The world of work is changing. OK, that’s not a huge shock, and it’s unlikely to garner us massive numbers of readers click-baited into this piece. But while it is ever thus, there is currently a change afoot that has the potential to be more significant than many we have experienced in recent years. And it ought to have every business asking ‘should I be a more flexible employer?’
For several years now flexible employment has centred around the hours and days worked, with employees with six months or more service having the right to request flexible working arrangements; although many don’t. More recently, however, the phrase has increasingly applied to where an employee carries out the activities for which they have been recruited. Fuelled in no small part by the evolution of technology, a growing number of workers are basing themselves at home, in coffee shops and most recently in the fast growing number of co-working spaces that are popping up across the UK.
The biggest challenge this is creating for employers is the expectations of the employees the business wants to attract—today and more significantly, tomorrow. Those that have been in the world of work for some years appreciate flexible arrangements in the main, but many are not comfortable with asking for them as I already pointed out. The younger generation entering today’s world of work, however, expect flexible arrangements. It’s not a new benefit to this group; it is the norm. And if employers want to attract—and retain—the best staff, many are going to have to up their game.
That may make it sound like it’s a chore—yet another burden on the employer—but it really shouldn’t be. As well as the ability to entice great staff, there are many other benefits flexible working arrangements can bring to a business.
The benefits of being a flexible employer
I have already touched on the value being a flexible employer can offer regarding attracting the best staff. Among them are benefits like opening up roles to highly qualified and experienced staff who are not looking to work to the typical 9-to-5, five days a week schedule. While being flexible on where an employee carries out their work can give a business access to staff who simply couldn’t, or wouldn’t, consider the role if it meant a daily commute.
But there are several other significant benefits, not least of all the impact on productivity which will often increase. Staff working in a more practical location can gain time previously spent commuting, while those working flexible, reduced or compressed hours are typically more focused on how they spend their time. And of course improving staff wellbeing through an enhanced work-life balance will have a positive impact.
Opportunities for collaboration and the development of beneficial new relationships can increase as well, particularly when staff are working in shared workspaces. Many of the dedicated spaces emerging today actively encourage and support collaboration as they see the enormous benefits it can bring.
While the flexible employer can improve the access its customers have to the business, as staff beginning their day earlier, or ending it later, can increase the hours during which the business is contactable—without increasing costs.
Then there can be benefits from reduced overhead costs. With a proportion of staff working from other locations a business needs less office space and other resources. The savings should offset any increased costs brought about by the need for enhanced communications.
Making flexible working work
While the benefits of flexible working are manyfold, it’s not a no-brainer, or a one size fits all solution. The practicalities simply do not fit with the requirements of some businesses’ operations. But, as technology and general working practices evolve, the barriers to businesses are being brought down.
Flexible working is not for every employee either, as Andrea Starbuck, Director at flexible recruitment Ten2Two explained: “In our experience, an employee that excels in a flexible working environment has three essential skills beyond the functional requirements of their job. Effective time management is seen as the most important, closely followed by a strong ability to organise and prioritise a workload, while good communication skills are also essential.”
So it is important to take the time to establish what approach to flexible working is right for your business, and the people within it—now and in the future.
Andrea went on to outline several things an employer should do when introducing flexible working: “You need to check that your whole team understand how the approach will work at the outset, to avoid confusion and miscommunication. That includes getting feedback from existing team members on how a flexible role might affect their work.
“Effective communications are also critical. It’s important to remember that everyone isn’t there in the office all day, every day. Key information needs to be shared in a way it will get to everyone, regardless of their hours or location. A shout across the office will not always do that.
“Equally important is getting the technology right. Someone working remotely needs good access to your office systems, from wherever they are working. While avoiding a sense of isolation can be helped with inexpensive video conferencing software,” concluded Andrea.
These points may seem obvious, but for that reason they are easy to overlook. As are differences in how the person that is working flexibly is managed. It is important to set them clear objectives and targets and ensure they are clearly understood from the outset. A flexible worker needs to be judged on the outputs they deliver rather than old concepts around presenteeism.
And of course, the success of the approach needs to be reviewed on a regular basis. Not just the individual employee’s performance, but also the impact the approach is having elsewhere in the business, and how the business is supporting the flexible employees.
Finally, introducing flexible working may require some amendments to your HR policies and procedures, something we plan to cover in a future blog. But it shouldn’t be too onerous. And frankly, with the way the world of work is evolving, and the increasing importance offering flexible employment is going to have, now is an excellent time to start looking at your approach, and your systems and procedures, to ensure you are not left behind.