As the sports-minded will be aware, flexibility is an integral part of physical fitness. Among other positive benefits, it improves muscle coordination, mobility, posture, and significantly reduces the risk of injury.
It’s not too big a stretch to apply this analogy to business. Although a flexible workforce can encompass many components, typically it’s a workforce that adjusts how it works to better match its needs and enable better performance. This is beneficial for the health of your business, empowering your workforce to have more control over how they work leads to higher trust, better engagement, and increased productivity.
What Is A Flexible Workforce?
Jack leaves work early Tuesday and Thursday afternoon to share parenting responsibilities with his partner. Joan does freelance design for a London based company while residing in Manchester. Kathy works Monday and Tuesday, Sarah takes over for the rest of the week in a job share role.
They’re all part of a flexible workforce.
A flexible workforce comprises workers who aren’t bound to working in the same location, nine-to-five, five days a week.
These employees may work from your physical office with the opportunity to pick their own hours. Some days they may work remotely. A flexible workforce may be remotely located across a country, or globally with no physical office space. They may combine two sets of skills to share a single full-time role. They may work for small private sector businesses or large public sector organisations.
The COVID-19 pandemic means large sections of the working population have, as the new normal, become a remote working flexible workforce. In 2020, millions of white-collar workers swapped suits and skirts for loungewear—introduced to the flexibility of remote work for the first time.
The results? Many companies have decided to make the move to remote permanent, whilst others are expecting to see long term increases in the number of days people work remote each week. For companies this means they can now look to reduce office space and in the future widen the talent pool by attracting employees further away from their offices.
What Are The Benefits Of A Flexible Workforce
A flexible workforce has benefits in many of the most significant parts of a businesses operations; its cost, productivity, customer support, talent, and innovation.
While flexible work is not all about the bottom line, it can reduce overhead costs significantly. If a percentage of your workforce work remotely or work remotely sometimes, you may be able to limit the size and cost of a physical office.
More Productive Employees
You can’t get away from it, business is about getting good results. One of the most reliable ways of improving the performance of your organisation is to increase its productivity. People working flexibly frequently highlight increased productivity, whether it’s the reduced distractions of remote working or the increased sense of purpose employees who feel trusted and satisfied at work achieve it all counts.
Local Customer Focus
You can’t have an office everywhere (unless you’re Apple, or the like). Even small offices can be a drain on resources. Unfortunately, it’s a global world, so chances are you do have customers in more than one location and country. How to service them?
Having remote employees, close to your customers in other countries or geographies helps you be more local without the expense of formally operating in that location.
Attraction Of Talent
Attracting the best staff means offering the best package, and pay, while important, may no longer serve as the be-all and end–all, as people lead busier personal lives and seek work-life balance.
This means businesses offering options to choose the place and methods that support how they want to work, i.e. flexibly, are more likely to attract top talent.
An Innovative Workforce
Innovation has been a big business buzzword for decades. In the late nineties when the tech scene was blossoming, CEOs in large organisations realized to innovate like startups they needed to change not just what they worked on but also how they worked. The traditional white-walled, fluorescent lit, grey-carpeted spaces of meeting rooms were deemed not conducive to innovation.
Environment matters. So most quickly hired consultants to create in-house “innovation rooms” comprising colourful rooms dotted with bean bags, whiteboards, Lego and AstroTurf. The idea was these would assist brainstorming and encourage innovation.
In person collaboration, particularly for complex, creative, and innovative topics is here to stay however there is strong evidence that being given the space to think clearly is also critical.
Alone at home, in your garden, or walking in nature, or equally a team meetup at a cafe can offer the flexibility the mind needs to come up with ideas, and sow the seeds of new innovations.
Flexible Working Business Case for Companies
Long term, a flexible workforce offers a business substantial financial incentives.
We’ve discussed increased operating cost saving and productivity. To reinforce this, studies have been carried out on the use of trust-based working time arrangements (TBW) in Germany. Similar to flexible work, TBW is characterized by managers giving up control over work time and instead focusing on the worker’s actual outputs. The most productive companies are almost twice as likely to use TBW as the least productive firms. A flexible working environment allows individual employees to play to their strengths to deliver their best work.
Recruitment and retention of staff are a major HR cost. According to Oxford Economics, the average cost to replace an employee is just over £30,000 when you take into account the cost of lost productivity as the employee gets up to speed. When employees leave, they take with them experience and knowledge, and it takes time, effort and money to train new ones. Flexible working conditions deliver employees a greater sense of control over their working day—and life. A good motivation for employees to stay, and a way for companies to reduce turnover and save costs.
While a flexible workforce benefits business, it doesn’t only benefit the business. Your staff are individuals to whom work is just one part of their daily lives. Most balance family, sport, study and other interests or commitments. Allowing your workforce some flexibility around how they manage their work time, not only builds trust but also leads to happier employees and a better culture for your business.
A flexible workforce is also inevitable for many companies continuing to cope with the current business environment. According to Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics: “Our best estimate is that 25-30% of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.”
One thing’s for certain: a flexible workforce is a reality for businesses for the foreseeable future.