Flexible working is a bit of a buzzword these days, but how many companies actually offer more than the standard forms – part-time hours and a bit of ad hoc homeworking – and do they really consider how they could make flexible working work for them?
Initial legislation on flexible working emphasised the benefits for workers of working flexibly. As it only applied to carers and parents, it was generally assumed that it was a sort of favour granted to them. This not only created resentment among other colleagues not allowed to apply for it, but also ingrained an idea of flexible working as not making much business sense and being a bit of an inconvenience. It’s an idea that has been difficult to shift despite a ton of research studies showing that smart working or however it is rebranded makes for better business.
Research shows, for instance, that remote staff are more productive than office-based ones, that those who work flexibly are more engaged and committed to the business and that they are more loyal. Companies which have moved towards more agile working have saved millions on office overheads and are able to employ a more diverse workforce which can adapt better to today’s 24/7 world. BT, one of the pioneers of smart working, says it has problems with remote staff overworking rather than the image many still have of people sitting at home in their pjs watching daytime tv.
Study after study also highlights that staff really value the ability to work flexibly. It is consistently in their top three of things they value at work and it’s not just parents. Younger people who have grown up in the internet age are keen to work more flexibly and find it hard to understand why it doesn’t make sense. As the population ages, more and more workers will find themselves having to care for elderly relatives and themselves working longer and possibly needing to reduce their hours. Any forward-thinking employer will need to take the bigger picture into consideration if they want to thrive in the 21st century.
But what are the vital ingredients for moving from just offering the bare minimum to getting the full advantages of flexible working? Workingmums.co.uk’s work with top employers shows that the following are key:
- Senior leadership buy-in – this is essential for embedding a flexible culture. Senior leaders not only have to grasp the business case for flexible working and promote it, but be seen to be working flexibly themselves.
- Training – top employers recognise the need to support managers around the implementation of flexible working and develop a culture where people are judged on meeting their targets rather than presenteeism.
- Looking at flexible working as a whole culture issue rather than as something that is granted to individuals on an ad hoc basis. This will include looking at real estate, IT support and the like.
- Involving people from the grassroots up through networks and champions who embed the flexible working culture and take on board and respond to employee concerns.
- Promoting flexible working internally and externally and ensuring flexible working applies from the recruitment stages right through to senior management.
With these in place, an agile work culture is more likely to become embedded. In the past things like commitment and engagement were thought of as ‘soft skills’ which were difficult to measure, but data analytics is changing all this and making it easier to set targets and demonstrate how they improve business. Since senior management tends to like number crunching this could provide them with the evidence they need to move flexible working from the periphery to the core of their business strategy.
Mandy Garner is editor of Workingmums.co.uk the UK’s number one female-focused jobs and community site. The site advertises flexible work and was set up to put employers directly in touch with women with years of professional experience who are looking for a good work life balance. It also offers advice and support and promotes best practice in flexible working. Over 140,000 jobseekers visit the site each month, with hundreds of employers from SMEs to large corporates advertising their roles at any one time.