How to make flexible working a reality

It takes an open mind...

David Quinn: BrightHR Social Media Manager

The term flexible working has become more prevalent over the last few years, and the idea that you can work at any time, from anywhere has started to become a practical reality for many people.

But for most businesses, the idea of flexible working is still just that: an idea. The rigid 9 to 5 working day still dominates. Getting to work early is seen as on time, on time is seen as late, and ten minutes late is almost seen as a sackable offence. Even if you were in the office until 8pm last night.

So how can businesses start to take flexible working more seriously, and what steps can take to put flexible working into practice?

Putting in the groundwork

Flexible working can’t just happen by putting in place a few policies or procedures. You need to have the essentials in order before you start.

  • Trust

Do you fully trust your workers to get on with their jobs in the workplace? If the answer is no then you can forget flexible working; you have much bigger problems. Trust is a huge part of flexible working and if the trust isn’t there between the two sides then any flexible working initiative is destined to fail. Employers need to trust that their workers are doing their jobs even though they are not physically in the office, and employees need to feel trusted that they get on with the job in their own time without the boss constantly on the phone checking up on them.

  • Systems and technology

For flexible working to work you need to have the right systems and technology in place. There’s no point putting in place a working from home policy if employees can’t see their emails or they can’t access that all important presentation they’re meant to working on.

Firstly you need to consider the technology you provide. Do your employees have a laptop they can work from outside of the office and do you need to provide a work mobile so they can contact clients and you can contact them?

Secondly, it’s all about your systems, how are your employees accessing their files on the move? Do they need access to specialist software to allow them to do their job, such as video conferencing? How are your employees expected to communicate with each other? Are you ensuring the security of your data when people are working at home or on the move?

These all need to be considered before you even think about incorporating flexible working

So, what is flexible working?

When it comes to flexible working there isn’t a one size fits all model. Companies can choose the elements that suit their business best; you could start with a few simple amends or you could go the whole hog and incorporate a fully flexible, working from home approach.

  • Flexibility around the working day

The easiest way to incorporate flexible working into your business is to give your workers flexible working times. Forget the 9 to 5, what about the 10 to 6 or the 8 to 4? Can you be flexible with when your workers start, as long as they’re in for the key part of the day? By starting earlier, or later, workers can take the kids to school, go to the gym before work and even miss the rush hour traffic.

  • Working from home

Why do we treat the term ‘working from home’ with such suspicion? As if people are just using it as an excuse to get the day off. It’s not for everyone but for many, working from home is when they’re at their most productive. You don’t have to contend with the constant workplace requests, you can focus fully on the most important tasks and you can fit in some of your household chores. Work and life combined.

  • Creating a blend

If possible you could blend flexible starts with working from home. Maybe you can require workers to be in the office a set number of days per week, the rest they can work from anywhere they like. Or maybe workers can do 10 to 3  in the office so they can take the kids to school and pick them up, but then they can work from home for a few hours in the evening to make up their contracted times.

The benefits of flexible working

Now you know what flexible working is, why should your company be looking to introduce it?

  • Productivity and profit

Just because you're at the office doesn't mean you're being productive. We’ve probably all been in a situation where you’re sitting at your desk counting down the minutes until you can leave the office at 5pm; that doesn't sound productive. But with flexible working, you stop focusing on the hours someone is in the office and can focus on the work being produced. Which can only be good for business.

And the figures back this up. In a recent survey of 8,000 global employees and employers, it was found that 61% of employers had seen increased profits due to the implementation of flexible working practices and that 83% had reported a boost in productivity because of it.

  • Attracting and retaining talent

Salary is always going to be important when it comes to attracting and retaining the best talent, and it’s easy to find out what a potential job move is going to pay you. With this sort of information many employers are matching, or even improving on, top company salaries to keep their brightest and their best. So in a world of relatively similar salaries, how do you distinguish your company? One way is through perks. These can include holiday allowances, health and wellbeing initiatives and of course flexible working.

Flexible working can be the big draw when it comes to keeping your staff onboard and attracting new workers, especially those that place a value on their work life balance.

  • Stress and work-life balance

Commuting has to be one of the most stressful parts of working life. Setting out early, sitting on a packed train or a packed motorway, and still, you get in late. Frustrating. But with flexible working, this stress is reduced as employees can work from home, avoiding the commute altogether, or if they do have to come into the office they can choose a time which avoids the rush.

When workers can choose their starting times they can also fit work around other commitments. Parents can spend more time with their kids and get the opportunity to drop them off and pick them up from school, workers can choose to go to the shops when it’s quiet or even do work in the evening or on a quiet weekend. Employees can choose to work when they feel most productive, not when their contract tells them to be ‘productive’.

  • Reducing absence levels

Flexible working reduces stress, improves health and wellbeing, fosters trust, increases job satisfaction, and promotes a better work-life balance. It's no wonder that this can then lead to a reduction in absence levels. What's more, if you’re feeling slightly under the weather, you can choose to work from home. You don’t have to struggle into the office and there's no risk of potentially affecting other members of staff.

Flexible working is just one way you can improve productivity, benefit your employees and take your business into the future. Find out more about what the future of work might look like with The New Workforce