Working X to X: How companies can support flexible working

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If you work in an office, you’re no doubt familiar with 9am to 5pm work hours. Perhaps yours vary slightly – you might be an 8.30am to 5.30pm person, or be a 9.30am to 6pm person – but regardless, there’s a certain pattern of work hours you most likely follow day in, day out. But is this still the norm among UK companies? A recent YouGov poll suggests not. The survey found that just six per cent of Brits still work the traditional 9am to 5pm work day, with almost half of people saying they work flexibly, allowing them to juggle other commitments.

From an employer perspective however, flexible working can be tricky. How can it be done in a way that doesn’t interfere with the work that needs to get done? And can bosses trust their employees enough to do the right thing if they can’t physically see them working? These are just two examples of tough questions that British companies need to answer, but it’s important that managers also recognise the facts around flexible working and its benefits.

Aside from the obvious employee benefits of flexible working, such as a better work-life balance, greater choice and so on, it can also benefit employers too. PWC, for instance, introduced a recruitment program where candidates can choose their own work patterns in order to help boost its employee diversity. This now allows the company to look at the times people can work, the skillsets they possess, and place them into a role or project they will perform best in. The move came partly in response to the company’s own research, which showed that almost half (46 per cent) of individuals cite flexible working and good work-life balance as the most important factors when choosing a job.

Another study by the Institute of German Economics has also shown that allowing employees to work from home can increase employee satisfaction and productivity in the long-term. It also found that an employer’s presence among employees has much less effect on productivity than that of their colleagues, and that around 60 per cent of employees are very satisfied with their job when employers opt for less control.

It's clear that it has a lot of benefits. So, how can companies best support their flexible workforce?

Provide the right technology

First and foremost, flexible and remote working works best when employees have the right technology to do their job. For instance, if they don’t have a company laptop or phone, will they be able to work properly from home? Probably not. If files aren’t in the cloud, how will they access their work remotely? They won’t be able to. Flexible working doesn’t always mean ‘working from home’, but providing your workforce with the tools they need to do their job is essential if you want flexible working to succeed.

Keep up employee engagement

While the research suggests that flexible working can make people more productive at work, it’s difficult for people to get things done if they can’t communicate with others. It’s not just about being able to call a colleague to ask a question about a project – it’s also about facilitating conversations, knowledge sharing, and the wisdom of the crowd. Working remotely or at different hours to others can be isolating at times, and employees need to feel comfortable to speak up about any issues they are facing, so consider implementing workplace help platforms like Rungway that can enable anywhere, anytime conversations for your employees. While this helps with advice sharing and discussions, it can also help you better understand and improve your employee engagement and organisational culture.

Don’t be overbearing

Finally, mutual trust between employer and employee is essential for flexible working. It’s one thing to provide your people with the freedom to work flexibly and have the technology to do so, but if you are constantly calling, instant messaging or emailing them to find out what they’re up to and ‘prove’ they are working as you want them to, this will quickly become toxic and impact your company culture. Employers need to trust that their employees will do the right thing. If it arises that an employee has breached this trust, then their flexible working conditions could be reconsidered, but people should be given the benefit of the doubt to begin with, so they can prove themselves, and the group shouldn’t be punished because of one person’s actions.

While it may seem daunting – in large companies particularly – to get started with flexible working, these three tips are critical in making it work. Trying it out doesn’t mean you have to go company-wide with it straight away too. The HR team, for instance, could organise a pilot project for it within a certain department or group of workers to test its effectiveness before rolling it out further. But in a time where company culture and employee retention are increasingly important, it’s better to start with something than to resist it all together.