The rapid move to working from home during COVID changed the face of work forever – or did it?

While many businesses have embraced a completely remote or flexible working structure, others have reverted to type in ordering staff back into the office.

While there are many benefits to bringing your workforce under one roof – such as improved communication and collaboration – those companies who refuse to countenance staff operating away from their primary desk are taking a risk, says Sheila Callaham, co-founder and executive director of the Age Equity Alliance.

“Here’s the reality: COVID changed everything about the employer/employee relationship,” she tells the Doing the Opposite Business Disruptors podcast, hosted by Cloudfm entrepreneur Jeff Dewing.

“Companies don’t have any choice but to pivot and operate with talent intelligence. And they need to not only understand the dynamics that have changed – why they’ve changed – but they need to understand there is no going back… at least not 100% to how it was before. Or even 50%. 

“They also need to be one step ahead of the competition – and that means meeting employees and potential talent where they are. It means considering the wants and needs as a priority for successful talent attraction and development and retention. 

“Those companies who are not talking about this do not understand the risk they’re taking in terms of jeopardising their future of work.”

Future of work

Huge untapped potential

Nicola Smith (pictured above, right with Callaham) is the interim chief executive at Timewise, a flexible working consultancy and research hub which offers a range of services that help employers attract and keep talented staff by creating jobs with flexibility built in.

“Only 12% of jobs across the economy are advertised as part-time. We’ve got huge untapped potential of the very many people who want to be back in work or progressing in work, and aren’t able to because the sorts of flexibility they need isn’t there,” she says. 

“But we also know from our work at Timewise that there are hundreds of employers out there doing fabulous things to innovate and create new ways of offering jobs in creative different ways to people, to make sure that they can get that job satisfaction and security that they need. 

“There is huge potential, but also huge challenges – and a lot more to do.”


Simone Roche MBE (main image) is the founder of Northern Power Women, the largest organisation in Europe dedicated to accelerating gender equality, and an honorary captain in the Royal Navy.

At the start of the pandemic, people were like: ‘I want to get back into the office, I don’t want to be working from home all the time’,” she says of a survey her organisation put out at the time.

“When it levelled out, around a year ago, we put the same survey out there – and nobody wanted five days a week at home and nobody wanted zero days. What they really wanted was flexibility – the flexibility of being able to work from a coffee shop, from Portugal, or wherever they may be

“Location can be wherever you want it to be – as long as you’ve got trust embedded into that relationship.”

Of course the nature of the business and work it carries out will have a large bearing on how effective flexible working can be – and what form it should take.

“We’ve worked with public services and private sector employers to help them think about the principles they want to apply to make sure that hybrid working delivers effectively. What does it actually mean in practice?” asks Smith.

“Will anyone be fully remote? When are people expected to come in at short notice? What sort of ambitions does the organisation and the workforce have about when they want to work together and when they’re happy to work separately and at home? 

“I think doing that well and making sure that those are co-created approaches that have everyone’s buy-in across the workforce is still a big challenge for many employers.”

She adds: “Employers recognise we’ve got candidate shortages across the economy. Our workforce is changing: we’ve got more people with caring responsibilities, more people with expectations of good flexibility and how they do their roles. 

“So the change that I would really like to see is more employers take this opportunity and advertise all of their roles with clarity about flexibility – and to think through how your jobs are designed and what you could do differently.

“The faster you get there, the quicker you’re going to benefit from the gains.”

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Listen to your staff

Age Equity Alliance is an organisation which works globally with communities, organisations and business leaders to ensure that age equity in the workplace.

“Employers need to be so careful not to make assumptions about what their employees want,” cautions Callaham. “And that goes across the age spectrum. 

“You can’t assume that because someone’s young, they’ll want this; or because someone has been in the industry for 30 years, they’ll want that. 

“You have to ask them what they want. And when you hear the answers, you need to be open and willing and flexible enough to pivot and change the way things have traditionally been done and think outside of the box.”

Roche agrees that listening to your workforce is key – but also to your customers.

“It’s not about following what a competitor does – it has to work for you and your business,” she concludes. “It’s about conscious listening – and then what you do with that to innovate. 

“I suppose it’s almost repurposing the workplace: what is the real purpose for being there? How do we use that to unlock competitive advantage?”

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