Blog.

The concept of ‘flexible working’ is one of the latest 21st century trends. Increasingly we are seeing working hours become more relaxed, office locations fluid and an increasing number of firms doing all they can to ensure team members are enjoying their ‘day’ job.

Our December blog addressed the many positive outcomes that can be achieved by adopting this approach but unfortunately, as with almost everything there is no clear answer as to whether this is the right route to take. It works for many people, but everyone is different and there will always be misconceptions and perceived downsides.

It’s not for everybody

Whilst the flexible working concept sounds great, in practice the reality is that for some it just doesn’t work. Surprisingly ‘Gen Z’ and some of the younger ‘Millennials’ actually prefer to be in the office. This is because many don’t have the luxury of a home office environment. They might live in shared accommodation which can be cramped, noisy and highly distracting. We also need to dispel the myth that ‘working from home’ can mean staying under the duvet or putting one’s feet up to watch daytime TV. In fact, the opposite is true! There is no marked end to the working day when you are at home – no saying goodnight, putting on your coat and locking up the office, or time to wind down on the journey home! Another reason is that younger team members need and want to collaborate and learn from their peers and managers and socialise with their work group. Modern working culture is more open and empowering than it ever has been, no matter what level you are in the company you (should be) encouraged to share your views and also listen to others – the dictatorship days are thankfully on their way out. Working from home doesn’t encourage collaboration in quite the same way as being in an office to meet and chat with colleagues does – unless of course your noisy house mates are interested!

Client interaction can suffer

Regular client interaction is the cornerstone of continuing business success. So if you work in an office near where your clients are, rather than jumping on a Skype call you can offer to meet them for a coffee. Building open and familiar relationships is proven to be invaluable for business development activities. If your team predominately works from home then arranging impromptu meetings will not be possible, which over time will hinder business growth and positive endorsements.

Blurred lines

For the employee, home working is a new dimension that needs to be carefully managed. Often family members or partners think that if you’re working from home you should be able to help with chores, childcare or go to the supermarket. This is absolutely not the case but not everyone is familiar with what ‘WFH’ (working from home) actually entails. My partner works in construction and always has to be onsite, so explaining to him that I am actually working when I’m at home has been a challenge. For instance, if the weather is too cold or wet and he cannot work he expects me to be able to go out for the day with him – sorry pal – I’m busy. It’s important that your team understand the potential issues and the challenges and opportunities that home working represents.

‘Flexism’

Not everyone in the team will be able to pick and choose their hours and office location. Some roles in the company will require the employee to be present in the office 90% of their time. For someone else who can work from home three days a week this can cause friction. ‘Flexism’ is a term which has emerged due to prejudice or discrimination by colleagues or management, based on a person’s working status. And it is really important that management deter this behaviour.
Whilst encouraging your team to have more freedom can enhance productivity, if they get demoralised by their superiors or colleagues giving them a hard time, then your firm could end up moving backwards. This can also apply to management being ‘flexist’ towards team members, for example passing them over for promotions because they feel they are not as committed.

Office space management

One of the perceived benefits of flexible working is that organisations can save money on office space and can hot-desk. But giving your team flexibility means that you have to make sure they can come in to the office if they need to – on some days you might be short of desks, and others there will be a sea of empty chairs. House rules must also be applied. Flexible working means the team has to understand they don’t ‘own’ a work space and that they need to leave it clean and tidy for the next person to use.

Accountability

Flexible scheduling systems offer employees a great deal of freedom to choose working hours that fit their needs. However, with employees arriving and leaving at different times it can sometimes be difficult for managers and supervisors to determine whether workers are actually meeting their required work hours and/or being productive. This can result in losses for the company, as well as damaging morale.

Liability and security concerns

The rise of cybercrime continues to accelerate and firms need to be 100% sure that all devices and sensitive data are protected regardless of where the team are located. And whilst you can implement a number of authentication procedures these need to be intuitive enough so that the team can still be productive. Biometrics is increasingly becoming the method of choice. In addition to cyber security a firm must consider the liability issues of having an office accessible 24/7. If an employee is in the office alone and has an accident there needs to be security on site to assist – this will have an impact on costs.

As mentioned in our previous blog there are many tangible benefits to adopting a modern flexible working environment. But it also needs to be right for your business as well as your people to make those benefits real, eg. productive, creative and a great company to work for. My own personal experience means I wholeheartedly believe that the workplace is changing for the better and anything that injects a positive and collaborative culture is most welcome. It is inevitable there will always be downsides to every change and it will take time to bed in and become BAU. However, as long as business leaders have their eyes open and can anticipate where problems may arise then there is always a solution. And let’s not forget this is not a one-way track. The modern workforce too has a big part to play in making this empowering cultural change.

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