In the two years since the introduction of the flexible working legislation in the UK, a number of businesses have introduced the concept into their organisations. Many others are still hesitant. The legislation states that any employee who has worked at a company for six months or more, is afforded the opportunity to work flexibly. But many businesses struggle to understand the benefits or are not sure how to get started.
Organisations are under pressure to provide benefits to improve work/life balance. One such way is offering flexible working options. These options result in happier, and ultimately more productive employees. While younger members of a team may prioritise better work-life balance, more experienced employees might be driven by flexibility to accommodate family responsibilities. According to the Institute of Leadership and Management, 84 per cent of managers who have implemented flexible working schedules in the UK have seen improvements in productivity, commitment and retention of staff. Consulting firm Accenture surveyed its employees and 80 per cent of respondents stated their flexible work benefit made them more likely to stay with the company.
For the employee, 79 per cent of employees would like to work from home and 36 per cent would choose a work-from-home option over a pay raise. A happier employee makes for a more engaged and productive workforce.
Think outside the box
The benefits of flexible working extend beyond the engagement of employees. Businesses are having to contend with an increasing skills gap, lack of local workforce, increasing travel expenses and expensive office space. Business can use flexible working tools, such as video and collaborations applications, to unify the workforce more cost efficiently. Global Workplace Analytics (GWA) says that allowing employees to telecommute even half the time would save companies at least £7,000 per employee per year. Flexible working is an easy and effective way to please employees.
If flexibility can have this impact on both staff loyalty and the bottom line, it’s certainly an issue to be prioritised at the board level.
Flexible working may keep staff engaged and boost productivity. The challenge with adoption however is more cultural than technological. To address the misconception that working from home is less productive than office-based work, organisations should foster a culture where people are valued for the work and outcomes they produce, rather than the amount of time they spend at their desk. Management can play a key role in creating an environment where flexible working can thrive. A culture that values performance and output will surely reap the full benefits of flexible working.
Top tips to make flexible arrangements work
For those that are sceptical about the effectiveness of a remote workforce, starting on a small scale can be a great opportunity to test the waters. Here are some guidelines that organisations can introduce that support employees working from home:
1. Communicate your organisations’s policy clearly
A study by telecommunications group O2 found that while three-quarters of polled employers believed they encouraged flexible working, only one-fifth of polled employees agreed. Flexible working is only successful when employees feel they are encouraged to do so. Make sure you’re clear with your employees about their options.
2. Create a working environment
However tempting it is to work in pyjamas, employees must designate an area of the home that is a work area and maintain a professional environment – no distractions allowed. By recreating the office environment at home, employees can be more productive and less likely to become sidetracked by home comforts and chores. Constant distractions and the feeling that you’re not really at work will have a detrimental impact on productivity
3. Stay connected
Working from home can be quite isolating, so it is important not to let 'out of sight, out of mind' become an excuse. Check in frequently with your team and stay connected with colleagues in the office using instant messaging and video conferencing solutions. Establish expectations and guidelines from the outset. These should involve principles around clocking in and out, attending meetings, and submitting work.
4. Check the tech
It is paramount that you have access to sufficient Internet connection before committing to working from home. High-speed Internet makes communication easy.
Gone are the days of the 9-5 working week. The office has suddenly become an idea more than a physical location. If organisations adopt cloud-based video conferencing technology, there is no reason that an at-home worker can’t have the same productive, face-to-face experience, as if they were in the office.
Accommodating the changing needs and expectations of an evolving workforce means a greater focus on organisational culture and how it enables employees to stay connected and communicate, regardless of location.
Andy Nolan, VP for UK, Ireland and Northern Europe at Lifesize