A recent survey by Vodafone[i] highlighted that 83 percent of global companies offering flexible working improved their productivity and 58 percent said it had boosted their reputation.
Three out of five (61 percent) said that flexible working had a direct effect on their profit and loss statement by increasing their company’s earnings. Yet although many companies now offer flexible working as a benefit, less than half are promoting it effectively, so many employees are missing out. Research from HR association, WorldatWork and FlexJobs[ii], an online careers site reported that whilst 80 percent of companies offer flexible work arrangements; 44 percent are failing to promoting flexibility as an employee benefit to new employees. Another survey from flexibility experts Timewise[iii] highlighted that just 8.7 percent of job vacancies, with salaries upwards of £20,000, offer some degree of flexibility which it says is excluding many from the workplace.
Adrian Lewis, Director, Activ Absence comments: “Some companies are still fearful of fully embracing flexible working in case their productivity levels plummet. Yet the Vodaphone research highlights the opposite – flexible working has a positive impact on the bottom line and keeps people happier and more engaged. However, managing the practicalities and administration of flexible working is still a big challenge for companies. Some worry they might end up with no one in the office at certain times or it won’t benefit their company culture. They are failing to realise that successful flexible working isn’t only about trusting employees, it relies on having good support systems, processes and technology in place to ensure everyone knows where everyone is at any one time.”
Here are ten practical top tips for companies to ensure successful flexible working:
1. Ensure employees know what’s expected of them in terms of activity or performance when they are working at home. Agree how they can be contacted and set expectations around communication – i.e. a daily phone call at the start of the day if working at home.
2. Flexible working can mean people coming into the office and leaving at different times. Employees should be made aware that this needs to be done quietly and with minimal disruption as people around them may be working different hours.
3. A weekly or monthly work schedule with deadlines should be agreed and it made clear that work must be completed the same as it would under normal working circumstances. Employees must understand they are still part of the team/department and can’t let people down.
4. Don’t lose sight that people still need to work as part of team and regular team meetings or events should involve everyone, even if this means a degree of flexibility and people coming into the office when they don’t usually. Flexible working works both ways.
5. All team members need to know where everyone is at any one time. There should be a calendar that is visible and an accessible electronic diary so everyone is aware of who is off and how they can be contacted.
6. Good communication is essential too and this must be maintained between employee and line manager/teams members – even when working away from the office.
7. Make use of the latest electronic instant messaging tools, including webcams to keep in touch whilst working at home. Working at home can be isolating so this can help maintain an ‘office’ environment – albeit virtual – as well as ensure people are working.
8. Working flexibly shouldn’t make a difference in how people are rewarded or praised for tasks done well or completed on time or ahead of schedule. Equally, if people are not completing things on time take time to understand the reason and assess if further support or assistance is required so they do not feel completely isolated.
9. Don’t forget to include all employees on any electronic communication that includes work news, success/wins, activities, company news to ensure that they still feel part of the organisation and are not forgotten.
10. Finally, make a note of any improvements in productivity and wellbeing of employees, as well as any areas that could be causing concern every three months. It’s important to nip any issues in the bud as soon as you can, but also to demonstrate to the business that embracing flexible working has been successful.