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Flexible working has arrived in the workplace and it is here to stay
Think that it’s an employee’s duty to be in the office Monday-Friday 9-5? Think again. Flexible working has arrived in the workplace and it is here to stay thanks to a change in the law which has opened up the right to request flexible working for millions of employees.
For many the Children and Families Act legislation which came into effect on 30th June 2014 merely puts a legal framework on existing practices. The combination of widely available broadband access, smart phones and laptops has heralded a revolution in the concept that work can only be carried out in the workplace. Products such as Microsoft’s Lync and Skype mean that we can stay in touch visually as well as online. Working from home or from alternate sites has already become the norm for many. For example in June an ONS report revealed that one in seven of us worked full time from home and according to the TUC millions more work away from the office on an occasional basis.
In part the move towards flexible location working has been helped by the rise in the availability of short-term working spaces. For example, NearDesk enables people to rent desk space at multiple locations across the UK for any period from one hour upwards. Perfect for those whose working lives keeps them on the move or for people who want to cut down on the commute but don’t want the distractions of home, NearDesk provides just that level of flexibility which today’s blended lifestyle demands. And with the winter approaching, NearDesk also provides a great back-up for business continuity plans.
Flexi-working is not just about location though. Flexing core hours or job-sharing also falls within its remit and here again many are already benefitting from a flexible view of what constitutes core hours. Taking Friday afternoon’s off in return for extending hours earlier in the week has been a common practice in a number of factories for decades. Now they are being joined by an increasing number of organisations which have come to appreciate the benefits of formally recognising the fact that workers on average have switched off by 2.39pm on Fridays.
But however much the law changes, there are going to be employees who won’t be able to benefit fully from the march towards flexibility. And here we aren’t taking about those whose jobs confine them to a set location but rather about those who work for organisations which see employees as a disposable commodity. These are the organisations which will review flexi-working requests and find every excuse to turn them down. These are the organisations which already expect employees to work flexi hours, as long as those hours are in excess of the norm and eat in to any vestige of home life. These are the organisations with the stay late culture, the I want those figures now culture, the culture which expects employees to regularly work fifty hour plus weeks for no extra reward.
The tide is turning though and this latest legislation will add further impetus to the idea of treating employees as the most valuable assets a business can have. Study after study has shown the benefits of creating an organisational culture with a strong employee engagement element. A government flexible-working press release highlighted the benefits with “more than half reporting an improvement in their relationship with their employees and staff motivation, 40% reporting a boost in productivity and 38% seeing a drop in staff absence.”
Sadly, no matter how many times the benefits of employee engagement are reported there will always be organisations which just don’t ‘get it’. Leaders who shouldn’t be in a position of power, toxic working practices, lack of diversity; whatever the reason these organisations display a culture which is less than ideal. But they won’t be around for long. Organisations which care little for their employees also tend to care little for their customers and sooner or later those customers will slip away. Employees too will see the benefits to them of working for a more engaging organisation and they too will depart. Similar to the dinosaurs which couldn’t adapt to changing world conditions, organisations which care little for staff are on the way to extinction; whilst for those which embrace a flexi-working partnership with employees, for them the future is in their grasp.