The flexible working revolution is here. Here’s how businesses can keep up

Nic Redfern, Finance Director, KnowYourMoney.co.uk

Flexible working – what is it, and why is it important?

The traditional 9 to 5 desk job lingers as a stubborn legacy of old working practices. However, slowly but surely, many companies are embracing greater flexibility when it comes to the hours and locations of work. 

This has come to be described as “flexible working,” or, in other words, any deviation from the traditional working pattern. The term encapsulates everything from starting and leaving the office earlier, to working from home a few times a week. 

In the modern world of work, employers must realise that they need to adapt in order to retain top talent and keep their workers happy. After all, most people have commitments and responsibilities beyond their professional lives that warrant their attention, whether that is taking care of elderly relatives, completing a part-time degree, or pursuing a hobby. Striking a healthy work-life balance means ensuring that workers have the time to dedicate to other aspects of their lives. 

How important is flexible working to today’s workforce?

The lack of flexible working options is often cited as a key reason why employers and prospective candidates for a job turn their gaze elsewhere. Know Your Money recently conducted a survey of more than 2,000 UK adults in full-time or part-time employment to shed light on their attitudes towards workplace arrangements. Importantly, we found that a significant 29% of full-time workers have left a job in the past 12 months for lack of flexibility. 

This generally comes down to workers wanting greater control over certain aspects of their working lives, with many even willing to take sacrifices such as a pay cut. Half (49%) of those surveyed said they would sacrifice 20% of their salary if they could work a four-day week. Three in four also said they would be in favour of a shorter week even if they had to compress their current number of working hours into fewer days. 

Are businesses keeping pace with these changes?

According to the results of the Know Your Money survey, the short answer is no. Half of the workers surveyed said that they cannot work remotely when they want or need to, with similar numbers (46%) saying they have no flexibility in the hours they work. 

This should serve as a wake-up call to those businesses that are falling behind the trend and failing to support the flexible working needs of their workers. Indeed, a failure to re-evaluate their business model spells bad news for those keen to hold on to top talent, who might otherwise be tempted to scout out opportunities that offer a more relaxed approach to working schedules. 

What benefits are on offer for businesses?

Requests for agile working are bound to arise more commonly in the coming years, and this could be a blessing in disguise for many businesses keen to improve employee morale and overall productivity. 

In 2016, Vodafone conducted a global survey of companies who had implemented flexible working strategies and noted some extremely positive results; 61% of businesses said this change had led to increased company profits, 83% said it improved productivity, while the vast majority (76%) also said that it improved staff morale. 

There’s clearly a business case to be made for giving workers more freedom to control how, when and where they work, with the benefits extending throughout the organisation. 

How can businesses implement flexible working? 

Altering the company culture towards flexible working will naturally be the first step for organisations keen to introduce new ways of working. We cannot ignore the fact that many business leaders are still under the misconception that variable schedules, shorter hours and remote working will lead to a drop in productivity, when in fact it is more likely to boost efficiency and – as an added bonus – employee satisfaction. This means that we need to be having more conversations about the many benefits on offer, while breaking down any taboos surrounding the practice. 

The HR team has a natural role to fill when it comes to encouraging businesses to experiment with different workplace arrangements, as well as helping managers understand how they can facilitate this shift, both logistically and in terms of ensuring that their employees are fully supported should they wish to alter certain aspects of their working lives. 

When it comes to logistical barriers, the main focus will be on ensuring that the right infrastructure is in place to allow employees to work effectively beyond the remit of the office. This involves companies investing in the right forms of technology which meet the demands of a modern workforce. 

The widespread adoption of the cloud is a prime example of how technology can be leveraged to support round-the-clock connectivity. Cloud technology has fundamentally transformed how and where we work; today, we can access company information online, easily store documents, share data, collectively work on a project and stay connected to colleagues through online communication or video conferencing. 

The Know Your Money research and the general trends taking place tells us that businesses ought to start thinking seriously about how they can cater to the changing demands of the workforce. Indeed, the rise of remote and flexible working brings a number of positives for both employer and employee, ultimately helping foster healthy workplace relationships and a better work-life balance.