The joy of flexi-working

The benefits and downsides of flexible working has been debated for years. As long-time converts to the joys of managing work routines around life’s priorities, it was pleasing to see a spate of recent research confirming what we at TechComms already know to be the joys of flexi-working.

Timewise’s report, A Talent Imperative, supported by EY Flexible Working, showed that 25% of all full-time workers would prefer to work part time for less wages, if it was not detrimental to their pay per hour or career progression.

Also extolling the virtues of flexi-working, was the Exodus survey carried out by Investors in People, which found, unsurprisingly, that flexibility in employment, such as working remotely, was more important to workers, than having a 3% pay rise. The survey also found that almost half (47%) of employees were intending to find a new job in 2018, a lower figure than last year which saw 59% of respondents actively seeking new employment. Surveys now regularly find that being offered flexible working is a more preferred option to a pay rise nowadays.

More recently, there was a Powwownow report, showing the number of employees who favour flexible working is rising – up to 75% from 70% the previous year. The same survey echoed the Exodus survey results, revealing a third of respondents would prefer flexible working to a pay rise, while a FlexJobs survey of 1,200 parents in the US highlighted that 84% think that work flexibility is the most important that they consider when looking for a new job.

From a personal perspective, there are the obvious benefits from working in the confines of a home office, including peace, quiet and no disruptions from office workers or work telephones ringing making your working time all the more productive. With the proliferation of cloud technology, collaborations tools and faster broadband speeds, it has become even easier to set up a home office or work remotely, from a local coffee shop with WiFi or MiFi for example.

At the same time, many companies, from SMEs to large corporations have implemented the technology and working practices, to enable people to work as effectively from home as they would in the office.  And the benefits speak for themselves.

Not only do technology advancements mean that many roles can be just as effectively and seamlessly conducted whilst working from home or on the go – think checking and responding to work emails while travelling abroad or at an off-site meeting – they also mean that any possible absenteeism is reduced. Many workers nowadays assume that work flexibility is a part of their job and this flexible working cuts out, or at least minimizes, the need to commute thus providing a more effective use of time.

Flexible working also ensures employees (self-employed or otherwise) are better motivated and more productive. Providing remote working as part of a package is a highly regarded plus for an employee looking for greater flexibility.

Let’s not forget there are also downsides for the worker and employer though.

Unless you are Ernest Hemingway, or any writer who seeks solitary confinement, to get the creative juices flowing, the individual worker has to adapt to a new way of working. Getting used to a new working culture will present teething issues. For someone who has always worked in teams – making the move to working for yourself or away from an environment where you are seeing office colleagues every day, can take some getting used to. A better balance for some employees would be a combination of working remotely alongside set days in an office, to meet with colleagues and friends each week.

So, this cultural shift isn’t for everyone. But when it works, it’s a boon for anyone wanting less-stress and more freedom to manage work-life balance.

For the employee, implementing technology and ensuring it is compliant with security protocols is a headache. There are costs involved. The good news is many online collaboration tools are free, easy to use and so overall costs can be minimised.

For employers, some industries are not cut out for flexible working. Obvious examples are healthcare and retail sectors. Having said that, the tech world has ensured some advances in the healthcare sector, so remote diagnostics can be utilised, thus saving waiting time for patients.

For those industries that have implemented flexible working policies, the difficulty is in keeping track of productivity and the amount of time employees actually spend working. Trust is key. A shift in culture is important for flexible working to be implemented successfully. Alongside the robust IT technology needs to be a supportive culture that trusts employees.

In conclusion, the advantages of flexible working outweigh the downsides. More companies should enable their employees to take advantage of this route.  It will benefit individual employees and experienced freelancers either at SMEs or larger companies. If effectively managed as part of a planned approach, flexible working becomes integral to a modern working culture to keep employees happy, creating highly-efficient and productive working environments.

The increased demand for flexible working will be particularly attractive to millennial workers. The Powwownow research also showed 70 per cent of this group citing flexible working on their wish list, compared to only 47 per cent of over 55s. The businesses that will be most successful in retaining and keeping talent motivated will be those that manage work-life balance using digital tools and are prepared to adapt their working culture for the next generation.

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