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Advice on flexible working for employers

Kush Shukla

A global initiative focused on raising awareness on the skills gap, Mission: Talent, recently approached me to ask my opinion on remote and flexible working and, I thought, in the spirit of sharing best practices and advice freely, why not publish my tips for everyone? Contributor By Kush Shukla, Executive Skills Coach and Corporate Consultant

Flexible working trends are becoming more and more commonplace. The 2019 IWG Global Workspace Survey found that, globally, flexible working matters to employees, with 50% working remotely for at least half of the week, and 70% at least one day a week. In this environment, what factors should employers consider before adopting remote/flexible working practices as a matter of company policy? 

Personal preference
The simple truth is, that some people are suited to working from home and others are not. Working from home allows people to set their own work hours and find peace and quiet. Others need structure and could find more distractions at home than in the workplace. 

Everybody works differently. Open plan offices, which make up most, if not all, of office structures, are conducive to a team working and ideas exchanging environment, but some may find the background noise too distracting. In the end, you will need to evaluate how best your employees work, and what is most productive. What works for one employee, may not work for another. 

Overheads (cost to the business operations)
Another important factor to consider is cost. With small office spaces in London averaging around £2,000 per month – and that’s not including extras, such as a landline, boardrooms etc.– employers need to consider what the cost benefit is of having a remote-only team vs.having a fixed office address. 

Going back to personal preferences, having a remote-only team may not be that cost effective, and/or operationally beneficial, if you have a workforce that predominantly works better in, or requires an office environment. Those people might look for places outside of their homes to work, which could lead to them renting a desk, or hot-desking. 

Several studies have shown that hot-desking is actually inefficient because a lot of people are spending too long trying to find a place to work – and they don’t always find a seat. So, they’re spending anything between 15 minutes to 2 hours a day trying to find a place to work and, even then, they find themselves in a coworking shared environment that may not be conducive to their productivity. 

Existing Infrastructure (office space)
If you do rent or own an office, you need to assess whether it lends itself to the whole team being there at the same time, or would the space be too crowded and/or busy? 

If it is too small for the whole team but you do not have the money to expand, then you may need to introduce a flexible work system that works both for your business and your workforce. 

Corporate culture
Would a flexible working environment align with the corporate identity and culture of your company? 

With my consulting, coaching and training companies ARIVU and Talk to Kush I have worked with many large companies and corporations around the world that still insist on very strict hours in the office but, let’s say, every employee has to start work at 9am and leave at 6:30pm, is it really true that people are working at their full productive capacity throughout? 

I advised a company once where to leave at 5pm was to be heckled across the room and humiliated, but everyone would freely admit that they would not work from 5 to 6:30. So I asked: “What are you doing between 5 and 6:30?” And they said: “Well, we’re surfing the net. We’re doing what we want to do.” 

So, if there are about 400 employees in this organisation and everyone is doing that on a daily basis, you’re, in effect, wasting 400 hours a day. That’s 400 hours a day wasted just by doing nothing. 

Surely, an individual should be judged by their output, not necessarily by their face time at their office desks. If they can actually do the work from 10 to 3 and they’ve done a great job, doesn’t that make them more efficient?  

Human-centred approach
Ensure that you have an HR policy that is geared towards motivating and engaging the workforce by recognising how and in what environment each works best. 

When I lead a team I always try and improve my workforce’s talents. I try to understand what their talents are, give them the confidence to be able to use it, and also give them the confidence to make mistakes. For mistakes are how lessons are learned, they are your greatest teachers. 

As an employer, by understanding each employee you can begin to understand when they produce their best work and in what condition that was. In that way, you can attain the best results for them and the company. As an employee, similarly, understanding yourself and how best you work will allow you to choose employers more appropriately and make you happier in the long-term. 

Even if having weighed up these five considerations you still resist the changing tides, I have one more thought for you to ponder. A lot of organisations are customer-led, so, they will make things or do things according to what the customer demands. Yet, there are innovators, like Steve Jobs, who create things that even the customer doesn’t know they want until they have it. These people think ahead, and these are the people who succeed and continue succeeding. 

The one constant is change. Even if your company is in the traditional corporate sphere, it does not mean that you cannot also be a disrupter. It does not mean that you can’t break the rules. Trends such as remote flexible working are increasingly something that millennials and Gen Z will demand in the workplace, and this is the generation that you will be employing. And once you have recruited them you need to retain them and keep them engaged.

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