According to studies, the modern British worker wants a flexible working arrangement, but just 6% of job adverts actively promote it. Other research has found that six out of ten workers believe they can achieve more when working at home.
This isn’t surprising considering that the traditional ‘9 to 5’ working environment has been in operation for decades and offers security for both the business and employees. Knowing precisely when employees will arrive and depart from work each day creates a significant degree of certainty, thus reducing friction and enabling projects to be planned within consistent timeframes.
While it may not be surprising, it is somewhat discouraging considering that we live in a digital economy that offers numerous tools and communication methods that promote flexible working hours. People want better work-life balances, too, and if the businesses for which they work are unable or unwilling to offer them that, they’ll quickly look elsewhere.
There’s no escaping the fact that flexible working doesn’t suit every industry or individual. However, in today’s world, it’s essential for businesses to consider whether the advantages of flexible work are more significant than that of traditional office work, as well as whether it would be possible to offer employees some form of flexible work.
Advantages of working from home
Most UK employees would prefer to have the option of working from home. With so many advantages to flexible work, it’s easy to see why this arrangement is becoming increasingly popular.
1. Staff satisfaction
As noted previously, modern workers want to operate outside of the 9 to 5 realm. They want a better work-life balance and the ability to choose the hours during which they’re likely to be most productive.
The request for flexible working hours is all too easily dismissed as a request to do less or spend less time at the office. However, in reality, it is simply an employee seeking a higher level of satisfaction from their role, and only good things can come from that.
2. Lower hiring costs and turnover
Satisfied staff are more likely to hang around, thus reducing staff turnover and the subsequent hiring costs. Equally, if you’re seen as a business that actively promotes flexible working, word will get around and enable you to hire people far quicker – again reducing hiring costs.
3. Reduced carbon footprint
With fewer people travelling to the office on a regular basis and far less equipment being used each day, you’ll quickly reduce your reliance on energy.
This offers two benefits; firstly, you’ll reduce your utility bills (sometimes, considerably). Secondly, you’ll become a far greener company due to a reduced carbon footprint.
4. Ability to choose from a wider talent pool
If you place less emphasis on standard working hours, you’ll open your recruitment doors to a much wider talent pool. For example, if a particular project needs a skill that you’re struggling to find on these shores, the fact that you’re willing to have remote workers operating during hours that best suit them means you can look for the best talent on a global scale.
5. Raised productivity
People who work flexible hours do so when they feel most productive. For some, that will be first thing in the morning before most people have exited their beds. For others, it might be late at night.
Whenever people feel productive, they should feel empowered to get on with the job at hand. If they’re bound by standard working hours, they’ll be far less likely to do so, or – worse – burn the candle at both ends, thus working longer than is strictly necessary and seeing the quality of their work suffer as a result.
6. Increased product and service quality
If employees are allowed to work when they’re at their most productive, the quality of their output should improve dramatically. There’s nothing worse than being forced to work on something when you’re not at your best, and hours spent toiling away on projects at half-mast simply because your hours dictate you have to will almost inevitably result in an end product that needs to be revised.
7. Better teamwork
Teams that operate on a flexible working basis are more likely to work cohesively together. Because they all operate under the same flexible rules, they’ll appreciate when they need to step in to offer cover.
For example, suppose someone needs to take a few hours out of their morning in order to tend to an important family matter. In that case, the remaining team members will understand and provide the relevant cover, because they know the same would happen if they had to step away for an unexpected period of time.
8. No more succumbing to mother nature
If your business is based in the UK, you’ll know how ill-prepared the country can be when it comes to dealing with adverse weather conditions. During the winter, the ever-present threat of snow disrupting proceedings at work can be completely negated if flexible working is introduced.
9. Reduced IT overheads
The bring your own device (BYOD) culture has infiltrated many workplaces, with employees keen to use their own laptops, smartphone and tablets in order to get work done.
While BYOD presents several security challenges for IT teams, they can be overcome. If you’re able to invest in the right form of device management software, enabling people to use their own devices to be productive both in the office and at home will significantly reduce your business’ reliance on costly onsite servers and devices.
10. Happier employees
A happy staff base is the cornerstone of any successful business. So, if flexible working will make your employees happier while increasing their productivity, why wouldn’t you implement it?
Disadvantages of working from home
Yes, having the flexibility to work from home has numerous benefits. However, there are some disadvantages that employers should take into consideration before implementing this new work arrangement.
Con 1: It’s difficult to stay up-to-date
When it comes to working from home, you’re too far removed from the day-to-day operations to get a feel for what’s really going on – even with video conferencing and collaborative productivity tools. If you’re not one for office politics, however, the ability to give yourself a break from the office community can be very welcome indeed if you’re able to work a few days at home each week.
Con 2: You don’t have access to the same resources
Depending on the size of your house, you may have to make do with the dining room table as your desk or the tiny worktop in the corner of your bedroom. Neither makes for a particularly comfortable working environment and are within close proximity of several homely distractions.
As with anything in life, balance is key. The prospect of working in a smaller, cosier space at home can be a nice change from the clinical nature of an office, and the absence of employees is just as welcome, enabling you to raise your productivity levels considerably.
Con 3: You’re on your own
Working from home is a solitary affair. At times, it can be wonderfully liberating to have your thoughts to yourself and the ability to take breaks whenever you need to without fear of upsetting the apple cart. Do it for too long, though, and you may miss having your colleagues close by. Human interaction in business fosters productive relationships, builds confidence and ensures we don’t lose sight of how important collaboration is in business.
How to implement flexible working in your business
If we’ve whetted your appetite for the benefits flexible working could offer your business, you’re doubtless wondering how you might go about implementing it. Thankfully, it’s relatively straightforward if you abide by several guidelines.
You need to invest in the best technology and services. As previously noted, the BYOD culture may enable you to reduce IT overheads, but you still need to invest in the best services and tech that allows employees to work flexibly. That means a reliance on cloud-based services and devices with strong mobile connectivity.
Make flexible working optional – not a requirement. Flexible working isn’t for everyone; therefore, if you offer it purely as an optional working arrangement, you won’t force anyone into doing something they’re uncomfortable with.
Promote your flexible working culture to clients. The fact you actively encourage flexible working is a great marketing tool, so make sure you shout loud and proud about it to clients.
Modern employees are looking for flexible working arrangements. Therefore, any job postings you create or interviews you hold should clearly show that you offer employees the opportunity to work flexibly from home.
Advantages of traditional office work
The traditional 9-5 office routine is old fashioned and restrictive. However, there are some benefits to having employees come together every day.
If you’re primarily situated in a traditional office, you’re in the thick of it most of the time – you know exactly what’s going on both within your department and the company as a whole.
Even if you’re not privy to top-level discussion, the simple fact you have a physical presence within the four walls of the organisation gives you a consistent insight into the general ambience and any changes taking place within the company culture.
Great companies know they need to invest in the best tools to get the best out of their workforce, and that means you’re likely to have access to everything you need to do your job efficiently. Of course, the right workspace is a key productivity driver, too, and most offices feature larger and more ergonomically efficient stations for employees.
In an office, you’re surrounded by other people. Therefore, you don’t have to look far when you hit a roadblock or simply need to take time out to talk to another human being.
Offices have spawned countless friendships that last a lifetime. The ability to mix hard, collaborative work with the good times and camaraderie highlights how special it is to work with other people.
Disadvantages of traditional office work
While traditional office work presents employees and businesses with several benefits, there are some downfalls to it as well.
If you’ve ever had a meeting to discuss the meeting you had moments earlier, you’ll know just how problematic the modern workforce’s obsession with organised discussion is. Too many meetings dent productivity – it’s as simple as that.
If you think the TV is a dangerous distraction when working from home, compare it with the office worker who appears to spend more time meandering from desk to desk catching up on the latest gossip. Unfortunately, for all the benefits of working with people in an office space, there’s always a small minority who will do nothing more than keep you from working due to mindless chitter-chatter.
Unless you’re lucky enough (or unlucky – depending on your outlook) to live within a short walk of your workplace, you’ll have to conduct some form of commute every day. That may be in the car, on the train or by another form of transport, but whatever it is, it’s time spent not working.
Commutes are often the most stressful part of the working day, which is ironic because it’s the time when you should be either gearing yourself up for a busy day or winding down after a long slog. Additionally, the time spent commuting is also the time that you could rather spend being more productive.
While flexible work is fast becoming the norm, it bears stressing again that flexible working doesn’t suit every industry or individual. Therefore, the advantages and disadvantages of both flexible and office work should be weighed up, and a happy balance found.
If flexible working can be implemented in any small way within your organisation, staff satisfaction and happiness is likely to increase as a result – leading to greater productivity and a higher quality end product.