In the UK, there is widespread distrust of flexible working. Many senior people are suspicious of it – worrying that if they allow employees to work outside the office, it will be a privilege that is abused. In many parts of our working culture, leaders still have issues with trust, accountability and ‘presenteeism’.
In short, it is often discouraged because managers and business owners fear it will harm productivity.
But this view is not backed up by research. In fact, studies overwhelmingly show that flexible working boosts productivity. For example, a recent HSBC report into the technology sector, one of the most productive sectors in the UK, found that 89% of respondents cited flexible working as a motivation to be more productive at work.
Also, a study conducted by Stanford University economics professor Nicholas Bloom found similar results. In surveying 16,000 workers at a Chinese firm over ten months, it found that those allowed to work flexibly from home increased their productivity by 13%. The flexible workers also reported higher work satisfaction and took less sick leave than their office-bound counterparts.
Perhaps an aversion to flexible working is why UK productivity continues to lag behind other major developed nations – such as France, Germany and the US – where it is a more accepted practice.
What flexibility does is to improve work-life balance so that someone can, for example, take their kids to and from school – and then make up the time later when the children have gone to bed. This promotes wellbeing, which in turn promotes productivity – as a happy employee is a more productive one.
And – thanks to technology – it is now easier than ever to introduce flexibility into your organisation. Here are just four ways that technology can help your organisation benefit from flexible working:
Make your office a hot-desk hub
The rise of mobile and smart devices, coupled with a shift to the cloud, means that employees no longer have to be onsite to access the documents and work streams they need to do their jobs. They can now log in to a cloud-based network from wherever they are and using whichever device they prefer.
You can then use your office as a hot-desk hub, so employees can come in when necessary and use any available working area.
Introduce multiple communication methods
There are now a vast range of communication methods available – from phone and email to video conferencing and online communication tools – that ensure your teams can be constantly connected, wherever they are. Not only does this enable managers to easily stay in touch with employees, it also helps combat the loneliness that can be felt by remote workers – as a team member or supervisor is only ever a few clicks away.
Use wireless cameras for security
Flexibility isn’t just about home working – it’s about staff being able to work in the office when it suits them, rather than being tied to a 9-5 regime.
And it’s now possible to monitor out-of-hours working easily and cheaply by installing wireless cameras across your premises – removing the need for an around-the-clock receptionist or security guard. A camera network can send live video straight to a mobile device, so you can monitor anyone approaching the building – or track movement near secure locations.
Collaboration & project management
In recent years a plethora of tools has emerged enabling remote teams to collaborate on projects and stay in regular communication. Applications such as Skype, Basecamp, Slack, Zoom and GoToMeeting have surged in popularity because they enable employees to combine flexibility and productivity.
These tools facilitate instant messaging, sharing of documents and data in secure environments and help connect teams of people from all over the world on phone and video calls. The user experience of these tools also makes work more engaging and enjoyable, while often speeding-up the time taken to complete tasks – further boosting productivity.
Introducing flexibility into your organisation can have a truly transformative effect. Along with improved productivity, there are a host of other benefits that come with it, such as:
Attracting and retaining talent: the opportunity to work flexibly is an important consideration for many people, making your business a more attractive proposition. Introducing this option will also make your existing staff more likely to stay. In addition, you can access a far wider geographical pool of talent by enabling people to work remotely, because you don’t have to just rely on people in your local region.
Reducing costs: more people working from home means you can save money by downsizing your premises and cutting overheads such as equipment costs, heating, lighting, maintenance etc
Boosting green credentials: with fewer people travelling into the office, you help to reduce congestion and overcrowding and all the pollution that comes with it.
Working in a busy office environment has many benefits – it helps employees to build relationships, encourages collaborative working, combats loneliness and helps you develop a strong culture. Sometimes important decisions are best made with colleagues face-to-face.
However, it also has multiple drawbacks – constant interruptions, disruptive or demotivating co-workers, wasted time travelling, and the cost and hassle of keeping a large office infrastructure running.
Technology can help you introduce a balanced approach – where flexible working is encouraged and allowed. In turn, this will help you to attract and retain the best talent, lower costs, improve your green credentials and – best of all – boost your productivity in the process.