While the working day is still 9-5pm for many UK employees, a growing number of businesses are embracing the flexibility of the digital age and empowering employees to choose for themselves.
For generations, we have been socialised to accept that work occurs between 9am and 5pm in a fixed office location but now, thanks to the combined effects of technology, telecommuting, and automation, flexible working and employee autonomy is on the rise.
By law, all employees who have worked for their employer for more than 26 weeks now have the right to request flexible working and the appetite to take advantage of this is strong. A survey of British employees revealed that flexible working was the most sought-after improvement from UK employers (40%) and that better use of technology to allow more efficiency at work (26%), shorter working days (26 per cent) and remote working (24%) were also in demand.
However, despite the very clear and growing appetite for greater flexibility (something that is reflected in half of UK employers now offering flexible working options) there is still some reticence amongst some organisations to make the move. In part, this is likely to be due to the magnitude of the transition and the far-reaching operational considerations it presents, as well as uncertainty about the process itself and how to get started.
It’s true that a business decision of this scale and magnitude requires real strategic consideration and complete buy-in from the board, therefore it is prudent to start by asking a few salient questions of the organisation and what it hopes to achieve. Typical questions include how will it impact service delivery if hours change? will you require a set of core hours that all employees have to work to ensure continuity? how much investment in technology is required in order to make it possible? how you will carefully manage the transition to ensure there is minimal disruption? And how much value would the move have to both your employees and organisation as a whole? These answers can help to set out the scale of the task and identify the stages you need to follow, as well as what information is needed to create and present a compelling business case for change.
Due consideration should also be given to securing employee support by explaining what the move to flexible working means in real terms. This is likely to require debunking some myths (as flexible working is sometimes seen as ‘unauthorised leave’ by older generations) and providing guidelines as to what is expected under the new rules.
A pilot scheme can provide a useful starting point, assuming the technological infrastructure is already in place, to test and fine-tune a flexible working model before committing to it fully. Once explained properly to employees and clients alike, a pilot allows you capture qualitative feedback from employees and quantitative data about how it has affected service delivery and client satisfaction. From this it will be possible to establish how well flexible working supports your business and what adjustments need to be made to suit the organisation’s ongoing needs.
All too often conversations about flexible working focus on the benefits for employees and how greater flexibility impacts their work life balance, with much less regard for the business rationale. Flexible working can help to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and dramatically improve employee engagement and loyalty too. It can open up access to new pools of talent, encouraging people back into the workplace such as parents of young children, thereby reducing staff attrition and the hefty costs attached with finding and training new members of the team.
Although flexible working is still a long way from being universal, it is on the rise and we can expect to see traditional 9-5 office hours become obsolete in many sectors over the next few years. What’s important now is that the wide-ranging business benefits of flexibility start to be felt by all corners of the economy and that employee autonomy is embraced and harnessed as a powerful enabler of transformational change and heightened productivity.
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