Flexible working agreements are by no means a new concept. Researchers have been studying their positive effects on employee performance and operational efficiency since the mid 70's. Yet despite the benefits of being well-known, flexible working for many people in the UK is still a distant dream.
In June 2014, the government introduced legislation to open up the right to request flexible working for all. This has led to an increase in flexible working provision, however we still have a long way to go. Research by Microsoft shows that whilst over half (53%) of small and medium business (SMB) workers are aware that it exists, uptake of the legislation has been slow. Moreover, according to the Workingmums 2015 Annual Survey, over a fifth of working mums have been forced to leave their jobs because a flexible working request was turned down. Their survey also found that 38% of those on maternity leave wouldn't return to their jobs if flexible working wasn’t granted, and 47% were unsure what they would do.
It's important to note at this point that this isn't just a female issue. More needs to be done to challenge the cultural and unconscious biases against men and flexible working. Flexible working should be offered regardless of gender and as the labour market demographic changes, so too will the demand. The millennial workforce increasingly values work/life balance and seeks a better fit between personality and workplace culture. Whilst there are real barriers preventing some companies from implementing flexible working into their organisation, going forward those that embrace it and live the culture of it, will be more likely to attract and retain the best talent.
In this two-part series I want to firstly lay the foundations of the business case for flexible working. In the second part of this series I'll look at some of the constraints that companies face when implementing flexible working into their organisation and offer some practical advice on how businesses can actually make it work for them.
GOV.UK describes flexible working in its purest form as “a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, e.g. having flexible start and finish times, or working from home.” It could include opportunities to job share, work compressed hours, work from a remote location part/full-time, or work flexibly within the office. Personally, I envisage flexible working as more than just working times and physicality. It's a culture that promotes innovation through removing the rigid nature of the workplace. Some companies such as KPMG have taken that culture and run with it by building 'agile workspaces' that encourage collaboration by breaking down department silos. It's an exciting time for business and staff alike, and it'll be interesting to see which organisations really take on board the culture of flexible working.
The ILM's research into flexible working has showed that perceptions amongst employers are changing. As the demands of a 24/7 consumer culture grow, employers are inevitably leaning towards flexible working patterns to meet the needs of the market. Their survey of over 1,000 managers found that 82% feel that flexible working is beneficial to their business, reporting improvements in productivity, commitment and retention of staff, while 62% think it helps organisations better respond to customer need. Those with experience of flexible working are the most positive, particularly CEOs, who are both most likely to think it benefits their organisation (93%) and to have recently worked flexibly themselves (88%).
Until recently, out-of-office flexible working was inherently difficult as the technology just didn't exist to support remote working. Nowadays with the advent of high speed broadband, cloud computing and the proliferation of video communication, employees can share resources, computing power, and ideas, wherever they are in the world. The concept of the ‘virtual office’ is growing and with it employers are beginning to appreciate its benefits.
Diversity and its benefits are high on the agenda for most employers these days. Having a gender-diverse range of employees from different racial, educational, social, and age brackets can help to generate a higher level of innovation, letting organisations strive forward with new ways of thinking. Diversity in the workforce can also help you to understand a wider range of customers, an important fact given the diversification of customers on both a local and global scale. Flexible working is a key factor in fostering a more diverse workforce. It makes it easier for parents or carers to remain in or re-enter the workforce, as well as helping organisations to hold on to or attract older workers.
The job market is competitive at the moment to say the least. Employers and recruiters are all vying for the best talent, and many organisations are struggling to attract the key skills they need. Recruiting remotely gives you the opportunity to attract talent from around the world and with video interviewing you have the ability to make an informed choice on your remote hires.
An employee survey carried out for the CIPD by Kingston University/Ipsos MORI found that “workers on flexible contracts tend to be more emotionally engaged, more satisfied with their work, more likely to speak positively about their organisation and less likely to quit.”
In addition, the aforementioned ILM research also showed that “four in five (85%) feel that allowing staff to work flexibly enhances staff wellbeing, 78% say it helps to retain staff and 64% believe it increases an employer’s ability to attract talent”. Reducing staff turnover is key to retaining the skills and operational knowledge that is essential to driving down costs and boosting profit. Can your organisation afford to avoid flexible working practices?
A key driver for instigating flexible working practices is reducing your operating costs. The increase in online businesses and the recession have increased the need to reduce operating costs. Initiatives such as hot-desking, agile workspaces and remote working can facilitate a smaller office space, radically reducing your costs. The National Grid for example redesigned 22,686m2 of its interior floor space around agile work principles and saved more than £8m per annum in operating costs. They have also forecasted £20m in extra revenue as a result of increased productivity.
Flexible working and the culture surrounding it is a win-win for businesses. The question is, have you started promoting flexible working practices in your workplace yet?
Written by Lindsey Newman, Director of Purple House HR, a niche recruitment consultancy specialising in the placement of Human Resources professionals. If you’re looking for a new HR position, or need to hire an HR professional, then get in touch:
0117 957 4100
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