Flexible working has been a corporate buzzword for years. Yet, despite how often the extensive benefits of flexible working are touted by human resource specialists and demonstrated by multiple studies, it has not enjoyed the kind of wide-spread adoption predicted by experts a decade ago.
It’s easy enough to parrot statistics that say employers should offer flexible working options, but it’s another thing altogether for a company to construct policy and processes that facilitate it.
Many companies may find the idea of bringing in flexible working difficult if they’re not “native” to the idea. Startups and small businesses sprouted from the millennial generation tend to do much better with the notion; it’s much easier to roll out operations that support flexible working from day one than it is to alter a foundational aspect of how a business has been run for countless years.
The fact is, however, businesses that put off adopting flexible working to save short-term hassle will risk jeopardizing their long-term talent acquisition prospects. Every business knows that what the workers of the future want is autonomy, flexibility, and freedom in their careers, and those who cannot or will not offer those things will find themselves unable to attract, and retain, the best and brightest very quickly.
As developments in business tech continue to change how people work, job seekers are slowly but surely gaining freedom from the constraints of their cubicles, giving rise to a more open job market. Businesses are increasingly able to go after the best talent, no matter where they are; a massively important ability in light of encroaching skills shortages in many industries.
And yet almost half of full-time U.K. employees participating in a survey say flexible working is not encouraged in their workplace, while 70% indicate that the offer of flexible working makes a job more attractive. U.S. employers are more accepting. SHRM’s annual benefits survey found 70% of employers offered at least some opportunities for telecommuting; 57% offered some form of flextime.
Despite the benefits and employee interest, many businesses are resisting. Why is that?
Why employers resist
Firstly, flexible working is a catch-all term that could, in practice, refer to a wide range of working arrangements, from part-time work and telecommuting, to job sharing and flexitime. Some businesses may not know where to start. Other businesses may not feel that they have the capital to outlay on tools to facilitate flexible working, such as software, digital infrastructure, or improved security.
The most abstract, and therefore the most difficult to tackle, factor standing in the way of progress for many business is trust. Taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by flexible working often means placing an enormous amount of conviction in employees to remain productive in an a-typical environment, work unsupervised, and properly handle business information outside of the office.
In an age where data is the foundation of success for many businesses, protecting that information becomes crucial to survival; more than ever, businesses need to be hiring people they can trust with their business-critical data.
If companies don’t feel they can rely on the integrity of their employees, the prospect of flexible working within that organization is as good as dead. Trust will play a key role if remote working is to become a mainstream staple of the modern workplace. In order for this radical move away from bricks-and-mortar workspaces to take off, companies must be able to loosen the leash a little, shed their micro-managerial tendencies, and have confidence in their team’s ability to work on their own terms.
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How to start being flexible
So, how can businesses get the ball rolling on flexible working and start safeguarding the satisfaction, and future quality, of their workforce?
Companies looking to offer more open working options to their teams need to look carefully into finding a balance between what’s good for employees, and what works for the business. Of course, as beneficial as having some flex in how your teams work is for all involved, organizations still need structure to make sure everything stays on track. Flexible working policies need to have boundaries and manageable processes, but the main components of an effective flexible working strategy are having the right tools, and trusting your team.
When it comes to getting access to the right tools, investing in tech is nowhere near as costly as it once was. Cloud-based subscription models are now available not only for cutting-edge startup software, but for a huge range of established products, massively democratizing access to communication and productivity tools across all business sizes.
Though there’s really no skimping out on a reliable internet connection for your business, for some companies a “bring your own device” policy can help offset the cost of facilitating remote work, provided, of course, that stringent security practices are enforced to protect company data.
Implementing flexible working will require something of a leap of faith, but employers can mitigate some of the concerns they have about autonomous working by ensuring everyone knows what the expectations are, and what touchpoints are expected. What you don’t want to be doing is simply micro-managing at arm’s length, so don’t go overboard with check-ins; regular, structured catch-ups at the start and end of the week should be sufficient for most teams.
Focus on outcomes, rather than the method of obtaining them, and let employees work the way they’re most comfortable with. If the work is being completed as directed and to a good standard, the building of mutual trust continues. If not, then you need to go back to the drawing board, find out where things fell through the cracks, and re-examine your policies.
Change will come, whether businesses are ready for it or not; the most crucial thing companies can do to make sure they stay ahead of the curve is to be pliable, and not allow themselves to miss out on opportunities just because they aren’t open changing the way they do business.