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Facebook and New Zealand’s Prime Minister are the latest supporters of flexible working as companies mull back-to-office strategies.

On Thursday, Facebook said it plans to shift towards a more remote workforce as a long-term trend.

New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Ardern this week suggested a four-day working week, partly to boost tourism in the country.

As offices gradually re-open after coronavirus lockdown, more employers are looking at new ways of working.

Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg told staff it was “aggressively opening up remote hiring” in July. He expects half of its workforce to do their jobs outside Facebook’s offices over the next five to 10 years.

It follows moves by other tech firms in Silicon Valley, including Twitter, which said employees can work from home “forever” if they wish.

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Flexible working policies suit staff who are anxious about returning to offices while giving breathing space to companies as they introduce new social distancing measures.

Ms Ardern has suggested a four-day working week to help boost the economy and address work-life balancing.

“I hear lots of people suggesting we should have a four-day work week. Ultimately that really sits between employers and employees. But as I’ve said there’s just so much we’ve learnt about Covid and that flexibility of people working from home, the productivity that can be driven out of that,” Ardern said in a Facebook live video.

Tech giants lead

Tech giant Microsoft trialled a four-day working week last year in Japan which was deemed successful in terms of employee feedback and productivity. It says it now has a “hybrid workplace strategy as worksites slowly start to open”.

“Working from home remains optional through October for most employees,” said a Microsoft spokesperson.

Both working from home and shorter working weeks have been applauded by human resources experts as an alternative to a mass return to offices.

“It would also give better work-life balance for the people who need it such as part-time students, new mothers, parents who want more time with kids [or] looking after the elderly,” said Alin Abraham, a Singapore-based consultant.

“If after Covid-19 employers learn how to employ flexible workers that would be a huge battle won for human resource management,” she added.

A shift towards more remote working also allows companies to rethink their expensive office space.

Mastercard said it is currently looking at consolidating some of its offices while Facebook has plans for working “hubs” across the US.

“Post Covid-19, you can imagine many companies shrinking down their real estate and employees can just work from home. It will be an interesting proposition to see how employers can cater to different crowds,” said Adrian Tan, of workplace IT firm PeopleStrong.

The new normal

A growing list of business leaders are adding their weight to working from home and more flexible working arrangements, aided by technology and video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet.

“As we start to return to workplaces and find a new normal, alternative working patterns will also help reduce commuter traffic and with social distancing measures,” said HR consultant Emily Draycott-Jones.

“Covid has made employers move away from traditional thinking that productivity is contingent upon set hours within an office environment,” she added.

Changing the way they work

The big tech giants dominate when it comes to extending flexible work arrangements over a longer term:

  • Amazon – giving employees the option to work from home until at least October
  • Barclays – 70,000 staff currently working from home. A big city office “may be a thing of the past” said the bank’s boss Jes Staley
  • Facebook – extending work from home until end of 2020, as part of a long-term shift to more remote working
  • Google – has extended working from home until the end of the year
  • Mastercard – says the majority of its employees can work from home until they “are ready” to return. Also looking to consolidate global offices
  • Microsoft – working from home extended until October for most employees
  • Royal Bank of Scotland – staff allowed to work from home until at least end of September
  • Spotify – its workforce of more than 4,000 can work from home for the rest of the year
  • Twitter – has offered staff the option of working from home permanently, said chief executive Jack Dorsey

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