The shifting nature of the global business environment as well as how we choose to live and communicate in our personal lives, means that people want more flexibility and choice. Through the acceptance of flexible working, employers enable the development of ideas and innovation, as the common view towards flexibility is that working out of the office is often seen as much more productive.
The workforce tends to be more responsive and better able to react to business even when not in the office, due to the increasing use of mobiles which enable employees to check emails, calls and messages wherever they are.
In fact, smaller businesses who adopt a flexible working approach may also see an improvement in staff motivation as generally employees who are given this sense of freedom are often more committed and more efficient. Flexible working hours can also lead to lower staff absenteeism by making it easier to wait in for household deliveries and nurse sick children or spouses whilst they work.
Flexible working also has positive effects across a company that one might not expect. If employees are working remotely, even for a few days a week, the cost of office overheads, such as utilities, may decrease.
While flexible working may sound like the perfect solution to increasing staff motivation along with decreasing overheads, it’s important to remember that companies, in particular SMEs, need to embrace powerful technology enablers, such as cloud computing, smartphones, video conferencing and shared desktops. Although it may sound a lot, systems are easily put in place, however using them effectively across a team can sometimes be challenging. Ensure ongoing staff training is provided to justify the technology put in place is actually valuable.
Below I have included five steps to introduce flexible working within a business. The length of time a process takes depends on individual teams and the type of business; however flexible working doesn't have to be a black and white process – not all staff members need to work from home all the time.
1. Step Back
Through a number of simple studies you can understand the dynamics of the workplace. Holding employee and leadership interviews with staff and observing staff will quickly give you a clear idea of how the team is functioning and therefore which changes can and should be made.
2. Assemble, Inform and Inspire
Depending on the size of your company, it is helpful to identify key people who will be included in forming a leadership team to start putting flexible working processes in place. Share your goals in increasing workplace productivity, such as use of space, communication and general employee satisfaction to gauge if flexible working will make a difference to your business.
3. Profile Your Employees
Categorise your workforce by employee type through observation and workshops. By doing this you will build a clear view how your company supports four main types of employee: fixed, fixed-mobile, mobile and home workers. Once this has been established, a case for change will be in motion due to shifting the focus of a traditional fixed workplace to a much more flexible team.
4. Make the Transition
Based on your previous observations, define the extent of change needed. Ask yourself questions such as: Is office space, every day, for every employee necessary? Could you work just as effectively, if not more, from smaller offices? Do you have the technology put in place to support your employees in working flexibly? Will they use personal devices for work or be given business equipment, such as laptops and company mobiles? Decisions at this stage will define how changes in space, technology and employee behaviours will all lead to better business due to increased flexibility.
5. Plan for Change
Although short, medium and long term changes will take a while to adjust to, experiencing instant and emerging benefits will help employees adapt to the changes in company culture and new technology. Ensure that all company policies are updated to include flexible working, so every employee knows what is expected from them when they working from home.
Remember, the switch from office based to flexible working will be gradual and success can only transpire if employees are kept engaged and supported throughout the process.
The contents of this article are necessarily expressed in broad terms and limited to general information rather than detailed analyses or legal advice. Specialist professional advice should always be obtained to address legal and other issues arising in specific contexts.