Why UK businesses are clocking on to new ways of enabling flexible working
40 years since it hit our cinema screens, the cult movie ‘Nine to Five’ is apparently poised for a revival. But the concept endorsed in the lyrics of its title track has long since clocked out and is unlikely to return; in 2018, ‘working nine to five’ is not the way to make a living.
Traditional working practices, underpinned by the classic nine-to-five routine, are not an attractive look for the millennial generation, many of whom are looking to find employment with companies that embrace more flexible working conditions. With millennials already the largest generation in the workforce, it’s a vital demographic.
As organisations seek to lure the next generation of talent, their ability to create workplaces that aren’t stuck in the 70s will be crucial to success. The good news is: progress is being made.
On a global scale, employers are increasingly adopting policies to support flexible and remote working. It’s a sensible move. As technology redesigns the way we live, consumer expectations are rapidly changing, forcing employers to rethink traditional operations and create modern, digital workplaces.
The adoption of innovation is almost certainly – and justifiably – designed to attract millennials and prepare the ground for Generation Z. However, in reality, the tools of collaboration, flexibility and mobility play to a wider theme of work-life balance that’s important to everyone, regardless of age.
As society and cultures evolve in line with technological revolution, work-life balance is increasingly considered an employee entitlement – and flexible working is seen as the key to unlocking it. All of which takes us to a very different chorus: very soon, the ‘nine to five’ concept will look as old-fashioned and ill-fitting as a Dolly Parton wig. So how do you restyle your working practices to suit 21st Century tastes? Thankfully, as ever, simple every-day technology provides the perfect solution.
The Pursuit of Happiness
First of all, let’s look at the journey so far – because the workplace environment is rapidly changing. Through better employee engagement and a greater focus on staff wellbeing, many organisations are recognising that flexible working models can significantly influence happiness in the workplace. Moreover, they’re finding it can fuel a more productive, efficient workforce and build cultures of collaboration and trust.
According to a 2016 CBI report, around two thirds of all UK businesses now provide opportunities for flexible working. However, despite companies recognising flexibility as being key to their competitiveness in the war for talent, the same report found that just one in ten job listings mention flexible working. This is a missed opportunity. Research consistently shows that more agile working practices can play a huge part in attracting and retaining talent:
- 70 per cent of people feel that flexible working makes a job more attractive to them
- Almost a third would choose it over a pay rise
- In the UK, 14 million workers want flexible working and 1.8 million would like to work from home
- Globally, remote workers are happier than office-based colleagues, with a high number believing they get more done when working remotely
- 65% of employees who work flexibly are more satisfied with their jobs and report better work-life balance
Certainly, as cloud technology brings businesses greater opportunities for connectivity and collaboration, mobile working is only likely to increase. According to ACAS, it will be the ‘rule not the exception by 2020.’ However, whilst the trends all seem to point in one direction and the millennials seem to be driving the bus, the future will not be so extreme.
According to a study of the global workplace, Generation Z not only want the same things as other generations, they also prefer a traditional office setting where they have flexibility to accomplish their tasks and the ability to collaborate with their colleagues.
The challenge for employers is therefore to create a modern workplace that enables agility, collaboration and work-life balance and underpin it with the discipline, governance and systems that drive productivity and results. The question is: how?
The case for flexible working no longer needs to be made; that battle is won. Today’s modern employers don’t need to be persuaded of the advantages, they actually want their teams to have flexible working and to feel happy in their work environment.
The challenge comes in knowing how to establish policies and governance that that fairly respect the needs of the employee and the needs of the organisation; where workers have the autonomy to manage their duties within agreed boundaries, and where employers can confidently realise the inherent productivity gains of a happy, engaged workforce.
Until recently, the metrics of flexible working policies have relied heavily on goodwill, where employees self-report the hours that they work and managers take them at their word. It’s a good approach and indicates healthy levels of trust between management and their teams.
However, the absence of hard data makes it difficult to measure the true effectiveness of a flexible working policy or determine whether it is being applied consistently and fairly across an organisation. In some companies, the lack of an evidence-base can cause anxiety amongst HR and senior leaders that creates a barrier to the adoption of flexible working models and prevents employees from reaping the benefits. This need not be the case.
Work-life balance: technology as an enabler
The simple application of cloud-based technology can give organisations the tools to support employees and satisfy their expectations for work-life balance. Moreover, those same tools can create a live, real-world evidence-base to help businesses measure and adapt their flexible working practices, plan resources and collaborate effectively across organisational boundaries.
The technology, which sees employees sign-in to work – whether they are on-site or working remotely – via a mobile application or a management portal, provides real-time visibility of the location and work status of staff. This visibility supports collaboration.
Co-workers can see whether a colleague is contactable; are they working, on a break, traveling between meetings or finished for the day? By signing in and out, employees build an accurate record of the hours they have worked so they automatically know when they are entitled to flexi-leave in line with company policy.
This is particularly useful for employees who often work remotely or for whom arriving early at the office each morning is much more convenient. In both cases, mobile sign-in provides transparent and quantifiable evidence that benefits everyone.
What’s more, in an era where channels of business communications are ‘always on’ and can dangerously cross the boundaries between our professional and personal lives, simple sign-in applications give visibility of not only when you’re working but also – crucially – when you’re not. That’s the very essence of work-life balance.
In the broadest sense, the approach unlocks all the advantages of flexible working in ways that support both employers and employees alike. Workers can maintain work-life balance through transparent visibility of the hours they have worked. Moreover, they are better able to work productively at the times and locations that suit them best whilst being able to collaborate effectively with colleagues and customers.
For employers, the approach gives business owners and leaders real-world visibility of how their organisation works, enabling them to adapt working practices and resourcing strategies accordingly. What’s more, live visibility of staff on-site is a helpful value-add that reinforces safety procedures in the event of a fire drill or serious incident. The paper-based fire list that’s rarely updated can finally make its way to the shredder.
The UK workforce is highly unlikely to emulate Dolly Parton and return to the world of Nine to Five. As the trends towards remote and flexible working gather pace, the smartest organisations will be those that support their workforce with simple, cost-effective tools that can help them secure the work-life balance they crave. It could be the difference between attracting and retaining the next generation of talent – or losing out to your nearest competitor.
Isn’t it time you clocked on?