Many may dream of avoiding long commutes by working from home, but how do businesses fare in the flexible working structure debate?
Flexible working is a theme that has gained a lot of traction in recent years, but ultimately simply refers to a way of working to suit an employee’s needs.
This can mean making adjustments to start and finish times to allow an employee time to drop off/pick up a child from school or even working from home where necessary.
This simple gesture can improve an employee’s loyalty to their employer, and make them more motivated. It can also have the added benefit of making them less stressed, and any improvement to an employee’s health and wellbeing is ultimately good for business.
How popular is it?
A lot of employers are starting to offer flexible working as a perk, but many are happier sticking with the traditional nine-to-five office hours approach – according to powwownow, 47 per cent of employees do not have a flexible working structure encouraged at their workplace.
However, any employee that has worked for the same employer for 26 weeks is eligible to request a flexible working structure – and employers are obliged to deal with applications for flexible working in a reasonable manner.
According to gov.uk, responding in a “reasonable manner” can include: assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the application, holding a meeting to discuss the request with the employee, and offering an appeal process.
So how can an employer weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of enabling flexible working?
Is it better to be flexible?
Flexible working acknowledges that employees have a life outside of the office, and a nine-to-five plus a commute can take up a considerable portion of the day.
Around 45 per cent of people spend over an hour commuting a day, which can lead to increased stress levels – 66 per cent of commuters say they feel stressed or flustered at least once a week. Flexible working can enable employees to travel at off-peak times or avoid dreaded journeys altogether.
Parents and carers often need a more flexible approach to working hours to allow them to fulfil all of their obligations, and many other employees appreciate the flexibility simply as a perk. In fact, 67 per cent of employees wish they were offered flexible working.
It can also be a handy tool when it comes to recruitment and staff retention – 70 per cent of respondents to the powwownow survey claimed that offering a flexible working structure makes a job more attractive to them. In addition, 30 per cent of people would rather have flexible working than a pay rise – so it can be a cost-effective way to make employees feel valued at work.
Naturally, some managers are always bound to be concerned that employees are slacking on the job when they are not under close scrutiny. However, 58 per cent of people believe that working away from the office would actually make them feel more motivated.
What about the drawbacks?
As we have explored, there are several advantages to flexible working – and one drawback to the scheme comes in if an employee cannot be trusted to work off-site. Managing home workers can be tricky, and indeed around 56 per cent of people in the survey believe that managers need to learn skills to manage a remote workforce.
Of course, if an employee is responsible for their own workload, the incentive is there to get everything done of time.
One other drawback to the scheme is if an employee is absolutely required in the office. For example, IT support, or a member of a team that often works collaboratively might be able to achieve more from the office. However, there are lots of tools available to help employees work remotely, such as web conferencing, online messaging and cloud applications for file sharing.
Overall however, there are so many potential advantages to a flexible working structure that it is worth considering. Most employers would be glad to see an improvement in their employees’ health and wellbeing, if not for their sake than for the business – reduced stress levels and increased motivation is good news for the bottom line.
As with anything, it requires proper management, but it can be a real advantage to the health and wellbeing of a workforce, while also contributing to a business’ bottom line.