The demand for flexible working is huge and wide ranging amongst today’s workforce with employees increasingly expecting to be able to work with less constraints.
Last month Family Friendly Working Scotland hosted their inaugural FlexibleWorkFest which brought together around 120 business leaders from across Scotland who are all working and thinking flexibly. The event really highlighted a step change in attitudes towards flexible working and showcased how it is being embraced by businesses of all sizes, from large global corporations to SMEs and startups.
While flexible working was historically seen as a childcare issue, that is no longer the case and the benefits apply to all – regardless of age, gender or family circumstances.
What does flexible working look like?
Flexible working can come in many different forms, but ultimately the arrangement has to be right for the company, the employee and the client or end user of your product or service.
Part-time working – employees are contracted to work less than standard, basic, full-time hours.
Working from home or remotely – employees will spend all or part of the week working from home or somewhere else away from the working premises and is increasingly common with the move to cloud-based systems.
Job sharing – one full-time job can be shared between two employees who agree the hours between them.
Compressed hours – employees compress their standard working hours into fewer working days, for example by working a 9 day fortnight.
Flexi-time – this allows employees to work their agreed number of hours at times that suit, outside a set of core hours determined by the employer.
Staggered hours – this allows a degree of flexibility such as coming into the office an hour later and subsequently finishing an hour later.
Annualised hours – employees have to work a certain number of hours over the year but have some flexibility about when to work them.
Unpaid leave – an agreed period of time out of the organization to go travelling, spend time with family, cover school holidays etc.
Informal flexibility – can accommodate an extended lunch hour for dog walking or working from home if needed for deliveries, appointments etc.
The benefits of flexible working
Flexible and agile working patterns are of huge benefit to employers and employees alike. A happy workforce has a direct correlation with the performance and output of an organisation.
Research has shown that flexible working boosts productivity, improves morale, enhances engagement and increases motivation levels. Flexible working practices build trust, which leads to increased loyalty.
Flexible working helps strike a healthy work/life balance for the workforce, something that features high on the wish-list of today’s employees.
Offering flexible working is key for attracting and retaining talent in a skills short market. Job seekers will now look for flexible working when deciding whether to work for a company. In a study carried out last year by Morgan McKinley, 55% of respondents no longer think of flexibility as an additional benefit; they now expect it as part of the job offer package, and that figure will only rise. Therefore, having a clear flexible working policy and promoting your support of flexible working practices in job adverts can attract a wider pool of candidates, resulting in a more skilled and diverse workforce.
Flexible working can reduce absenteeism and sickness. When employees struggle to balance home and work commitments, this can lead to stress and absence. Allowing employees to have a better work-life balance helps improve their health and well-being.
Encouraging employees to work some of the time from home and use web or telephone conferencing rather than travelling to meetings can all help reduce their carbon footprint.
With cost a key consideration for early stage businesses, more people working from home means you can save money on office space and the associated overheads. Plus, with fewer people travelling into the office you help to reduce congestion and overcrowding and all the pollution that comes with it.
The potential drawbacks of flexible working
Flexible working can have its drawbacks and it’s important to be aware of them.
With less time in the office, employees may lose out on the human connection and team element. Blended home working where employees are still coming in to the office and being part of the culture is beneficial, as well as regular work social events and get togethers.
Some people can take on too much when given the freedom to schedule their own time and can find it difficult to switch off. Encourage your team to prioritise their workload and set clear boundaries and expectations.
To mitigate and manage this it is important to schedule regular catch ups with your team to get feedback on how it’s working for them – communication is key.
How to make it work
In the right culture, flexible working is a simple add on. Be clear about your policies from the outset and ensure everyone is on the same page. For it to work successfully, inclusive and flexible working practices must be led from the top and built on trust, output and open communication.
Line manager support is crucial because flexible working is about collaboration – between the flexible worker and their manager and between the flexible worker’s team members.
Encourage your team to make suggestions about approaches that would help them be more effective and be open to discuss and explore options.
As traditional work patterns become a thing of the past, the workforce of the future is set to be a flexible one and employers must support this shifting dynamic to attract and retain the top talent needed for successful and inclusive growth.
Purpose HR are passionate about creating and supporting diverse and inclusive workplace cultures for our clients. We are also proud to champion and lead by example with a majority part time workforce encompassing a range of part time and flexible working patterns and are delighted to have been able to support a number of returners to the workplace within our own team. If you would like to discuss how we could help your business implement and manage flexible and inclusive working practices as part of our tailored HR support packages, please get in touch.