The Office for National Statistics has, just this week, estimated that the unemployment rate in the UK is 3.8%, which is the lowest since records began in 1974. The contracting pool of available candidates means that it’s becoming increasingly important for employers to attract return to work parents back to the workplace. Employers have not
PowWowNow is one of the UK’s leading communication software companies, helping businesses to grow, transform and become more productive using collaboration tools and technology. As flexible working has grown in popularity, the PowWowNow team has conducted comprehensive research into this new trend, producing resources for both employers and employees to encourage successful flexible working practices. We sat down with Marketing Director, Simon Prince, to find out why flexible working should be on every company’s agenda.
TR: How would you define flexible working?
SP: Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs – they can work at any location or time that best fits their lifestyle. Even though it is often associated with just parents and carers, all employees who have worked for the same organisation for at least 26 weeks have the right to request flexible working.
TR: What different forms does it take?
SP: There are many different forms it could take! For example, flexible start and finish times, remote working (at home or in a café), part-time work and job sharing are just a few of the options businesses can implement. Everyone’s needs will differ, so it’s always worth having a frank and open conversation with your employer or employees about the options that will work best.
TR: Why do you think flexible working has risen in popularity over the last decade?
SP: There are quite a few reasons for this but ultimately it comes down to changes in the way we now work. There are more working parents than ever before and as we’re living longer, we’re also working longer too. As an example, the proportion of working mothers has increased by almost 50% in four decades. Employees and their employers are beginning to realise that to increase productivity, it’s not about working harder, it’s actually about working smarter. Presenteeism is detrimental to office productivity and is an even bigger problem than absenteeism. Firms and their employees are realising this now and are adopting flexible working to help encourage a healthier work-life balance for all.
TR: What are the benefits of offering flexible working for both employees and employers?
SP: There’s a huge range of benefits for both parties. Some of our recent research found that the option to work flexibly makes a job more attractive to three quarters of employees in the UK, and almost a third of workers would prefer the option to work flexibly over a pay rise. By offering smarter working options, businesses are giving themselves a competitive edge when it comes to staff onboarding and retention. Crucially, office productivity also increases when flexible working options are offered because not only are staff motivated, they are also able to maintain a positive work-life balance.
TR: Are there any challenges?
SP: Even though flexible working has risen in popularity over the past few years, there are still some misconceptions surrounding it. As an example, many managers still don’t know how to effectively manage employees who work flexibly, fearing they will slack off instead of completing actions. This leads to micromanagement, for example. So, one of the key challenges is to educate and make sure employers and their employees know the best ways to implement flexible working.
TR: Your research has found that 56% of people believe managers need to adapt their skills to manage a remote workforce. How do you think managers can do this?
SP: The biggest pitfall many managers make when managing a remote workforce is to micromanage and focus too much on employees being present online rather than their output. Setting a plan for communication, such as a morning conference or video call to discuss all actions for the day and what is expected from each team member is a positive way of ensuring that managers don’t fall into the trap of micromanaging. During the day, using instant messaging platforms helps to keep the channels of communication open – providing the perfect forum for employees to ask quick, informal questions that would usually be asked over a desk or by the kettle in a typical office environment.
TR: One of the challenges we hear about a lot (and experience ourselves) is balancing the need to be contactable during operational hours and also being flexible. How would you suggest businesses do this?
SP: Setting clear details about how you work. Even if you work flexibly you can still define roughly how and when you work. Most businesses have core hours (10am – 4pm) and this helps with having meetings and knowing when and how to contact people, but if you define the hours you do or where you work, people will know how and when to contact you.
TR: One of your publications notes that women are more nervous about asking for flexible working. How does gender play into flexible working uptake?
SP: Generally speaking, there is a confidence gap between men and women in the workplace. Men are more likely to push for a promotion, negotiate a higher salary and are more confident when it comes to requesting benefits. However, even though there are disparities, flexible working is marginally more popular among females than males. Interestingly, the main reason women choose to work flexibly is to spend time with their children, while for men the top reason is to spend less time in traffic.
TR: What tools can businesses use to embrace and encourage flexible working?
SP: From conference calling, instant messaging and online document sharing, technology has developed rapidly over the past few years, making it easier than ever before to work flexibly with ease. Tools such as video conferencing platforms are useful for sharing your screen with participants and Google Drive is a fantastic tool for sharing documents online in real time.
TR: PowWowNow has conducted numerous studies into flexible working. Have any findings ever surprised you?
SP: The simple fact that not more people are requesting to work flexibly is what surprises me the most! It seems ludicrous that people spend thousands on travelling to and from work, hours away from the things they love, to sit in an office when they could actually be completing their actions anywhere. As flexible working becomes more common and senior managers adjust to this way of working, I hope the stigma attached to flexible working will disappear.
This case study appears in Tiger’s first e-book, An Exceptional Working Life: Creating Better Workplaces. To find out more about flexible working and other salient workplace issues, request your copy today.