Universal benefits: flexible working isn’t just for the employees

There’s no denying that the demand for flexible working is on the rise. In a 2014 survey, the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development (CIPD), found that just over a quarter of workers consider their work as central to their lives – compared to a response of 48% back in 2005. It’s a strong sign that we’re undergoing a cultural shift in the way people want to work. In fact, more than a third of employees surveyed said they wanted to change their working arrangements, with the majority putting priority on changing their starting and finishing times.

It’s all well and good to recognise the desires of a changing workforce. But would these changes be any good for business? Late last year, the Agile Future Forum (AFF) – a group of representatives from some of the UK’s biggest employers – urged British businesses to prepare for a more agile workforce.

“Workplace flexibility has traditionally been defined somewhat narrowly,” said the AFF, “usually a benefit for employees and a cost to employers. We believe that agile practices can be configured to generate value for both the employer and the employee.”

But just how does flexible working affect employees and their employers? And how can you start to try out some of these practices in the best possible way?

It’s good for employees

The basics of how flexible working times and locations can be beneficial to employees should be fairly clear. They’re better able to balance their work commitments with their home lives, their families and their social lives. But working from home also means avoiding the rush-hour commute, the travel costs and the potential for burnout, and studies have shown that flexible working can considerably lower work-related stress.

On top of all that, letting your workers arrange their own working schedules can give them a better sense of ownership and personal control, thus helping them to feel more empowered. Some employees simply work better in the evenings, or surrounded by their home comforts, and if you can give them the freedom to work their own way, they’re more likely to be happy with the way they work.

But it’s good for employers, too

According to a 2011 survey, 96% of UK businesses offered some type of flexible arrangements. But, according to the AFF, “companies are often wary of extending them further, perceiving a risk to the business”. This may be due in part to the traditional focus on employee benefits, rather than employer ones. So what exactly are the business benefits of allowing a more flexible regime?

First, taking on a more agile approach can help you better meet the fluctuating demands of your business. Freelancers, zero-hour contracts and part-time shift workers can all be used to make sure you’re only paying for work when you actually need it. In periods of low trade, you won’t have unnecessary workers draining pay, and when trade starts to pick up again, you already have a pool of available people on hand.

Second, you’re likely to end up with a more reliable and productive workforce. It might sound counter-intuitive, but a study from the Centre for Economics Research suggests that almost three quarters of a million part-time workers would do longer hours if they were allowed to work remotely. More recently, a survey from ConnectSolutions found that 77% of remote workers report better productivity while working off-site, and 52% are less likely to take time off when working remotely – even when they’re actually sick.

Third, it could enable you to make big savings on your overheads. You won’t need to offer as many travel and lunch expenses, and you might not need as much office equipment. And with affordable hot desking options for your off-site workers, you might find you’re able to downsize your permanent premises to something more cost-effective.

Finally – and perhaps most importantly – the move to more flexible working practices demonstrates your ability to change along with a cultural shift, raising your company’s profile as an employer. You’re more likely to attract better talent, and once you’ve got them, they’re more likely to be engaged, committed and loyal.

The challenge is putting it into practice

Of course, starting to change the way your workforce operates from the ground up isn’t something that’s easily done overnight. It’s likely there’ll be contracts to be changed, and policies to be reconsidered. So it’s important to get the process right.

You should start by really getting into the minds of your employees. The flexible arrangements that you think they value the most might not be the ones they really want. Work directly with your team and your human resources manager to get a good idea of which changes would be most beneficial for your employees. But don’t forget the other side of things – you should have some clearly defined business needs and goals to refer to, so you can make sure that any changes you make are mutually beneficial.

It’s probably best to start with a focus on one particular team or department. Each unit of your business probably has different schedules and requirements, and a blanket approach across the entire company might not be a good fit for everyone. This could also prove to be a good testing ground for your new policies. Try a few changes, and see how your team and their output is affected. If it all goes well, you can move on to the next one.

If you are interested in flexible workspace please call Gryphon Property Partners on 0203 440 9800 or click on the following link - Flexible Office