Before the COVID-19 lock-down, flexible working was a nice to have for employers, not essential. Yet in a matter of months, thousands of companies have been shown they can offer flexible working while maintaining high standards and productivity.
So what are the key impacts of flexible working for employers? From happier employees and greater productivity, to a lower carbon footprint for your company, there are a multitude of business benefits from a permanent move to flexible working. There are challenges to mitigate however, such as added complexity for managers and impact on how the team needs to operate.
Flexible Working Benefits for Employers
The first major benefit of flexible working is the impact on the morale and productivity of your team. When employees are empowered to manage their own time around their work and home life commitments, they are often happier and more motivated. Allowing people to manage their own time can also lead to greater productivity as people can structure their day around the times when they work best. Both these factors create a better more productive team and a positive team culture, a must for retaining happy employees.
As well as happier staff, improved employee wellbeing is a long-term benefit of flexible working, with companies reporting fewer sick days when following a flexible working policy. Whether it’s down to staff ditching their commutes and working remotely, or planning their own time in the office so that exercise and self-care can become higher priority, better overall physical and mental health and, therefore, less chance of burnout are significant benefits to flexible working. It can also be transformative for employees with long-term health issues, as it allows them to manage their health around work.
This can also lead to lower attrition rates of staff, saving money on rehiring roles and getting new team members up to speed. By providing flexible working you can pre-empt some of the practical reasons why people leave jobs, such as commute time, juggling parental responsibilities, or lack of work-life balance. It can also lead to higher levels of company loyalty. This is in part down to the feeling of trust built through the autonomy of flexible working. Again, loyalty leads to more commitment from staff long-term and less time spent re-hiring for roles that could have been prevented.
Given that many companies are looking to attract and retain top talent, flexible working is a real plus not just for current staff, but prospective hires. It can be a huge bonus for some of the best talent in your industry, with surveys showing as much as 77% of employees listing flexible working as a consideration in accepting a job. Offering flexible working can also help you to reach a much wider pool of candidates. From de-centralising your talent search from the area in which your office is based, to providing accessible routes to employment for people who need greater flexibility, to creating better pathways for parents returning to work, flexible working is a benefit for a lot of talented workers that you can’t afford to miss out on.
Attracting talent is not the only key concern for employers in 2020. Reducing environmental impact is increasingly important for many and a major advantage of flexible working is the opportunity to rethink or eradicate your traditional office. A flexible policy may mean working partially or fully remotely, which will not only cut your yearly budget significantly, but also help tackle your carbon footprint. With less commuting for staff, less energy spent heating and lighting an office, and, let’s be honest, less last minute take away lunches with single use containers – there are lots of ways flexible working can reduce your overall environmental impact and save you money in the meantime.
Challenges of Flexible Working for Employers
It is important to recognise that it will take a while for employers to adjust their rental spaces to accommodate the demand for flexible friendly offices, a short-term downside to changing our working culture. It’s very likely we will see an increase in the amount of flexible office space available nearer to where people live, vs the push to have all people travel to one central location.
Companies will also need to work out exactly what they need to support their flexible culture. The tool we use will change but for the better, supporting more flexible hours and ways to collaborate that don’t require a physical presence nor everyone working at the same time. There will be some teething problems in the transition to flexible first working, but this is sure to improve as more and more companies seriously make flexible working a central part of their working cultures.
This is not the only problem to consider, a further complication for flexible working is that some staff may feel isolated, particularly working from home, and a flexible team may lose valuable bonding time together. A shared office space and core hours provides opportunities for conversation and team bonding that can be difficult to replicate when a whole team is flexible. Arranging regular team meetups and away days can mitigate this to an extent, but this does require time and planning to get it right for your team. This also presents a further issue: flexible working can be more complicated to manage. Keeping track of multiple team members in an office with set hours can be easy, but with the whole or part of your team working flexibly you need to think carefully about how to adapt your management structures to best communicate with your team.
Another potential downfall for any flexible working policy is that success relies on employees having a good home working setup if they choose to work remotely. A reliable internet connection, a private space for confidential conversations and a proper desk are essential for productivity and wellbeing. If your company is in a position to offer equipment to home workers and are committed to helping your staff find the best way to work, these problems can be managed. However, for some people whose home setup may not be ideal for flexible working, a traditional office can provide a stable place to work from. Some companies offer their employees an allowance that can be used for some flexible office space, in a location near to where they live or choose to work from.
Consider Flexible Working Long Term
Careful consideration needs to be made as to whether you have the resources to support flexible working long-term, whether you need a traditional office presence, and whether you can maintain a positive office culture flexibly. With some focus flexible working can improve your working culture creating happier, more productive staff. And let’s not forget that flexible working could improve the lives of executives too, with more time with family and friends, less commuting and the flexibility to maintain a healthier lifestyle. A long-term flexible working policy has some great benefits. Done right you could save money, time and boost productivity, as well as keeping the loyalty of your talented and dedicated staff.