There is no denying that flexible working has grown enormously over the last two to three years. It used to be viewed as a slight oddity for people to be working out of coffee shops or from home but now it is very much the norm in modern society. The days of it being viewed by employers and employees as a way of “slacking off” are gone and the benefits are now widely known – leading to many companies embracing the concept. It does however, require careful and considered management in order for both staff and the business to benefit and flourish as a consequence of this new way of working.
Allowing flexible working in a business seems like a huge step to take but it shouldn’t. It is in fact just another way to empower and motivate staff and if done correctly will yield positive results. The office-based 9-5 working week is dull, unproductive and outdated; three characteristics no business wants to be labelled as. Establishing a good work/life balance is not something that the UK does particularly well and working flexibly allows this to happen and allows staff to do more of what they enjoy; be it spending time with their family or doing a hobby. This increased balance will lead to a happier workforce and consequently a more productive one.
When it comes to implementing flexible working in a workplace, one word is always high on the agenda; trust. If this is not in place, then unfortunately the best processes and procedures will always struggle. Employees should always be trusted from the start and both parties should work back from there. All flexible workers should be given clear objectives from the very start and ultimately measured on their output as opposed to their presentism.
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It can be a big step to implement such a change in your business so if you are slightly cautious then I recommend perhaps setting up an end of the day review to check progress or scheduling regular catch ups for the day. This can help the bedding in process and as all parties find their feet with the new set up, this contact can slowly be reduced
In any organisation or business you will always get people that look to push the rules and take advantage of certain situations, regardless of location or setting and this is bound to take place as these people have a new found freedom. If there is a trust breakdown, then there are ways to tighten the control, with the privilege being taken away from them as a last resort. If flexible working can’t be done effectively however, then both parties have failed; it is up to managers to understand what makes people tick and the reasoning as to why somebody is possibly drifting. I find that when people are working remotely they feel the need to achieve better results to prove their worth and when they are in the office they also work extra hard as there time here is limited.
It is vital that there is shared calendar access for everyone so that people can see where their colleagues are each day. This way if they need to catch up with someone they can plan when to do so.
Technology now exists for home workers to work efficiently and stay in contact with other members of staff and external partners. iMeet for example, is a tool which allows all forms of collaboration for remote working, from video conferencing, live chat and file sharing to screen sharing. The new breed of worker is therefore fully equipped to work productively away from the office and almost feel they are in the same room as others when they need to be. Not being able to get in contact with somebody is not a feasible excuse.
In my experience, employees are often more productive working at home as they can work the exact hours they want, be it around a young family or a hobby. There are also no distractions from other employees and it can breed more creative thinking being outside the confines of the office walls. We find staff are more motivated as they have a far better work/life balance; we all want to be successful in our careers but it should never come at the expense of families. In terms of the business, we find this helps with staff retention, top talent recruitment and a happy workforce is a more successful one. We encourage our staff that can, to work from home at least one day a week.
Whether it’s home working or flexible working, it’s irrelevant; the fact is the set up just makes better business sense. Why have your staff travelling at the most expensive and worst times of the day getting frustrated? The average person spends nearly 15 hours and £114 commuting a month, so it would be far more productive for employees and the company to allow them to work flexibly. The benefits and the technology are now well-documented so what are people waiting for? As long as the correct procedures and processes are in place then flexible working really has the ability to accelerate growth within SMEs in the UK.
Jason Downes is managing director of conference call provider Powwownow.