Flexible working was once a hallmark of startups and young tech companies. Admittedly, smaller companies with fewer workers are naturally more geared towards encouraging greater workplace freedoms. In recent years, however, large businesses have come around to the benefits on offer to both employers and employees as a result of flexible workplace arrangements.
Let’s take a step back, however, and explore what flexible working entails in practice. The umbrella term covers a whole manner of different practices: for some, it might mean starting and finishing work at chosen times outside of the standard 9 to 5 structure, provided that minimum working hours or tasks are completed.
For others, it might mean working from home or another location entirely. What all of these practices have in common is the desire by workers to have more control over their working lives – a sentiment which has resonated across different sectors.
Those businesses which are slow to adapt to changing employee needs risk losing talent to competitors.
This trend has gained momentum in recent years, and given the current trajectory, it looks as though flexible working conditions will transform how employees are able to engage with their employers and complete their work. So how can large organisations adapt to ensure that they continue to meet the evolving needs of their workforce?
What the research shows about flexible working
A recent survey of 2,000 UK adults in full-time or part-time work showed that employees are willing to make sacrifices in order to enjoy more flexible working conditions.
For instance, three-quarters of UK workers are in favour of a four-day working week, even if that means completing five-days’ worth of work during a shortened four-day period. Meanwhile, a significant percentage of employees would be willing to take a pay cut of 20% in order to only work a four-day week; 49% of UK adults said they would be happy to sacrifice part of their salary.
So, what should employers take from these findings? It seems that work flexibility is linked to job satisfaction for many people, which suggests that those businesses which are slow to adapt to changing employee needs risk losing talent to competitors.
The survey found that just over 70% of UK employees consider flexible working, both in terms of hours and location, as very important to their overall job satisfaction.
Why must organisations heed these calls?
For one, it has been shown time and time again that greater flexibility results not just in happier workers, but also higher productivity as well. Indeed, the CIPD recently released a cross-sector evidence-based guidance report to help organisations implement flexible working.
In its case studies, it highlighted the many benefits that come with flexible working, which include increased employee motivation, creativity, mental wellbeing and productivity levels. The benefits don’t just stop at the employees themselves, however. They also enhance overall workplace productivity and aid in supporting a more positive workplace environment.
Acknowledging that workers have responsibilities and commitments outside of the office, whether that is childcare or the pursuit of a hobby, and aiding them in their efforts to meet them, is key to facilitating a healthy work-life balance and keeping employees both happy and driven.
How can businesses support the needs of their employees?
Before businesses can delve into the practicalities of supporting flexible working, they must first acknowledge the logistical barriers that exist within an organisation which might prevent employers from being able to seek out flexible arrangements.
This necessarily starts with addressing any misconceptions about the practice, such as employees being less productive if they’re working from home, and instead being open-minded to the mutual benefits linked with flexible working patterns.
Beyond this, employers today increasingly have the responsibility to ensure that they offer flexible working options, and that the people they employ are well-equipped to carry out their activities regardless of when or where they are working.
For larger organisations, this means ensuring that the infrastructure exists to facilitate this. Indeed, companies with tens, or hundreds, of employees cannot function without the help of technology which is vital to enabling communication and collaboration.
The ability to work remotely and beyond the remit of the office walls would not be possible today without the widespread proliferation of smartphones, tablets and laptops. But the extent of technology’s importance goes even further than this.
As well as ensuring that all employees have access to smart online devices, as more and more workers demand work flexibility, it’s essential that companies invest to ensure they have the online systems in place for their employees to comfortably continue their day-to-day tasks from any location and at any time. Of course, this will differ according to industry and the on-site demands of different professions.
HR also has a crucial role to play in helping facilitate the shift of working culture, by helping managers understand how to manage flexible, mobile workers through training and ongoing support.
To address misconceptions about the practice, meanwhile, HR teams need to be on hand to encourage trials and experiments into new ways of working. Not only will this enlighten professionals to the benefits on offer, it will illustrate the practical ways of facilitating different working arrangements.
Ultimately, businesses have a responsibility to ensure that they support a way of working that suits their employees’ differing needs. The task of implementing a big change within a large organisation might at first seem like a formidable task, but the benefits on offer should serve as inspiration.
Indeed, they will undoubtedly extend throughout the organisation and promote a more positive workplace environment.
About the author
Nic Redfern is finance director of KnowYourMoney.co.uk