The future of work is flexible

work is flexible
© Tetiana Soares

Scott Erwin, CEO and Founder of HireHand, explores the future of flexible working and how businesses may approach their staffing post-pandemic

Many things have changed over the last 12 months; we have grown to be accustomed to restrictions on our freedom; learnt to keep distance from other people; adapted our daily lives to include staying at home as much as possible; and instilled a strict hygiene regime that includes washing our hands often. The pandemic has thrown our usual routines and schedules into disarray. What normally would have taken place face to face is now at a distance and we are now embedded in another lockdown where extended family and social circles are no longer permitted in person.

But from this doom and gloom, is there anything positive that we can carry into a post COVID world, any lessons that we have learnt for the better? If nothing else, the pandemic has made us even more dependent on technology and has expedited many evolutions in a matter of months, rather than years. It has heightened our need for seamless connection and thrown light on many practices that were actually quite archaic.

COVID-19 has opened up the door for many to work more flexibly and more in tune with their personal lives. This freedom has been eye-opening and has allowed those with other responsibilities such as childcare or ageing relatives to care for, much-needed relief from the standard 9 am to 5 pm.

So, what can companies do to ensure this level of freedom is continued post-pandemic?

Well, businesses can look to an agency model for a start. Agency workers are notoriously expensive for a company, but they do offer a seamless back up for the business who relies on having enough staff members on the ground to get the work done. Agency work can also be highly attractive from a worker’s point of view as it offers full flexibility and complete control over their working patterns, hours, and pay, empowering the individual and putting them in the driving seat of their career.

Take the NHS for example, they need to ensure they meet staffing levels throughout the day and night for each department, ward, outpatients and treatment area, and have historically relied on agency work to enable them to meet this demand and ensure adequate staffing levels. But infilling shifts with agency workers is expensive and costs can quickly spiral. They have found the answer to this issue is working alongside agencies and introducing a capped fee to ensure the costs are managed, whilst also driving the money saved back into building a bank of staff for each health care location to dip into. This allows the NHS to save money whilst also allowing the bank staff the same flexibilities as if they were working for an agency.

Dominic Raymont, National Workforce Deployment Lead, has led the NHS’s temporary staffing programme which has reduced agency cost by £1.2 billion (a third) in 3 years. Dominic recently joined our podcast, Shifts Happen, and he describes how the NHS has used this model to reduce money and increase engagement.

“Agencies are really good at providing short term staff into specialist roles and that’s really where we want to be working with the agencies. Where we buy-in lots and lots of staff from agencies, that is an area where some of them could be procured through banks which then gives that volume of staff available to the trusts and makes them less reliant on agency staff.”

But what about those staff members who like agency work and don’t want to move to a bank position? Well for them, being able to replicate the perks of an agency is a must.

Dominic continues, “The date workers are paid is really important, so where a bank starts paying weekly instead of monthly that can improve uptake because people value being paid for their shifts quicker. Also, the onboarding process to actually sign up for a bank, the ones who’ve been able to do that quicker have tended to be more successful in signing people.”

This idea of using a bank of staff has also been adopted for the vaccine roll out in the UK, where volunteers and staff members, along with cleaners, security and the more ancillary roles have needed to be coordinated and mobilised across various locations, all while taking into account the fluctuating supplies of the various vaccines themselves. This has proved to be quite a headache for many NHS locations and through the use of clever shift matching software, some PCNs have found technology has given them a clear way to assign and manage shifts.

Imagine if this idea of dynamic working could be applied across all businesses, allowing for many more staff to embrace a flexible working solution. There have been many studies that show that working less hours actually increases productivity so maybe this flexible solution is an answer to the rise in burnout we have seen across many businesses and sectors. This flexible ‘agency’ model hints to a future of mobilising staff members as and when workload fluctuates which promises a more efficient and time-centric future where businesses can be more economic with the staffing costs and staff members can enjoy a better work/life balance.

Offering staff flexible working patterns, the ability to flex up or down working hours depending on workflow or other commitments, the choice to say no to working certain hours or days and the benefits of being able to schedule holiday easily and in response to a changing diary are invaluable to a busy working person with other commitments. Bringing these perks to a regular role could be the difference between building an engaged and motivated team or having to consistently outsource or recruit to cover staffing needs.


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