, CHC Helicopter.
Let’s talk about D&I. Let’s talk about how COVID-19 might be the best advocate for flexible working for millions of people.
I still remember like it was yesterday, the first time I asked my manager if I could work from home. I was a young macro-economist in the civil service and only mustered the courage to ask because my first child was six months old and I felt that ‘surely they won’t turn down my request’. I had worked in the government department for two years and never one day asked about working from home because I had heard that it was only senior managers and people with an approved business case that worked from home.
To work from home I had to submit a business case. It was basically a document outlining why I wanted to work from home, the benefits to me and the department and evidence of past performance. I threw in phrases: good for my wellbeing, returning mum to highly skilled role etc. I even highlighted that with my husband doing a full-time PhD/lecturing at the University, I was the main carer for my son. I submitted my application through my manager and to my delight, it was approved and I got a laptop that made me feel like I had finally arrived.
Fast forward 10 years, I was working in the oil and gas industry in a FTSE 100 company and was issued a laptop on day one. The culture here was different and it was normal to see the staff car park half empty on Fridays when a lot of people worked remotely.
One thing that has struck me over the years when I speak to other professional women, is a sense that some are apologetic when they work from home. They over-explain why they have to work from home even if it’s the logical thing to do when son #1 has violin grade exams in town, you live 40 minutes from town and the office is the wrong side of town. They overcompensate by working longer and harder to show that their productivity is not impacted by home working.
COVID-19 has achieved in four weeks what would have required government legislation, complex corporate policies and over-planning. Across the world, governments are encouraging everyone (those who are able) to work from home.
I have an operational role and occasionally work from home. However, never would I have imagined I would have successfully carried out my role from my kitchen for this long. Sitting at my kitchen table with my eyes occasionally wandering from the garden backdrop to my herb pots on the window sill, I have helped set up COVID-19 operations to safely retrieve patients from North Sea platforms. I have participated in the OGUK Pandemic Steering Group conference calls while son #2 has run into the kitchen (for the third time) to ask: ‘can I have a snack’?
The best part of the past month is a growing acceptance that people have lives outside work and interruptions during conference calls are not career ending (cue interviews we’ve seen on news channels recently with everything from noisy toddlers to uncontrollable pets). It’s been refreshing looking into colleagues’ homes during video calls and seeing people in a whole new light.
COVID-19 has been the largest global experiment on home working. It has silenced critics that say ‘home working is not for us and as long as there is an office, people ought to come into work’. It has demonstrated that for majority of people (unfortunately a small minority will abuse this opportunity), home working is possible and productivity will not suffer.
We all hope that the rates of infection will fall significantly and we can gradually return to normal life as we know it. I’m hoping we don’t go back to life as we know it. I hope managers will think more creatively when their staff ask if they can work from home. I hope people don’t have to write a business case like I did in 2005 to justify why they should work from home.
COVID-19 is a painful reminder of the fragility of life and my heart goes out to all who have lost loved ones during this global pandemic. On a positive note, it has forced businesses to rethink what home working could look like for thousands of people who would never have been given this opportunity. I hope this sparks a wave of change into flexible working being more accessible for most traditional office-based roles.
Let’s not talk about D&I. Let COVID-19 do the talking for us where flexible working is concerned.
Written by Mavis Anagboso, D&I Task Group member and Client Relationship Manager at CHC Helicopter