Once upon a time, there was much talk about how flexible working could provide some benefit to your employees. It seemed like a lovely fairy tale and people would speak of it loudly in their offices (just within earshot of their boss) and everybody dreamed of the day they could work at home in their pyjamas or come in early to be finished by lunchtime.
Fortunately, fairy tales do come true. In fact, this magical world of happy employees with high productivity is not as hard to find as the door to Narnia.
Flexible working works, fact!
There are always two sides to every story, and with flexible or remote working, there is often a tug-of-war between the employees’ work-life balance and the needs of the business. It is so often assumed that staff will be less productive when working away from the office for example, that many companies are reluctant to offer remote working arrangements.
A couple of recent studies have perfectly summed up this argument from both sides. A recent YouGov survey for Family Friendly Working Scotland and a Microsoft UK survey have given plenty of indication that not only does the employee benefit, but business is actually being improved amongst companies who actively foster more flexible working practices.
The employee benefits of flexible working
Family Friendly Working Scotland, which is part of the UK work-life balance charity Working Families, conducted a survey of Scottish business leaders to see the effects of offering more flexibility at work. The results from those companies that offered these sorts of arrangements show just how much of a positive impact it can have on your workers:
- 37% increased productivity among workers
- 40% better staff retention
- 30% reported fewer staff sick days
- 40% better employee mental health and wellbeing
The Microsoft UK survey looked at some of the more negative effects of having an ‘always on’ culture. The effects of work-related pressure and its impact on work-life balance on employees show how a lack of accommodation on working hours can cause a lack of productivity:
- 30% regularly make personal sacrifices for work matters
- 56% have answered work-related phone calls out of working hours
- 80% struggle with their focus at home due to job pressures
- 33% don’t spend enough time with family
- 41% find it hard to make time available for healthcare appointments
Even when employers do offer some form of remote work, it still appears that the infrastructure behind it is lacking. Problems with the software that is used, or the lack of suitable software at all, can still be a hindrance to those looking to be more productive at home.
- 72% have faced technical problems when remote working
- 48% of UK employees believe they’d be more efficient if their company invested in better technology
The benefits for workers are pretty clear; if given suitable tools to enable them to do their jobs, they are certainly able to bust those myths about a lack of productiveness and offer increased retention and less absenteeism. The ability to separate home and work with flexible hours enables employees to remove many of the negative feelings shown by the fear of an ‘always on’ culture.
The business benefits of flexible working
So, do businesses have to suffer from all this employee happiness? Certainly not.
- 87% reported a positive impact on their business
- 50% reported a “very positive” impact on the business overall
Of course, all those employee benefits like fewer absence days and better retention are huge benefits to business too. Happier workers are not only more efficient, but they also appear to benefit the business as a whole.
Flexible working doesn’t just have to be about working from home either, with simple options like time for appointments and changing hours being significantly important to those staff members:
- 53% listed working from home as the most common option
- 48% time away for personal appointments
- 41% informal adjustments like finishing early or working from home
There is still a lot of work to do, however, to ensure that a flexible approach is fully utilised. Where companies do offer some sort of flexible working program (over and above the legal right to request flexible working) it remains to be seen whether this is a conscious effort to improve staff wellbeing or just because it is ‘the thing to do’ these days. Of the 50% of UK workers offered flexibility, only:
- 35% are actively encouraged to do so
- 35% work remotely without needing an ‘official reason’ (such as an appointment)
- 23% of organisations regularly implement employee wellbeing initiatives
- 47% say their company offers any training to help promote a healthy, balanced lifestyle
The future of the workplace is a digital workplace
With a well set-up employee intranet portal or collaborative software, the need to be physically present in an office space becomes less important and even less desirable than ever before. Improvements to employee wellbeing and productivity, matched to business benefits, give a clear hint to the future of work.
Embracing a culture that truly benefits both employee and employer, flexible working is far from being just a fairy tale.