The pandemic has hit some industries much harder than others. The entertainment sector is one that has particularly suffered, but flexible working is opening up new opportunities for employees within the sector to bounce back.
The latest interviewee in our podcast series, A Week in My Flexible Working Life (available on Spotify and iOS), discusses these challenges and opportunities in more detail. Paul Evans is the freelance research officer for BECTU, the broadcasting, entertainment, communications and theater union in the United Kingdom. He explores how his industry is leading the way in changing the attitude towards work that employees in every sector are taking all over the world.
Left out in the cold
Paul recalls the chaotic early days of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, when governments all over the world scrambled to put in place financial support for those unable to go to work. However, while most employees and industries were covered, many freelancers in his sector found themselves falling through the cracks.
“We had all of those members thrown out of work completely and often with no safety net,” he says. “Whereas people who were employees were put on furlough, and some self-employed people were able to claim on the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, others weren’t – particularly people who were PAYE [pay-as-you earn] freelancers. They were the ones who were left behind the most.”
A different view
However, now that the pandemic has progressed for some time, Paul puts a more positive spin on the state of play. He feels that employers are reconsidering what they get from employees, and are moving away from a focus on input and towards a greater emphasis on output.
“I think a lot of good employers are beginning to realize that they don’t necessarily need people back in the office,” says Paul. “Employers are gradually realizing what they really buy is productivity. I think people who employ freelancers are more focused on the facts.”
A catalyst for change
Paul also feels that the move towards flexible work that the pandemic has prompted means that the long-awaited technology revolution in the world of work has finally arrived. He remembers the advent of digital communications around the time of the new millennium, and how at the time, it failed to have much of an impact on working models.
“Twenty years ago, I was working in tech, and we were talking about how email and discussion forums were going to usher in a new era of asynchronous working where everybody didn’t all have to be in the same place at the same time” explains Paul. “This revolution has been coming for a long time. Email was supposed to liberate people from being chained to doing things nine-to-five. In reality, often I think it’s had the opposite effect. Their job description is almost to stare at their inbox, but that’s just management not acclimatizing.”
Getting to grips with technology
Work is now so driven by technology that many companies have had to undergo a decade or more of progress in a matter of months. Paul feels that this isn’t the only consideration within establishing good flexible work: the individual circumstances of employees are just as important, too.
“I think a lot of employers have had to get tech-savvy very fast, and there were a lot of employees who didn’t know what a Zoom meeting was and weren’t aware of the possibilities,” Paul says. “Also, there are two sorts of workers involved in flexible working. There’s people who have nice gardens and a nice home office and absolutely love it. And then people living in small, shared flats where they’re having to do all their work on the kitchen table.”
A world of opportunity
The relationship and dynamic between managers and their teams has been altered by the move towards flexible work, too. Suddenly, according to Paul, managers’ ways of assessing who the star performers are within their teams has changed substantially, in a way that’s beneficial to hard-working talent.
“Managers don’t know who to promote because they aren’t in the office so they don’t know who’s sucking up to them the most,” Paul suggests. “And that means they’re promoting more people on merit. Isn’t that how it’s meant to be?”