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Trust & technology – the two key ingredients for harnessing flexible working, successfully

It is well documented that the highest performing organisations foster a corporate culture based on trust and empowerment, enabling staff to get the job done in the best way possible. In a recent survey conducted by Great Place to Work Institute, the UK’s Best Workplaces had trust scores of 88%, compared to 63% at the average workplace. Evidence shows that these same high achieving companies also are the most likely to offer flexible working policies.

This is no coincidence.

For flexible working to really benefit both the organisation and the employee, there needs to be a strong element of trust. Trust that employees working from home really are working; trust that colleagues are pulling their weight and trust that your manager will allow you to get on with the job in hand without micro-managing. In these organisations presenteeism is replaced by a smarter, more agile approach to working that focuses on achievements and results.

When surveyed, employees cited flexitime as the top flexible working benefit, closely followed by working from home, and compressed hours. Respondents were asked to select two types of flexible working they would like their employers to offer and over 45% of responders selected flexitime as their top choice of flexible working.

Agile culture
By delivering flexibility in the workplace, employers can create an agile culture that is reflective of 21st century working practices. Employers and employees both gain from a modern and flexible working environment as both parties have the opportunity to organise their working arrangements in a way that suits them.  This can enable organisations to adapt to changing business conditions, extending operating hours to meet the needs of their customer base.

For businesses, flexible working can help retain experienced and skilled employees, which is vital in maintaining quality and containing recruitment and training costs. Flexible working can also increase commitment and loyalty of staff members, which in turn can translate into improved productivity and by extension, improved profitability.  An agile working environment has also been shown to increase morale, employee engagement and commitment to the organisation whilst also reducing absenteeism and tardiness.

In a global and competitive market place, recruiting and retaining top talent is an imperative. Offering flexible hours widens the talent pool, enabling employers to recruit skilled people.  The PwC NextGen survey of 44,000 employees, revealed that Generation Y prefer greater flexibility to financial reward. This is in contrast to previous generations that have prioritised longer working hours with the goal of career progression and greater financial rewards. By 2020, generation Y will account for approximately 50% of the workforce; employers that wish to attract the best talent will need to understand what motivates this generation and develop agile working practices to retain them.

Harnessing the power of technology
Whilst many employers already offer flexible ways of working, this is not universal practice. Some employers’ are reluctant to offer flexible working citing challenges such as:

  • Demonstrating fairness between different employees
  • Problems communicating with the team
  • Inability to monitor workflow
  • Challenges in maintaining service levels/productivity
  • Additional workload for managers, HR and payroll in administering flexible working practices.

The benefits to employers of flexible working far outweigh the downsides and the common challenges cited by employers can be easily addressed with the right technology. Flexible working systems have evolved from the clock in/clock out systems of previous years into solutions that can adapt as the organisation develops.  Today’s agile solutions have the capacity to manage any combination of work patterns, shifts and rotas as well as the capability to integrate with other business essential solutions such as HR and Payroll systems.

So what are the features that organisations should seek in a flexible working solution?

Flexibility – Organisations should seek a solution that is responsive to all their business needs and that can adapt when needed, for example if there are changes in government legislation. An agile solution should enable an organisation to plan for busy working periods and quieter times, while being flexible to meet both employer and employee needs.

The National Library of Scotland employs over 330 staff across six sites in Edinburgh and Glasgow and uses a flexible working system to manage working hours for all their staff. Through using the system, the Library is able to administer its flexible working policies, e.g. compressed hours, where full-time staff can request to work their weekly hours over four days, or work nine days during a fortnight period. Having the hours recorded systematically provides an overview of working practices for managers, enabling them to balance operational requirements while meeting the needs of staff.

Achieving a good work/life balance is embedded within the culture at the Library and flexible working contributes to this. Technology is used that is flexible enough to change to suit the Library’s needs. The flexible working system makes it easy to create reports and observe trends, highlighting what issues, if any, HR should address or support. 

Visibility & Transparency – The best time and attendance systems accurately record all working hours in a transparent and equitable way, providing both employees and managers with the required assurance that the flexitime policies are adhered to.

When Renfrewshire Valuation Joint Board (VJB) wanted to embrace modern and flexible ways of working and support a more diverse workforce, they invested in a solution that could underpin these policies. The system provides a completely transparent way of recording working time and enables employees to build up ‘flexi’ hours for an additional day’s leave a month – all captured through the system’s core time keeping facility in an equitable and fair way that can be approved by managers. The solution capabilities have also enabled the organisation to introduce a flexible retirement option. The system provides a highly effective management tool for flexible working, enabling the Board to implement new working rules seamlessly, which has given the Library the opportunity to retain experienced staff with new working policies.

Business integration – There are fundamental advantages in integrating a flexible working solution with HR and payroll systems. The integration of solutions increases process efficiency, data accuracy, and cost savings exponentially beyond the benefits of just an automated time and attendance system alone. Integration adds efficiency by easily and securely sharing data from one part of the organisation to another without manual re-entry of data.

Embracing the future
The benefits of providing flexible working practices are numerous, however, as with any business strategy, the way that flexible working policies are implemented will determine to a great extent how much impact it will have on business outcomes. Evidence has shown that organisations that embrace an agile working culture see an improvement in business results, stay competitive in the global economy and attract, retain and motivate key talent. By investing in a flexible working solution that underpins business practices, companies can capitalise on the powerful potential of workplace flexibility.

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