Flexible working is a theme that’s gained a lot of traction in recent years, but ultimately refers to a way of working to suit an employee’s needs.
This can mean making adjustments to start and finish times to allow employees time to drop off/pick up a child from school, or even working from home where necessary.
This simple gesture can improve an employee’s loyalty, and make them feel more motivated. It can also have the added benefit of making them feel less stressed. And any improvement to their health and wellbeing is ultimately good for business.
How popular is flexible working?
A lot of employers are starting to offer flexible working as a perk, but many are happier sticking with the traditional nine-to-five office hours approach. A Powwownow survey found that 32% of employees don’t have a flexible working structure at their workplace.
However, in the UK, any employee that has worked for the same employer for 26 weeks is eligible to request a flexible working structure – and employers are obliged to deal with applications for flexible working in a reasonable manner. A requirement that would greatly benefit workers in other countries.
Is it better to be flexible?
Flexible working acknowledges that employees have a life outside of the office, and a nine-to-five job plus a commute can take up a considerable portion of the day.
A different Powwownow survey also found that almost 45%of people spend over an hour commuting a day, which can lead to increased stress levels with 66% of commuters saying they feel stressed or flustered at least once a week. Flexible working can enable employees to travel at off-peak times or avoid dreaded journeys altogether.
Parents and carers often need a more flexible approach to working hours to allow them to fulfil all of their obligations, and many other employees appreciate the flexibility simply as a perk. In fact, 67% of employees wish they were offered flexible working and 35% would reject a pay rise in favor of flexible working options – so it can be a cost-effective way to make employees feel valued at work.
It can also be a handy tool when it comes to recruitment and staff retention – 81% of respondents to the survey claimed that being offered a flexible working structure makes a job more attractive to them.
Naturally, some managers will always be concerned that employees are more likely to be idle when they are not under close scrutiny. However, 79% of people believe that working away from the office would actually make them feel more motivated.
What about the drawbacks?
One drawback to the scheme: if an employee can’t be trusted to work off-site. Managing home workers can be tricky, and indeed around 56% of people believe that managers need to learn to adapt their skills to manage a remote workforce. Of course, if an employee is responsible for their own workload, the incentive is there to get everything done on time.
However, if an employee is absolutely required in the office, such as IT support, or a member of a team that often works collaboratively, this could get more difficult. However, there are lots of tools available to help employees work remotely, such as web conferencing, online messaging and cloud applications for file sharing.
Overall, there are so many potential advantages to a flexible working structure that it’s worth considering. Most employers would be glad to see an improvement in their employees’ health and wellbeing, if not for their sake then for the business – reduced stress levels and increased motivation is good news for the bottom line.
How can you support your home-based workers?
Help get them set up
Visit your employees and make sure that they have a good working space, with a desk and chair set up to ensure they’re sitting comfortably and their posture is right. You should also ensure they have easy access to resources such as technology, IT support and HR.
Keep up communication
To help identify wellbeing issues and offer the appropriate support to home-workers, there must be sufficient lines of communication in place. Make sure your managers book in those face-to-face meetings that virtual meetings can’t always replace. Identify good work they’re doing and highlight it to others; recognition is a positive motivation. For employees that can feel isolated and miss the social interaction, you could also set up an instant messaging platform which would support real-time communication with others in the business.
You must get the balance of communication right; enough that employees feel connected but not so much that they feel watched. Remember though, some people need more communication than others, so it’s about getting the balance right for each person.
Offer the appropriate training
Working at home comes with its own stresses, so offer employees training on how to handle these. This could include online training on issues such as how to balance work and family when your work is your home.
Set up an Employee Assistance Program
Give your home-based workers easy access to support by setting up an EAP. It can be trickier to identify issues and know when to step in with support when your employees work remotely, but an effectively run EAP can help with this and provide ways of enabling these employees to deal more effectively with the pressures in their lives.