Flexible working – An excuse for businesses to cut overheads or the future of work?

Employment & Skills | Reports
Flexible working

The modern workforce is currently going through a multitude of changes, with flexible working becoming more popular. But what does the future hold for this approach to working and what are the benefits and pitfalls?

Is the traditional 9-5 working day as old-fashioned as tea and scones and is flexible working approaches for businesses becoming the norm?

What the answer is will depend on what type of business you run and what your definition of flexible working is. Broadly, it is defined as a member of staff that is allowed flexible working hours, job sharing, home working and variations of self-management.

This article will look at the pros and cons of flexible working patterns.

Why should you embrace flexible working?

According to a recent YouGov survey of 4,000 working individuals in the UK, only 6% continue to work the traditional 9-5 workday.

This alone shows that business is constantly evolving and adapting to new working environments – many of which can make your business appealing to new and existing employees.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “In many cases, homeworking is a win-win-win. Workers get more time with their families, employers can boost productivity and hang on to experienced staff, and the environment benefits as well.

“But too many employers are clinging to tradition, or don’t trust their staff enough to encourage homeworking. They need to catch up.”

Chief Executive of Work Wise UK, Phil Flaxton echoes this: “Whilst it is encouraging to see a significant increase in the number of employees working from home, there still needs to be a cultural shift for it to be accepted more widely.

“Attitudes are changing on how we balance or mix work and lifestyle. Increasing mobility and technology is shifting the acceptance or need for traditional 9-5 work patterns, to be replaced by a more flexible approach to the working week and this trend will continue as more of us embrace new, smarter ways of working such as working from home.

“More employers need to realise the tangible benefits of changing outdated working practices to reflect the connected world in which we live. These include, increased productivity, staff retention, less absenteeism and employee burnout. The business case is sound, and it really can be a win-win for all concerned.”

Productivity

In a recent survey by CV Library, ‘flexible working’ was the most sought after office perk, with 55.8% of people believing it vitally important as a modern approach to the working week.

Many businesses are therefore embracing the benefits of flexible working.

Rob Vivian, who Is Managing Director of Pure Comms, is one such person. Although he does have reservations too (as seen later In the article). He comments: “We have always been supportive of flexible working and have the view that if someone enjoys their job, then they will be thinking about it and working for the business, irrespective of what time of day it is. I have always been cautious about telling staff to clock in and out at certain times, because that way you can create a clock-watching culture within the business.

“People then want to be here and are inspired to work to get the job done. If you trust and empower your staff, then people will want to go above and beyond to help the company.”

However, one of the main issues that business owners are concerned with is the levels of productivity if flexible working is implemented.

Harpreet Singh, Executive Director at Brickendon explains why businesses shouldn’t be concerned: “Take flexibility, eco-friendliness and well-being for example. With massive improvements in communication-related technology, it is now possible to work remotely without any loss of productivity. Providing flexible working options not only reduces real-estate costs and lowers the firm’s carbon footprint but can also help increase employee motivation.

“So, if done correctly, one single action or statement, such as allowing employees to start work earlier or later, or to take longer lunch breaks to facilitate participation in sporting activities, can lead to a chain of events that significantly improves the attractiveness of an employer.”

Helps businesses to reduce costs

Regarding the benefits to employers, there Is the argument that flexible working can help businesses to reduce overheads and costs.

Business Leader spoke to The Supper Club, to find out their views on flexible working. Managing Director EJ Flynn comments: “While technology is an enabler of flexible and remote working, it’s being driven by a growing freelance and contractor community as well as a boom in home-based businesses. It’s not just start-ups looking for alternatives to expensive offices, with larger employers looking to reduce employment costs with more contractors. Many have introduced hot desking and provide more flexible working options.”

However, the benefits don’t end there, as Emma Bullen, HR expert at MHR explains: “For employers, when done on a large scale, flexible working can allow for a scaling back of office space and therefore a decrease in expenditure on overheads. It may also result in more creative output from employees as they have the space to work from wherever they think is appropriate. This may give them inspiration to make effective changes or simply achieve a greater output than they can in an office environment.”

Aligning yourself with a modern workforce

According to a recent study by Deloitte, by 2025 75% of the UK workforce will be made up of millennials, so where does flexible working fit with them?

In addition to having been born and grown up in an online age, there are several characteristics that differentiate millennials from previous generations.

Whilst they consider themselves equally as hardworking and as ambitious, if not more so than generation x and baby boomers, they also require more flexibility, faster results and care more about their personal wellbeing.

Harpreet comments: “As a result, it may be worth managers considering the way in which a flexible work schedule provides a stronger sense of work-life balance – a quality that is reported to attract millennial employees to a workplace in droves and keep them happier for longer than the two-year stint that has become the norm.”

And according to the Trade Union Congress, there are 374,000 more people working from home when compared to 10 years ago. But why has this happened? According to an Instant Offices survey from earlier this year, 74% of millennials, and 94% of baby boomers, want a flexible schedule that works for them.

What issues can flexible working cause?

It is obvious that there are many positives for both employer and employee when it comes to flexible working. However, there are also many challenges which business owners and managers need to face.

Rob comments: “Some people are not very good at self-management, so if you allow someone to manage their own time, allowing them to choose when they work, some people will always take the easy option, if you give them that opportunity.

“This means that being a leader in a business has changed. If you are not visible as a leader, then standards then start to slip, as I experienced with my own company 18 months ago. To counter this, I moved out of my own office and moved into the thick of things in the main office and noticed an immediate difference. Being that visible presence can make a huge difference in a business.”

Therefore communication and chains of command need to be strictly implemented and respected if modern working ideals can be successful.

Dr Jonathan Lord at Salford Business School comments: “Communication is essential for remote working as employees need to be able to work effectively without constant supervision. This means that managers have to ensure that workers are doing their jobs fully and accurately. This can be conducted through performance tracking software such as Time Doctor, Roadmap App, TickSpot and HiveDesk.

“The software does empower managers but using tools such as these can be very disruptive to efficiency if the workforce feel they are constantly being monitored.”

Mental health concerns

Other Issues and concerns around flexible working Include cybersecurity and mental health concerns.

On the former, Dr Lord says: “Cybersecurity is also another issue to address with remote working as an increasing number of these workers are using their own devices work. Rigorous HR policies and procedures, as well as providing security software for free on these devices can manage security breaches.”

Regarding mental health, Emma Bullen, from MHR highlights that flexible and remote working may exacerbate Issues with staff who may be suffering from mental health concerns.

He says: “Many people suffering from poor mental health describe a feeling of loneliness which is likely to be compounded by their home working arrangements if handled poorly. Remote working can be lonely when done on a regular or permanent basis. There is a distinct lack of office chit-chat or human interaction when going to fetch your mid-morning coffee for example.

“Chances are most employees who work from home will not see another person during their entire working day. To help combat this, employers should ensure that regular catch-ups are scheduled between the employee and their line manager so feedback can be given and actions agreed.”

Cynics have also said that many large organisations have wrapped their marketing messages up In the warm glow of flexible working but have actually been more Interested In the cost savings It can make them.

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