Aleksandra Hertelendi, Principle Consultant at LHH, discusses why businesses should implement smarter and flexible working and how technology can help
Generally, employer understanding of flexible working as a strategic business tool rather than a benefit for those with families, has grown in recent years. On LinkedIn, there’s been a 78% increase in job adverts that mention work flexibility since 2016, and research has also shown that flexibility increases both productivity and retention. This feels like common sense: losing two to three hours of commute time and working when one is most productive helps with both our health and how fulfilled we feel, which naturally filters down into increased performance.
Flexible working as the norm
The area where there’s more work to be done in is making flexible working the norm and not a privilege. It shouldn’t need approval from the boss and the rest of the team. Fostering a flexible culture, including options like compressed working hours, on-site childcare and remote working, can help return balance to the psychological contract, those beliefs which form the agreement between an organisation and employee, so they feel their organisation is breaking down misconceptions. For example, there are still places where “working from home” has got a pejorative meaning of slacking. Old beliefs and habits mean that our workplaces are still not as inclusive as they could be.
Technology to aid flexibility
Technology is there to aid us and make our working lives simpler. There are many solutions that help us work smarter not harder, and which enable true collaboration regardless of where employees are sat. These can be as simple as mobile app versions of programs people already use on their desktops, so they are easy to adapt to and allow greater freedom.
The challenge with the introduction of new technology is that it can require people to change their ways of working, prompting frustration and added complexity. Companies should create engagement plans and hold training sessions, and involve users in shaping the solution.
The question is not about what but how we are using the technology given to us. Many organisations still lack etiquette in managing connectivity between those in the office and those working remotely, and there are software solutions launched without a thorough analysis of employee needs.
Organisations also need to consider their population of workers. Older workers, especially those with a long tenure within an organisation, possess rich tacit knowledge, learned behaviours and ways of working through. This is an important element of an organisation’s productivity, value and growth. Leveraging knowledge and skills of the older worker and increasing their engagement can have a halo effect, ensuring training regarding technology is embraced. This group of workers should also not be overlooked when it comes to the active promotion of flexible working. Many see it as being most appealing to those with young families, but businesses shouldn’t assume that older team members don’t want it, even if it’s not the way they’re used to working.
Reassessing what can be done flexibly
While there’s been a significant increase in smart and flexible working, sectors like manufacturing and healthcare are still lagging, purely down to the nature of the work. That said, flexible working can play a huge role in meeting the challenge of doing more with less, as it gives people the opportunity to work at times when they are at their best and more effective. This requires some myths to be busted and some beliefs to be challenged.
We need to think about work differently – reconsidering every task which was once office-based, and thinking about how it can be done flexibly, possibly to a higher standard. For example, just three years ago, customer advisors were confined to call centres, but now many work from home, This modern-day reality creates new opportunities for people who would otherwise be unable to join the workforce.
All or nothing
Similar to other organisational changes, flexible working must be introduced holistically. Offering it on occasion, or worse, to only employees of a certain rank, will have an adverse effect. Similarly, enforcing a rigid process or structure around it takes away the sense of liberation for employees that they are trusted to manage their own time effectively and deliver results wherever they are sitting.
Increased productivity is a clear win for organisations, but they must ensure they don’t focus that on doing more of what they’re already doing. The efficiency savings should be invested in innovation and experimentation – otherwise, organisations won’t stay relevant in a market of ever-changing customer needs and disruption.
Government leading the way
The Flexible Working Task Force, a partnership across government departments, business groups, trade unions and charities, launched a campaign last year to increase the uptake of flexible working. The task force is influencing hundreds of thousands of employers, encouraging them to advertise jobs as flexible regardless of level or pay grade. This is incredibly important work. Similarly, the government themselves are highly regarded as a flexible employer, and they recognise the need to invest in technology to enable flexible working for all. They also know that amid unending scrutiny of how they spend public money, they have to do more with less; and flexible working can deliver short term and long term savings, from the reduced requirement for office space to being able to recruit from a wider talent pool. Benefits no government organisation can afford to ignore.