Embrace flexible working and retain a happy, motivated workforce

According to a new report “Working anywhere: A winning formula for good work?” by Lancaster University’s Work Foundation and commission by Citrix, the UK is on the verge of a flexible working “tipping point,” as working away from the office becomes more common. After interviewing academics, business leaders and the public sector the Work Foundation predicts that by 2017 over half of UK organisations are likely to adopt flexible working and by 2020, that figure will rise to over 70 per cent.

The report argues that flexible working can result in increased productivity, improved employee wellbeing, talent attraction and retention. Indeed a YouGov survey on behalf of Redcentric published last year highlighted that 54 per cent of UK office workers are currently able to work remotely, with 30 per cent stating their productivity increased when they work away from the office.

These results were mirrored in a recent study by Powwownow in which 62 per cent of respondents stated they would be more productive if they could spend time working outside their usual place of work.

However, whilst the benefits of flexible working are well documented some companies are wary of it and are failing to embrace this as an employee benefit. The Powwownow study revealed that nearly two thirds (60 per cent) of respondents are not encouraged to work flexibly, and a UK wide survey by Mothers Mean Business (MBM) showed that only 23 per cent of respondents believe that their employers understand and embrace part-time working.

So what are the barriers to offering flexible working? 

According to the Work Foundation more than a third (37 per cent) of managers believe that implementing mobile working will result in them working longer hours, one in five (22 per cent) say it makes them feel disconnected from their team and 28 per cent felt it could block them from overseeing the work of others. They also suggest a “cultural barrier” that needs to be overcome as some employers fail to see the positives. 

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Trust is also an issue for some employers who may not have ever worked in a flexible working environment and believe employees may not work as hard. Requests can often get turned down because managers have questions about visibility and they are worried how they can manage the administration of flexible working and ensure work productivity doesn’t suffer.

Whilst these concerns are valid, technology can make working remotely easier for companies to manage, particularly if technology is underpinned by robust processes, checks and measures for monitoring output. 

Today we can all access email on smart phones, there is Skype for video calls and instant messenger for quick responses so there are no real reasons that flexible working shouldn’t be viable. When employees are always contactable, a different physical location shouldn’t make any difference.

An absence management system is also a good tool for companies offering flexible working as it will track where everyone in the organisation is at any one time whether they are working remotely, on holiday or off sick. Managers will have a clear view of where each team member is and this can prevent flexible working clashes and ensure there are always enough people in the office. 

Having good policies around flexible working will help companies attract and retain people – it is considered one of the most desirable employee benefits today. With the right policies and technology any company should be able to embrace flexible working.

To find out more on taking flexible working from concept to execution, Real Business quizzed four growth company leaders on what has worked for them.

Adrian Lewis is director of Activ Absence‏.

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