The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Vienna Regional Office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have organized a webinar on flexible working arrangements (FWAs) and the future of work. The webinar was part of the 19-23 October 2020 Enabling Environment Week, a joint initiative of the Gender Focal Points and Focal Points of Women of the Vienna-based United Nations organizations (VBOs) and the International Gender Champions initiative.
Enabling Environment Guidelines (EEGs) and their accompanying Supplementary Guidance for the United Nations System were developed in 2019 in response to the UN Secretary General’s System-wide Strategy on Gender Parity. The EEGs provide UN system-wide guidance to create a more diverse, inclusive and respectful work environment – both as a precursor to achieving gender parity and a key to sustaining it. Implementing FWAs is one of the measures recommended in the EEGs.
“Workplace flexibility can be mutually beneficial to an organization and its personnel, and is recognized to help achieve gender parity,” said Fatou Haidara, Managing Director of the UNIDO Directorate of Corporate Management and Operations, who moderated the webinar. “Our transition into the Fourth Industrial Revolution has been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, which for many employers and employees represented their first-ever experiences with flexible working arrangements.”
Dr. Heejung Chung, Principal Investigator of the Work Autonomy, Flexibility and Work-life balance project at the University of Kent, shared insights from her research on how work from home during the lockdown has impacted a series of work-life issues. She said that employees have been able to spend more time with their families and expressed better well-being and improved work schedules and productivity. The pandemic has caused a cultural shift towards work from home, with employees feeling more trusted and supported by managers during this time, and many employees who did not want to work remotely before now changing their mind.
The pandemic has undoubtedly shaken up how we work – what we thought would be the future of work has been abruptly made the present. “Corona has somehow accelerated this way of using flexible working hours,” said Ambassador Pirkko Hämäläinen, Permanent Representative of Finland to the UN in Vienna. ”You don’t even need to be in the office to give a service to your customers, like this webinar. That is so important to realize and, with corona, we have realized it.”
The Finnish government codified flexible working arrangements as early as 1996 through the Working Hours Act, a policy which was updated this year to allow employees to decide when and where they work for at least half of their hours. “It’s a win-win situation for people. Gainful employment must be options for both women and men,” said Hämäläinen.
Whether men and women will be able to equally benefit from gainful employment will largely depend on the future of work, which will be impacted by frontier technology brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As such, digitalization may facilitate telecommuting for those jobs that can be carried out remotely. Prof. Damian Grimshaw, Professor of Employment Studies and Associate Dean for Research Impact at King’s Business School, noted that challenges remain in ensuring that everyone can benefit from workplace flexibility. This is especially linked to the need to create a culture of trust between managers and employees, and to phase out rigid workplace structures revolving around a time-keeping and high presenteeism approach.
Evidently, a sophisticated and reliable digital infrastructure is a precondition for the successful implementation of FWAs, which raises the issue of the digital divide which is especially pronounced in the developing world. The COVID-19 pandemic has already exacerbated inequalities, notably for women, hence inclusive, human-centered digitalization is needed to leave no one behind and to ensure all can reap the benefits of workplace flexibility.
In implementing FWAs, employers can contribute to addressing these inequalities and achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women. Chung revealed that by allowing mothers the option of staying in the labour market and maintaining their incomes, workplace flexibility can help reduce the overall gender pay gap. It also encourages fathers to take a greater role in unpaid domestic care work, which contributes to transforming social norms.
“Flexwork helps change the culture of whose responsibility it is to care,” Chung said. The still heavily unequal distribution of household duties continues to be especially visible and pronounced during the current pandemic, as school closures have added homeschooling to the unpaid domestic care work predominately carried out by women.
The private and public sector around the world, as well as many UN system entities, have recognized the benefits of FWAs in fostering a more enabling, diverse working environment and promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. Michael Emery, Director of Human Resources at the International Organization for Migration, noted that there has been a general call through the High-Level Committee on Management (HLCM) of the United Nations’ Chief Executive’s Board for a more flexible approach. “A lot of research shows the more flexible we are, the more attractive we are as an employer – particularly to women,” he said.
While acknowledging difficulties in implementing FWAs in the UN’s field operations due to digital infrastructure issues, the recent increase in remote work has challenged the idea of international civil service as we know it. Emery shared that UNICEF has just cancelled a lease on one of its buildings as it expects a lot of its staff will continue to work from home. “We can perfectly survive with 20% of staff in Headquarters in the office.”
Juliane Drews, Advisor at UNAIDS, explained that already six years before the COVID-19 pandemic, UNAIDS abolished core working hours and defined office opening hours from 7am to 7pm to provide staff with a twelve-hour window to complete their workload at their ease. The objective was also to empower employees and teams to have conversations about healthy ways to organize their work. “The United Nations and a lot of international organizations need to recognize there’s a new generation of employees coming that have different expectations of an employer,” Drews said. “We need to use training and reskilling to prepare middle managers and senior leaders to be ready to welcome the next generation in the workplace. It’s about thinking differently and taking this disruption as an opportunity to leap forward to a better, different normal.”
She also raised the issue that remote work allows individuals to safely work on issues that are criminalized in their home countries: UNAIDS works, for example, with sex workers, users of intravenous drugs and the LGBTIQ+ community. It is not just about the binary approach to gender equality. “We need to take this gender conversation and put an intersectional lens on it,” she added.
The discussion concluded that implementing FWAs has many benefits, for example increased well-being, efficiency and business continuity, as well as decreased absenteeism and operating costs. FWAs also play a crucial role in fostering diversity and inclusion, and promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has fast-forwarded us into the future of work, with many managers now recognizing and trusting that employers can and will deliver when using any form of flexible working arrangements, such as remote work, compressed hours, and scheduled breaks for external learning activities. The Enabling Environment Guidelines provide the UN with an overarching framework to successfully implement FWAs and foster a welcoming, safe, equal and discrimination-free workplace that allows the UN to produce better results for the people they serve. “That’s the beauty of the UN System,” Drews said. “Most of us are driven by our passion, not by doing our eight hours and ticking the box.”
Corporate Boards are Critical Starting Points for Implementing Stakeholder Capitalism
COVID-19 has led to global and systemic economic, social and environmental disruption, and an increasing number of companies are recognizing the need for pragmatic approaches to implement the principles of stakeholder capitalism.
A new white paper, The Future of the Corporation: Moving from Balance Sheet to Value Sheet, provides analysis about the important role boardrooms and corporate governance play in addressing the environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges their companies face. Focusing on practical tools for corporate leaders, the white paper, produced in collaboration with Baker McKenzie, provides a set of actions and stakeholder governance considerations boardrooms can take to reshape their company’s purpose and practices.
This includes leadership-level actions, such as aligning company purpose and incentives with transparent goals and KPIs, increasing board diversity and adopting the common stakeholder capitalism metrics to measure and manage global risks and opportunities related to business, society and the planet.
“Business leaders are increasingly implementing business models that create value based on stakeholder needs,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum. “While there’s increasing momentum towards stakeholder capitalism, many businesses are also looking for practical solutions to help them fully understand and address the concerns of all their stakeholders. The Forum is committed to providing measurement and governance tools that will help these leaders succeed, thereby advancing stakeholder capitalism globally.”
Effectively aligning a company’s practices with its purpose is another key role boardrooms must play when integrating stakeholder interests into their business models. Setting clear metrics for management, which align with company purpose is an important step for boards.
Ørsted, a company who successfully transformed its business from fossil fuels to renewable energy, is a clear example of how effective governance is critical to company-wide transformation For example, in its transition to being a sustainable business, Ørsted made it a board-level priority to ensure its transformation was transparent, the journey was measured with concrete metrics and it was communicated to all relevant stakeholders.
“The pandemic, climate and inequality challenges of the last year were and continue to be unprecedented. Against this backdrop, how can companies drive long-term value creation and sustainable growth? A good stakeholder governance framework will help companies mitigate risk, build resilience and enjoy sustainable value creation and long-term success; at the heart of good stakeholder governance is clearly understanding who key stakeholders are, engaging with them and bringing their voice into decision-making,” said Beatriz Araujo, Head of Corporate Governance, Baker McKenzie. She added: “There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach; each company must embark on its own stakeholder governance journey and we have suggested some of the steps companies should consider taking on such a journey.”
In addition to the examples above, the white paper provides a stakeholder governance framework centred around four key areas of four key areas of leadership focus. These are:
Purpose is returning centre stage as an enabler for long-term sustainable value creation for corporate success.
Boards should ensure their companies have a clear and well understood purpose, informed by their key stakeholders’ expectations, and regularly use this purpose as a guide in their strategic decision-making.
Corporate leaders should ensure their company’s strategy is robust and designed to deliver the company’s purpose.
This strategy needs to be flexible to take account of changing stakeholder considerations. Periodic ESG risk and opportunity assessments are a tool that leaders can use to ensure they are pursuing an appropriate strategy in light of changing externalities and stakeholder feedback.
A company’s culture and values are important in ensuring decisions and daily business practices appropriately reflect their stated purpose.
Effective governance, which regularly addresses stakeholder input, is critical for running a sustainable, resilient business.
Board composition, diversity and inclusion are important factors in ensuring boardrooms are equipped with the skills needed adequately understand and consider the needs of their stakeholders.
Along with input from the Forum’s Community of Chairpersons, the whitepaper is based on interviews with senior leaders at bp, the Cambridge University Institute for Sustainability Leadership, Fidelity International and Ørsted.
Digitalization crucial to SIDs’ COVID-19 recovery, long-term development
The upscaling of digital technologies presents a host of opportunities for small island developing states (SIDS) to diversify their economies, boost manufacturing, gain greater access to global value chains, and improve disaster preparedness. However, significant obstacles remain, including inadequate digital infrastructure, insufficient training opportunities for women and young people, a growing digital divide, and a lack of data and policy knowledge. That’s according to an expert panel convened for the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit’s Digital Series on the topic: “How Information and Communication Technologies can foster inclusive and sustainable industrial development in Small Island Developing States”.
Ralf Bredel, Chief of the Asia-Pacific Regional Programme at the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), said that SIDS share common challenges such as limited resource bases, long distances to primary markets, and vulnerability to climate change.
“ICT has the potential to help SIDS in overcoming some of the challenges derived from the isolation and remoteness. It can support trade in economic diversification. This is even more true under the current circumstances, with COVID-19 and the restrictions on people’s movements and the heavy blow to SIDS’ economies in relation to their continued reliance on tourism,” said Bredel.
Vanessa Gray, Head of the Division for Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Emergency Telecommunications at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), added, “We know that small islands are naturally prone to disasters caused by earthquakes and severe weather events and are being affected by climate change, resulting in increased tropical cyclones, hurricanes, flood and landslides, to name a few. Connectivity can help address these events by providing remote communities with access to early warning systems, real-time weather information, remote sensing and geographic information systems.”
Gary Jackson, Executive Director of the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE), said that countries in the region are “pushing the envelope” towards energy efficiency.
“We have to recognize that islands don’t have what we call a supergrid, don’t have a lot of interconnections that would give us reliability and availability and that’s what people really want,” said Jackson. “So one of the things we have to consider is how we move towards decentralization, decarbonization and some of the things that we need to do to ensure that reliability, availability and affordability are consistent with what people require.”
Michelle Marius, Publisher of the ICT Pulse blog highlighted a continuing gender gap concerning digital employment. “We do have so many girls and women in the workforce. Many of them, sometimes even in management positions in reputable organisations, but somehow we still have not been able to crack that barrier between women in tech and digital entrepreneurship by women” she noted.
Amjad Umar, Director and Professor of ISEM (Information Systems Engineering and Management) programme at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, said, “We know that, in many cases, SIDS do not have 3G technologies – they are still at 2G range. So, we specifically designed this plan (for the ICT4SIDS Partnership) that produces solutions that would work with very, very low technologies…”
“Digitalization consists of people, processes and technologies,” underlined Umar.
Concluding, moderator Martin Lugmayr, Sustainable Energy Expert at UNIDO, stressed that there is a long way to go towards realizing inclusive and sustainable industrial development in SIDS, particularly in light of current circumstances. “COVID-19 recovery must have a long-term perspective. Iit has to be green, it has to be blue in the case of Small Island Developing States, and it has to be digital,” he said.
Fewer protections, lower wages, and higher health risks: Homeworking in the COVID era
The UN’s labour agency (ILO) called on Wednesday for greater recognition and protection for the hundreds of millions of people who work from home, accounting for almost eight per cent of the global workforce even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since movement restrictions linked to the global spread of the virus were implement in many countries, the number of people working from home has increased sharply, and that trend is expected to continue in coming years, despite the rollout of vaccines that began in late 2020.
Drop in wages in rich and poor countries
According to a new ILO report, many of these “invisible” workers experience poor working conditions, face greater health and safety risks, and lack access to training, which can affect their career prospects. They are also likely to earn less than their counterparts who work outside the home, even in higher-skilled professions.
“Homeworkers earn on average 13 per cent less in the United Kingdom; 22 per cent less in the United States; 25 per cent less in South Africa; and about 50 per cent in Argentina, India and Mexico”, ILO said in a news release on Wednesday.
The report, “Working from home. From invisibility to decent work”, also showed that homeworkers do not have the same level of social protection as other workers, and are less likely to be part of a trades union or to be covered by a collective bargaining agreement.
Homeworkers include teleworkers who work remotely on a continual basis, and a vast number of workers who are involved in the production of goods that cannot be automated, such as embroidery, handicrafts, and electronic assembly. A third category, digital platform workers, provide services, such as processing insurance claims, copy-editing, or cutting edge specializations such as data annotation for the training of artificial intelligence systems.
Growth likely to continue
According to ILO estimates, prior to COVID-19, there were approximately 260 million home-based workers globally, representing 7.9 per cent of global employment.
However, in the first few months of the pandemic, an estimated one-in-five workers found themselves working from home. Data for the whole of 2020, once available, is expected to show a “substantial increase” over the previous year, said the agency.
The ILO predicts that the growth of homeworking is likely to continue and take on greater importance in the coming years, bringing renewed urgency to the need to address the issues facing homeworkers and their employers.
At the same time, homeworking is often poorly regulated, with little compliance with existing laws, and homeworkers usually classified as independent contractors, which means that they are excluded from the scope of labour legislation. In response, ILO outlined clear recommendations to make working from home “more visible and thus better protected”.
Industrial homeworkers should be made part of the formal economy, given legal and social protection, and made aware of their rights, ILO urged. Similarly, teleworkers should have a “right to disconnect”, to ensure the boundaries between working life and private life are respected.
The report also urges governments to work closely with workers’ and employers’ organizations, to ensure that all homeworkers move from invisibility to decent work, “whether they are weaving rattan in Indonesia, making shea butter in Ghana, tagging photos in Egypt, sewing masks in Uruguay, or teleworking in France”.
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