The introduction of lockdown measures in March 2020 led to immediate and large-scale use of home and flexible working arrangements (FWAs) in the UK and similarly across different countries in the world, at different times in the COVID-19 crisis. This highlighted the potential for profound change for the future of work. Yet, during the pandemic, the use of home working and other forms of FWAs has not been universal. Instead, they have been used predominantly by those in higher-paid occupations (60%) compared to those in working-class jobs (23%), suggesting a ‘two-tiered’ system. While extant research shows that FWAs are deeply gendered, the classed dimensions of FWAs have received less attention. Adopting an intersectional lens, this paper contributes to this gap in the evidence base, drawing on pilot research undertaken in a UK case study organisation that sets out to interrogate how FWAs are experienced by workers in lower-level occupational positions both during the COVID-19 pandemic and moving out of it. The research offers a novel complement to the mainly survey-based literature on COVID-19 and FWAs. Case study access was negotiated to a large financial services institution, allowing for the exploration of multiple perspectives within a bounded-context, along with consideration of the organisational culture in which policies are enacted. Through qualitative interviews with organisational Human Resource (HR) representatives, lines managers and workers in lower-level occupational positions, the following research questions are explored:

1. What is the organisation’s FWAs policy and how has such policy changed or been adapted following the COVID-19 pandemic?
2. What is the role of the organisation’s HR professionals in the implementation of FWAs?
3. What are the views and perceptions of line managers and their experiences of the operational challenges and rewards of implementing FWA?
4. What are workers understandings, perceptions and experiences of the organisation’s FWAs? How does occupational status and gender, and other dimensions of social positionality influence these experiences?

Drawing upon theories of translation and post-structuralist understandings of policies as having ‘complex social lives’ in the ways they are implemented (or translated), the paper considers the different types of FWAs that are available to different workers and the ways they ‘play out’ along not only along gendered, but classed and racialised, lines. The paper points to advancing both theory and practice through the privileging of the experiences of ‘unheard voices’ to offer a more nuanced understanding and intersectional conceptualisation of the complex social and organisational power relations in which flexible working policies are situated, and can lead to the amplifying rather than ameliorating of inequalities. To support policy and organisational decision-making, it is argued that as part of their EDI approaches, organisations must reflect on the unintended outcomes of well-meaning policies such as FWAs to ensure they really are for all and not just for some.


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Cite as

Teasdale, N. 2023, 'Moving beyond Covid-19 - flexible working arrangements, for all or for just for some?', 2023 Gender, Work and Organization conference , Stellenbosch , South Africa. https://researchonline.gcu.ac.uk/en/publications/80ea6552-9916-4f8e-a0c1-7010c6139268

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Last updated: 08 March 2023
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