The Beatles, the Civil Rights Movement, the Space Race – the sixties proved to be very eventful! The decade also bore witness to the dawn of flexible working, and over the years we’ve seen this practice become more and more popular. A 2019 IWG Global Workplace Survey (addressing over 15,000 business people across 80 nations) revealed that 61% of global companies allowed staff to work remotely in some form. Then 2020 ushered in the era of mass remote working during COVID, almost certainly changing the amount we work in the office forever.
Also, employees expectations are changing. Working Families surveyed 26 employers in September 2020, finding employees flexing their hours increased from around half to 85%. Additionally, employers highlighted that male parents or carers are increasing their interest in flexible working, moving further away from the notion that flex is primarily for working mothers.
But can flexible working really benefit employers as much as employees? Numerous studies have been carried out concerning the impact of flexible working, such as the 2017 ACAS research paper, which highlights the fact that adopting a flexible working pattern has a positive effect on employees – boosting productivity and efficiency levels. Also, as part of the recent working families survey, they found 25 of the 26 employers they spoke to felt productivity was the same or better whilst people were working remotely. This is excellent news for employers.
How does flexible working affect employees?
Let’s rewind to 1967, to a German company called Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm, where Herr Hillert, a forward-thinking personnel guru, implemented the first flexitime system. The new concept (known as “Gleitzeit”) proved a hit and led to cost savings, increased productivity, lower levels of absenteeism and a better calibre of job applicant. Other companies soon caught on and began to follow suit, adopting similar practices. This leads us onto the here and now – with more businesses than ever before encouraging employees to embrace this agile way of working. So why are so many employees keen to evolve how they work to include more flexibility?
First off, we must recognise that employees are not robots! Whilst many consider their career as being a high priority, we must appreciate that the people who work for us also have other unique needs and responsibilities. Flexible working allows the employee to adopt a working schedule that better fits their lifestyle and other commitments. This provides a better work-life balance and an enhanced level of job satisfaction.
You don’t have to take our word for this, several studies, such as “What Leaders Need to Know About Remote Workers,” (by employee engagement firm TINYpulse), have been carried out in a bid to measure the morale and productivity of flexitime employees. It appears that those choosing to reduce/change their hours or work from home are happier than other workers.
Flexible working increases productivity
As employers, it’s good to know our employees are happy, but it’s also good to know they are working hard and being productive – whether they are situated in the workplace or working from home. In the past, employers have shared concerns that they fear remote staff may be taking advantage and spending the day loafing about rather than knuckling down. So, if you’re thinking of letting employees make the move to flexible working, should you be concerned?
Research indicates that those who opt for flexible working are actually very likely to be focused, determined and eager to succeed. There are several reasons for this:
Employees Benefit from More Time
Flexible workers generally have more time and better control over how to plan it. This means they can apportion their day as they see fit – setting time aside to deal with things such as the school run, completing necessary errands, etc. Setting a feasible schedule removes the stress involved in rushing from A to B, and the time freed from the daily commute can be used for other things. This creates space for people to fit more life alongside their work which in turn allows the employee to have a higher focus on work for set periods. Freeing up even time and taking control of your schedule eases stress levels which positively impacts how people work,=.
Employees Gain Enhanced Focus
The workplace can foster camaraderie, creativity, and a sense of belonging. Still, it can also be a busy hive of activity, and this is not always conducive to getting things done. Those who work from home can enjoy the benefits of a quieter work area, no colleagues waiting by the desk for a “quick chat,” and meetings do not have to drag on for longer than necessary as people catch up or network.
Remote workers can concentrate on the task in hand, rather than get caught up in the office hullabaloo (and the office politics that often go with it)! As we start to integrate more remote working alongside office time in the future, it’s very likely the type of work done in the office will differ from remote. The office has its place for the right kinds of work but remote increase productivity with uninterrupted focus time on getting things done.
Employees Benefit from Improved Mental and Physical Wellbeing
Not having to rush to and from work eases the load on the employee. They have more time to prepare and enjoy a healthy breakfast; they can read the newspaper or go for a run before starting their workday. These may seem like small things, but sometimes the simple pleasures (such as taking a walk in the fresh air) can lead to immense benefits. Employees who opt to work flexibly typically enjoy improved mental and physical wellbeing, and a happy workforce leads to better results for the employer.
Employees are Dedicated and Enthusiastic
Flexible workers tend to be more dedicated and enthusiastic. When they are “working” they pour their energy into the task at hand, and are keen to showcase their achievements to superiors and colleagues. Those who work remotely also carry a level of responsibility – they are accountable for their own workload and schedule, and often enjoy more autonomy than those working in on-site.
Build your flexible working business case
Plenty of companies already embrace the concept of flexible working and have been doing so for some time. It’s not surprising to hear that major computer company Dell kicked off its flexi-culture back in 2009. They promote flexibility to attract staff but also demonstrate other company objectives like reduced CO2. Other companies are reaping the benefits too; these include a reduction in hiring costs and being able to tap into a wider talent pool when recruiting new members of staff.
Businesses who implement flexible working can also look into cutting overheads (less staff on site equals less water, gas, electricity usage, etc.). In some cases, they may even be able to downsize premises and save on rent. We must also mention the impact on the environment. We currently reside in a world where green credentials are considered vital. If you can reduce your carbon footprint by allowing employees to work remotely, that’s a big tick in the environmentally-friendly box.
Adopting a flexible working approach used to be seen as a challenge for employers, but 2020 has taught everyone its possible and 100% worth the effort. Your employees can benefit, and so can your business. Virgin founder and chairman Richard Branson sums things up rather well:
“We like to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they [are] at their desk or in their kitchen. Yours truly has never worked out of an office, and never will.”Richard Branson
The world is a competitive place and businesses are facing more obstacles than ever before, it’s the perfect time to adopt innovative workplace concepts, enthuse your employees and reap the rewards.