Published on 6th June 2014 by Gemma Harding
Flexible working is on the rise as a result of changing operational requirements, modern technology and the needs of working parents. However, for employers, offering flexible working isn’t just about meeting legal requirements for employees. Used effectively, it can increase productivity, raise staff satisfaction levels and improve retention rates. Here are some key facts your business needs to consider when it comes to flexible working.
1. Flexible working practices are seriously underutilised by employers.
While a 2013 survey by XpertHR revealed that nearly half of employers do offer flexible working, this was limited to a small proportion of staff and typically only included flexitime and part-time hours. Only 1 in 50 employers were found to be adopting more creative solutions such as home-working, job-sharing and mobile working. These results demonstrate how far employers have to go to create the right conditions for a more modern, flexible workforce.
2. Productivity isn’t measured by hours worked but by outcomes achieved.
Just because your employees are at their desk from 9-5 doesn’t mean they are being productive. Despite evidence that the long-hours culture can be counterproductive to business success, employers still tend to value quantity over quality when it comes to working hours. At the same time, many employers don’t fully trust their staff to work effectively from home. However, your staff is made up of individuals with different roles and different ways of working best so offering more flexibility will enable you to harness your team with maximum efficiency.
3. Flexible working practices increase workplace diversity.
The most successful businesses depend on collaboration and team work among a diverse workforce with different skill sets and, as such, it’s vital to encourage a broad mix of employees. After all, if all your employers think the same way, they may be less able to innovate or challenge accepted ideas that need improvement. Flexible working encourages such diversity as it attracts different candidates with different strengths. For example, allowing flexible working can increase the number of women employees, particularly in senior roles.
4. Flexible working allows you to recruit and retain the best people.
More and more job candidates are requesting flexible working as a condition of employment so to hire and retain the best personnel your company needs to be offering the most attractive terms possible. For businesses that can’t afford to offer an industry-leading salary, providing greater work flexibility may be the best way to improve your offer to candidates without it costing you extra money. Don’t rule out an ideal candidate just because they prefer to job share rather than work full-time. Offering as much flexibility as possible will allow you to focus on the unique skills a candidate can bring to the job.
5. Technology has changed the game.
New software and improved infrastructure now means your employees can connect, communicate and work together from anywhere in the world. Email, Skype, video conferencing and cloud computing have made flexible working possible in ways unimagined until just a few years ago. More remote-working staff also reduces the need for a big office space and lots of equipment. Instead, innovative companies are creating adaptive office environments that can be reconfigured according to changing requirements. Hot desking, where employees share a single workspace at different times, is another cost-cutting innovation allowed by flexible working.
6. Flexible working enables greater use of outsourcing.
Technological improvements are also leading to more companies outsourcing office tasks. This can include telephone answering services – such as virtual receptionists, customer service outsourcing and emergency helplines – as well as systems maintenance and creative jobs such as copywriting, design and programming. Rather than hiring a large number of costly in-house employees, many new startups and lean enterprises are opting for a smaller core of flexibly working employees while outsourcing a wide range of routine operations and specialist tasks.
7. Flexible working requires full support across the organisation.
There may be many groups within your company that need convincing before new practices can be successfully introduced, including senior management, unions or workers themselves. Used effectively, flexible working offers advantages for both employers and employees but everyone needs to be convinced beforehand. If there is resistance from the top, HR departments should make the case using available data.
8. Both younger and older employees are seeking more flexible working.
It’s clear that many young people entering the workforce are demanding a better work-life balance than their parents, and insisting they be valued according to what they can offer rather than the hours they put in. At the same time, over-50s are also increasingly requesting more opportunities to pursue interests outside work prior to retirement, as well as seeking more flexible retirement packages themselves. As a result, flexible working practices can accommodate the needs of different generations, improving employee engagement and job satisfaction.
So far, the push for flexible working practices has come more from workers than business owners. However, it should be seen as a win-win for both, offering increased productivity, reduced costs and improved retention rates for employers while providing employees with more freedom to choose the work-life balance that suits them best. Flexible working will only increase as demand rises and, on the evidence so far, early adopters can expect to carve out a significant business advantage.