However, flexible working can be slightly misleading. It is used mostly to account for timing of work and suggests the idea of going in late or ‘working from home’ on a Friday. The term encompasses more than that: it is also about where and how you work and how your work is measured. For this reason, I actually prefer the term ‘agile working’ which is broader in scope.
That said, the flexible working legislation that was updated in June is undoubtedly helpful in promoting the idea of looking afresh at how we work.
Working nine to five
Dolly Parton made the nine to five seem like a good thing, but that model began in the industrial age and has not moved on. Today we are looking for something better.
We are looking for more flexibility, certainly, but a truly new way of working stems from engagement. We want to be creative, share ideas, have an input, have a choice and balance work with other important aspects of our lives – particularly family.
And we want to be measured on results. As Dave Coplin at Microsoft says, ‘we tend to measure productivity and process, rather than outcome’. Sitting at your desk and looking busy for eight hours a day does not make an effective employee. Ensuring your workers are fully engaged and working in a way that suits them will not only completely fail to compromise your business, as many employers fear, it will actually improve productivity, well-being and staff retention.
Losing the nine to five means losing control
Flexible working does not lead to anarchy. For a start, it doesn’t suit many people. Sure, most may benefit from shifting the working day an hour or two forward or back occasionally, but a lot of people like the regularity of an imposed place and time of work – it helps with discipline and focus and to delineate work from home.
And if the alternative to the office is home, then this does not suit everyone, all the time. It can be lonely and isolating working from home. Other problems include discipline and distractions – children, your partner, daytime TV, the chocolate you know is in the fridge, etc.
So, not everyone is going to go AWOL at the same time. However, with a percentage of your staff working different hours, extending your business day, this could be extremely useful. What if you could deliver customer service for longer than the normal eight hours? If you have staff happy to work at different times you could find you have an advantage over your competition dealing with customers out of hours and responding more quickly to their needs. If your competitors are already doing this, however, then you are the one who is behind.
Bear in mind also that it does not mean people are never in the office. There will be a need to have regular catch ups and meetings, face to face. It may also make holiday cover easier. KashFlow have talked about the idea of the ‘workation’. This is when people go away but stay working and is mainly beneficial to the self-employed, but there is merit in anyone staying in touch. Not for the whole holiday or indeed for every holiday, but just in a light-touch way. Or perhaps some could take more paid holiday, but be ‘on call’ and keep up with the basics. With the ‘millennials’ (or Generation Y) influencing the workplace in years to come, their ‘always connected’ approach to life could work well in situations where having staff out around holiday time can compromise a business.
Also, with the technology available these days, not having all staff in all the time does not have to be a problem: the wide choice of online video options, Voice over IP telephones, mobile devices with increasingly sophisticated video apps, email, sms, not to mention a host of off-the-shelf and bespoke integrated software systems make sure of that and you may not need such a big office.
Happy, engaged, cared-for workers are not just more productive, they also stay longer and take less sick time. Improved staff retention can save organisations a lot of time and money and create a more stable business. Plus, when you are recruiting, these policies attract better quality staff.
There may be savings in real estate and associated costs, because less staff are in the office at once and need less space. There is also a positive impact on commuting. If you are bearing any travelling costs for you or your staff, these will be reduced. Even if not, some of your staff will be grateful for a chance to reduce their costs (in some circumstances, could this even replace all or part of a pay rise?). This, in turn, helps with congestion which benefits the local community and economy as a whole.
So flexible working isn’t a perk, or a fad or even enough in itself: flexible working is part of something bigger, an approach to business strategy and staff engagement that could make a significant difference to your business.