2020 has been a crazy year for me so far.
My wife went in for a big operation just before Christmas, and I’ve been playing half Nurse/half Project Manager ever since. There has however been a common and important theme throughout this last month; flexible working.
And, with the coronavirus crisis intensifying in the UK, it’s a theme that is likely to become the norm for businesses across the country. As I write this today, the entire Edit workforce are all working from home as part of a COVID-19 contingency plan.
But it’s not the end of the world for a company like Edit.
I’ve worked from the middle of a field, hospital waiting rooms, and the back of a van to name just a few places. Working from the comfort of my kitchen table is quite a luxury in comparison. We can still thrive in such a situation and my recent personal experience is testament to that.
Coincidentally, I have just submitted an assignment for my MBA at University of Leicester on the very topic of flexible working, tackling the debate between numerical flexibility (think zero hour contracts that give employers flexibility, but are a source of rigidity for some employees) versus functional flexibility (for example, an organisation having policies that allow staff to flex their hours and ways of working).
This clearly showed the importance of championing the right kind of flexible working as we move forward.
This strangely coincided with my own flexible working experience at Edit, who have been fantastic at entrusting me to work remotely and flex my hours whilst I give care to my wife.
The focus on outputs rather than location that Edit have had is the forward thinking approach businesses need to take, as the nature of how we live and work changes in both today and tomorrow.
Why should your business employ flexible working policies?
Flexible working can mean a wide variety of things, from flexi hours to working remotely and everything in between.
The CIPD published a strong business case for the implementation of flexible working policies, with key points including:
– 87% of UK employees find a job more attractive if it offers flexible working, however only 11% of jobs advertised offer flexibility.
– A greater level of engagement, with flexible workers potentially generating 43% more revenue and improving performance by 20%
– More diverse talent pipelines within organisations, assisting with addressing the gender pay gap amongst other dimensions of discrimination
That’s not to say there aren’t challenges born from flexible working policies, but with appropriate preparation these can be addressed.
How to equip your organisation for flexible working
- Reliable Video Conferencing provider and setup
- Having a video conferencing tool (such as Zoom) that is used for all meetings is key. This ensures universal accessibility. Equally important is the setup and process. Get someone to go to the meeting five minutes before to setup, as five minutes for one person is an hour to a group of twelve!Encourage use of video functionality. People are shy to cameras, but it’ll soon become the norm and allows those working remotely to see not only who is in the room, but how they are reacting.Finally, train staff to use it. The majority of issues are down to a lack of user knowledge, with common issues being around simply matters of how to login, share a screen, or unmute a microphone.
- Instant messaging tools (such as Slack) used alongside conventional email and phone allows for instantaneous interaction that in many ways imitates real life conversation (plus a well-placed GIF says a million words…).
- Ample 4G data for tethering internet to work devices on the go.
- Normalise flexi working. Only 6% of the UK workforce now work 9-5, so developing a culture where both managers and peers are understanding of each other’s varying working hours and practices is vital.
- Encourage dialogue. Encourage teams to treat remote workers like they would colleagues in their office. Too often people only reach out to remote workers when there is a task required, but a significant amount of important communication happens on a casual basis. This casual conversation is integral to building effective teams and capturing those lightbulb moments. Check in, chat and catchup with remote workers, not as a means of checking up on their work, but in the same way as you’d exchange words when making a cup of tea. Being an honorary Yorkshireman I firmly believe that the best ideas are brewed over a cuppa, so trying to emulate casual conversation is key.
- Trust. Just because someone is working remotely and you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they are not doing work. According to Harvard Business Review, companies that put greater trust in their people see far greater productivity, collaboration and loyalty. There will always be an example of someone not pulling their weight when working remotely, but it’s important to remember slacking happens in the office too and is symptomatic of wider issues of engagement.
Anecdotally I’ve seen massive benefits from flexi working, with it giving me the ability to continue delivering on my work whilst dealing with one of life’s many curve balls.
However, the evidence behind the benefits it gives to recruitment, retention and productivity gives inarguable strength to the argument for wider uptake of flexible working policies.