Making workplaces more efficient through flexible working

Joe Svetlik

Friday 27 October 2017

Giving employees more freedom and flexibility could make them happier, more productive and less likely to leave your company.

Flexible working is a hot topic at the moment. More and more companies are embracing the flexible culture, hoping to mimic the success of flexible working advocates like Google and Facebook. But it’s not for everyone – when Marissa Mayer took over as CEO of Yahoo, for example, she banned home working.

Flexible working: Friend or foe?

Graham Thomas, Senior Technologist at Lenovo, says flexible working is still on the table for many employers.

“Some companies are pushing back against it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work for your company,” Thomas says. “Employees are trying to be productive and juggle family life, and companies are trying to find ways to accommodate this. For some, it’s the next logical step in achieving a work-life balance.”

Indeed, Thomas says that studies show it’s the lower-paid workers who have the most proportionally expensive commutes, which eats into their take-home pay: “With increasing costs of living and transport fares going up, flexible working makes perfect sense, as long as you implement it properly and make sure it’s secure.”

The idea has caught on. According to PGi, 73 per cent of EMEA staff think flexible working is “positive and widely accepted”. In Europe in particular, flexible working is already on the rise.

The perks of flexibility

Flexible working has many benefits, both for the workers and the organisation.

“Some companies are able to shut down entire buildings during the summer holidays,” Thomas says. “It makes sense, with so many people on holiday, to move all the workers into one place. That way, the company saves on energy costs, while also improving communication within the organisation. Because everyone is in the same building, they can talk to each other easily.”

Some companies change the office layout and provision of future to suit a more agile space. Workers might be more comfortable having a small meeting in a communal area rather than a dedicated ‘fitted out’ meeting room. If people are only coming into work for team gatherings and meetings, do they need traditional desks and accessories?

It makes workers more productive too, as without a commute to contend with, they can start work earlier. Even when they do commute, they can often work on the way into the office, meaning their admin is sorted by the time they sit down at their desks. And they get more time at home with the family, improving their work-life balance. The result? Happier workers who are more likely to stay loyal.

Some companies take it a step further and employ a work-life blend.

Becoming agile

But be warned: you can’t just implement agile working overnight. Doing so will disrupt the workplace and leave workers unsure of what’s expected of them.

“A lot depends on the culture within the organisation,” Thomas says. “If there’s a culture of workers being docked an hour’s pay if they’re 15 minutes late, you can’t then suddenly allow them to work from home. You can’t go overnight from treating people like children to trusting them to do the right thing.

“It even depends on the location. One large telecommunications company we work with only allows it in certain areas, because some parts of the UK – and the world – have a slightly different working culture.”

Preparation is key, and it involves all facets of the business. “You need to talk to facilities, HR, managers, the employees themselves,” Thomas says. “It’s not just an IT decision.”

Engage workers in a dialogue. Let them know how it’s going to work, the benefits for them and for the company, and – crucially – what’s expected of them.

“That’s what one police force in Wales has done,” Thomas says. “They’ve drawn up a written contract – it’s not legally binding, more of a gentlemen’s agreement. It spells out how they’re investing in their workers and how it’ll help their work-life balance. But it makes clear that at any point they can take the arrangement away, and the workers can go back to being at their desks every day. The carrot is offered, but the stick is hanging over them.”

Flexible working can have huge benefits for both companies and workers. “It’s just a more productive way of working,” Thomas says. “It’s very much a two-way thing, but it lets you get a lot more out of people.”

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