Once little more than a pipe dream, flexible working is slowly becoming a reality for much of the UK’s workforce. The modern work paradigm is undergoing a massive shift, whereby sitting at a desk in an office from 9 to 5 is no longer the default in a growing number of organisations.
In essence, flexible working simply refers to any variation in working pattern that differs from the typical standard. For some, this could mean starting and leaving the office earlier, or working from home a few days a week.
Businesses ought to take note, as more and more people are on the hunt for job opportunities that offer a better work-life balance; and according to recent research by Know Your Money, people are willing to walk away from an employer that doesn’t satisfy this demand. One in three (29%) of full-time workers in the UK have left a job in the past 12 months for lack of flexibility.
Employers need to realise that when it comes to retaining top talent and keeping workers happy, they must appreciate the fact that many people are juggling responsibilities beyond work. For instance, they could be looking after elderly relatives, pursuing further education, or simply engaging in a hobby.
In light of this, it is up to employers to lay down the groundwork to ensure that workers are in a position to choose schedules that accommodate their other commitments.
How desirable is the notion of flexible working?
Know Your Money recently set out to find out how much emphasis workers place on flexible working. We surveyed more than 2,000 UK adults in full-time or part-time employment to shed light on their attitudes towards workplace arrangements.
The standout takeaway from the research is that employees are seeking greater control over certain aspects of their working lives, even if this means making sacrifices.
Almost half (49%) said they would be in favour of a four-day working week, even if they had to take a pay cut of 20%. The vast majority (75%) would also be in favour of a shortened week if they had the opportunity to compress their current number of working hours into fewer days.
So how are businesses adapting to these trends? Not very well, according to the Know Your Money research; half of those surveyed said they cannot work remotely when they want or need to, with similar numbers (46%) saying they have no flexibility in the hours they work.
What benefits are on offer?
The benefits of relaxing rules on working arrangements are tangible and wide ranging.
In 2016, Vodafone conducted a global survey of companies who had implemented flexible working strategies; 61% of respondents said this had led to increased company profits, four in five (83%) said it improved productivity, and the vast majority said it improved staff morale (76%).
These figures suggest that there’s a lot to be said for giving workers more control over how, when and where they work, which could ultimately translate into significant advantages for the organisation as a whole.
Indeed, recent Chartered Institute for Personal Development (CIPD) guidance noted many cases of improved motivation, creativity, mental wellbeing and productivity levels in its advice to businesses keen to explore the practice.
Implementing flexible working within your own organisation
The first question is: where to begin?
Workplaces must necessarily start by addressing some of the misconceptions that accompany the term ‘flexible working’. There is an ingrained mentality, stemming from decades of following the same working structure, that prevents many businesses from considering that shorter hours, variable schedules and/or remote working might actually mean more – not less – productivity.
Being open to different ways of working, and experimenting with different arrangements, could serve to illustrate the benefits on offer to both employees and their employers. These efforts should realistically be driven by the HR team.
HR has a crucial role to play in facilitating the shift of working culture, both in terms of helping managers understand how to manage and support flexible workplace arrangements, and supporting those workers keen to adopt a new working schedule.
Logistical barriers standing in the way of this shift must also be addressed. This boils down to having the right infrastructure in place to ensure that employees can carry on their daily duties where and when they choose without unnecessary burdens.
At the most basic level, investing in smartphones and laptops means that professionals can be online and contactable during their working hours, wherever they are in the world. Of course, the ability to work flexibly will differ from industry to industry.
Beyond this, business leaders and managers should be exploring valuable software solutions like Slack which ensure that employees are able to communicate fluidly 24/7. Slack also enables employees to execute tasks, securely access shared files and generally stay connected to their workplace without being physically present in the office.
There’s no more putting it off: the job market is evolving, and the traditional working model is quickly becoming outdated.
The fundamental message for businesses to take away is that they must adapt to new trends in the workplace if they want to be a progressive company with a positive work culture. Failing this, they risk losing out to more forward-thinking companies.
About the Author
Nic Redfern is KnowYourMoney.co.uk’s Finance Director. Coming from a background in finance, strategy and compliance, Nic has worked with global and local businesses to ensure they are in a position to scale and grow. His finger is on the pulse when it comes to UK business sentiment and the financial challenges the UK’s community of directors and founders are facing on a daily basis. At Know Your Money, Nic looks at how the company can better serve its business customers by exploring new technologies and reporting systems to help users access the clear, accurate and transparent information they need when selecting financial products.