Women have been leaving the workforce at alarming levels during the Coronavirus pandemic. The reasons have long been in place but heightened by Covid-19: basically women are finding it harder and harder to juggle the dueling responsibilities of work and child care, now that many schools have switched to remote learning.
The numbers are grim: Four times more women than men dropped out of the labor force in September, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Another study published in September by McKinsey, found that one in four, or two million, women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce altogether, including many women in senior positions.
It likely doesn’t help that many corporations do not have policies and principles in place regarding alternative work arrangements. In a survey by Willis Towers Watson, which was cited in CFO.com, just 37% of companies had such regulation in place. One-quarter of them (25%) created formal policies this year, while three-fifths (60%) said they were planning or considering adopting one this year or next.
New Space Configurations Could Help
The good news is that there are signs that companies are starting to move to adopting more flexible policies for working at home. In truth, though, this issue requires a multi-pronged approach that also includes new expectations of workloads, reexamined performance metrics and better employee communication, according to McKinsey.
There is one other component that should be considered, says JLL: space that has been carved out specifically to address women’s needs.
“You’d think that working from home would be better for caretakers, but many also need the physical space to separate and concentrate,” says Gabrielle Harvey, VP, brokerage, Integrated Portfolio Solutions at JLL.
Some companies provide on-site childcare, allowing mothers to watch their children throughout the day while also having the time, and separation, to concentrate at work, she said.
Additionally, corporations can turn unused or short-term office space into online learning hubs, allowing parents to bring older kids to work while staying productive.
“The actual utilization rate in office space pre-COVID-19 averaged 60%, according to JLL’s occupancy benchmarking guide,” Harvey noted. “While the pandemic has obviously created many challenges, in this case, it’s actually giving companies some breathing room to make changes that will help them retain and attract women.”
A New Generation of Flex Space
Just about any solution likely will involve flex workspace. Luckily, a new generation of offerings is poised to come to the market, according to a report by Colliers International.
Flex space currently accounts for 25% of total office inventory worldwide, but the report predicts that the supply of flex space will grow by two to three times in the next five years.
This space will accelerate new work models for companies and their employees, observers say.
“If Flex 1.0 was about where people work; Flex 2.0 will be increasingly centered around how people work,” Knotel CEO Amol Sarvar said in the report.