Workingwise.co.uk’s annual survey was published for National Older Workers Week and...read more
Why we need to join the dots on flexible working, a green, healthier future and ‘levelling up’.
Flexible working is something our surveys show older workers – and many others – are keen on. It is one of the reasons driving self employment among older workers and is one of the key enablers of longer working lives as the state pension age rises. Flexible working comes in many forms, but the most prominent one since Covid has been remote or hybrid working. Yet there are a lot of pressures being put on people to return to the pre-Covid office working routine, eschewing many of the benefits of remote working. But what if we could combine the best of both worlds and address some of the many issues that we face as a society – from increasing isolation and loneliness and rising longevity [albeit with more chronic health issues] to ‘levelling up’ and the need for greener ways of living?
I was speaking this week to an organisation who have a broader vision for how remote and hybrid working in particular could do that through the creation of community hubs where people where people could work locally [or from home if they wanted to] and also get involved in local community projects. That would cut people’s carbon footprints, address the digital divide, get people to know those who live near them better, reinvest in local community projects and much more. The challenge is to get them funded – through a combination of government and employer sources – but the potential benefits are widespread.
Here we tend to talk down remote working and see it more as a favour and a drag on employers – certainly that’s the impression you get from the news coverage which doesn’t tend to focus on the downsides of office working, for instance, in quite as much detail. There was a lot of focus a while ago, for instance, on the impact on businesses in big urban areas of people not commuting into work. But what about the potential benefit for high streets in smaller towns and villages, which, because of commuting, were often very quiet on weekdays? In some parts of the world, for instance, in Tulsa, they incentivise remote working as a way of ‘levelling up’ rural areas which tend to suffer from brain drain and offer mainly lower paid jobs. Here we talk about ways of hitting remote workers in the pocket to disincentivise them. What if we could think more broadly about how we work and how that links up with a whole range of issues from health to wealth?
Most of the major challenges we face are not fixable in isolation. Take the health service backlog which is linked to staff and funding shortages in social care and which is having a big impact on people’s ability to work, as the ONS statistics this week show. They report a rise in people who are not working due to long-term health issues. All these things are linked and we need a vision for how to address them with work and health in the centre.