The emergence of innovative new technologies and widespread availability of global internet access has seen digital devices play a critical part in how business is conducted today. It has also freed up professionals to work from home, on the move and abroad like never before.
Today’s working world has evolved from what it was a decade ago, when a typical workplace was filled with eager employees at 9:00am and emptied at 5:30pm. Once considered a benefit reserved for working mothers or carers, flexible working is rapidly becoming the norm for a number of companies and a valuable perk for all employees.
A report on 'Flexible working provision and uptake' conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that there is a strong link between flexible working, employee engagement and increased productivity. The report found that 72 per cent of the employers surveyed believed that implementing flexible working practices had a positive impact on staff engagement and 73 per cent felt that it had a positive impact on employee motivation.
At JHC Systems, we offer benefits and equal opportunities across all levels of the company, which enables the organisation to develop a strong, diverse workforce, as evidenced by the number of women and working parents within the team. As the Head of Releases and Software Installation at JHC and a mother of two young children, my responsibilities include raising a family and supporting a team of 13 across our UK bases of Birmingham, London and Newcastle. The opportunity to embrace flexi-working allows me to support my team at all times whilst still being able to attend to my personal responsibilities.
A flexible attitude for a healthy work life balance
Flexibility in the workplace requires companies to develop modern working practices that fit the needs of the 21st century. Today’s businesses need to recognise the personal, non-work related responsibilities of their employees, from raising a family to caring for an elderly parent or relative, and adapt their ways of working to suit these requirements – not only to minimise the impact on they have on the business, but also to retain top talent.
In today’s society, both men and women want to find a balance between work, family and caring responsibilities, which are shared more equally than ever before. In my case, having the opportunity to organise my own working arrangements means that my husband and I are able to balance our parental responsibilities equally whilst still being able to work full-time.
More than just flexible hours
Aside from flexible hours, flexi-working can also mean working away from the office, whether that’s at home, in a café or during a long commute. The growth of mobile has increased competitiveness in the business world and has enabled today’s professionals to make quick, informed decisions on the move.
‘Mobile-anywhere’ access has connected business players around the globe, and means that business opportunities can be won or lost in a matter of minutes. This emphasises the need for companies to adapt and supply their employees with the training and technology required to work anywhere, at any time. If they can achieve this, the business benefits will be endless, including being more responsive to customer needs.
The digital age has also seen demand and expectation for 24/7 customer service grow, and as a result businesses are increasingly moving towards the adoption of flexible working to ensure resourcing levels remain high at all times. As such, firms that offer these benefits will be able to reap the rewards by ensuring they remain competitive whilst also increasing customer satisfaction.
Equal opportunities for all
An employee’s relationship with their manager is fundamental for their career development and progression. Managers therefore need to take the time and encourage employees to take full advantage of any training and career promotion opportunities their organisation offers.
Gaining additional training will not only allow employees to stay up-to-date in their field, but also provide them with the tools they need to perform better in their jobs. In 2014, I took part in a series of training and coaching sessions that were designed to improve the soft skills of JHC managers and its team leaders. The sessions were beneficial as they enabled the participants to receive the guidance and knowledge required to direct our teams more effectively and improve their working environment.
Leaders also need to encourage on-going career development, especially for employees who are in a significant minority in a particular job or job group, such as parents with dependent children. For example, when I was on maternity leave, my manager at the time reached out to inform me about a new role that had become available and gave me the support and encouragement to put myself forward. By encouraging this internal promotion, despite the fact I was on leave, it provided me with the re-assurance that JHC values me as an employee and is dedicated to supporting me through my long-term career.
The business benefits
It is important that employers understand the culture of their workplace and communicate with their employees effectively when implementing flexible working. Negative attitudes towards flexible workers are often prompted by a sense of unfairness and poor communication from senior management on company policy. Therefore, before employees are given this level of flexibility, employers need to consult all areas of the business to ensure both employees and employers are happy with the proposed structure and benefits.
According to research conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), more than a quarter (28 per cent) of respondents said that the ability to work flexibly has been a factor in their decision to remain with their current employer. With this in mind, employers need to realise the importance of the relationship between employee retention and business performance. What would happen to the organisation’s productivity should their most experienced employee hand in their resignation due to no longer being able to work full-time or a traditional working day from 9am to 5pm?
Overall, instilling a positive company culture, purpose and offering flexibility to all employees will not only affect the standard and the level of customer service delivered, it will also impact the satisfaction, engagement and retention of employees, which will ultimately lead to positive strong performance and a positive reputation.
Nicola Knight, Head of Releases and Software Installation at JHC Systems
Image source: Shutterstock/Alex Brylov