Will flexible working be the positive legacy of Covid-19?
The pandemic has given an insight into the benefits of flexible working. Let’s not revert to our old ways of working too quickly. Instead, use this as an opportunity to redesign your culture for the modern world.
With the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine ahead of schedule and a roadmap for lifting the lockdown now in place, many businesses will be considering when to return to the workplace. While some employees may be desperate to get back to the camaraderie of an office, others may be less keen to return full-time. One thing that is certain is that 100% of employees want the flexibility to choose.
The Covid-19 crisis has given us a unique opportunity to rethink what the workplace of the 21st century looks like.
The past year has taught us that there’s no single way of working that works best for everyone. While extroverts may welcome the office banter, kitchen chats and work socials, introverts may find they miss the quiet atmosphere they thrived in at home. The future lies in creating work cultures that are flexible enough to encourage everyone to shine.
Savvy companies will acknowledge and address this. For some, that could mean an increase in remote working arrangements; for others it might involve taking a fresh look at their culture and deciding whether it works for all the different personalities in their teams. Either way, a more flexible working environment can deliver many significant benefits to both employees and employers.
Wellbeing and work/life balance
The positive impact flexible working can have on employee wellbeing is huge. The pandemic has prompted many people to rethink their priorities, and work/life balance is a key one. Flexible working can empower employees, lower stress, reduce the risk of burnout and help them to manage their work around other personal commitments more effectively. This frees up time for activities that help keep their wellbeing in check, such as doctors’ appointments, exercise or counselling.
Cutting back on the number of days staff need to travel into the office can also have a big impact on both physical and mental health by reducing the dreaded commute time, which can be stressful and exhausting and, as we well know, a packed commuter train can be a breeding ground for viruses and colds. A more flexible approach to working is likely to result in a healthier and happier workforce with fewer days lost to absences and lateness. After all, people working from home or to their own hours are very rarely late!
Increased employee engagement
Employees consider flexible working to be one of the most desired benefits of a role. According to TimeWise Jobs, as many as 93% of job seekers are looking for some sort of flexibility. In return, employers are likely to see an increase in employee engagement, which in turn has a positive effect on morale, productivity and retention. Even pre-pandemic, a survey of 250 UK businesses by recruitment agency Ten2Two found 83% in favour of flexible working because of the benefits it offered, including the ability to retain valuable employees and boost wellbeing and job satisfaction. The past 12 months will have given nearly every organisation the opportunity to explore these benefits even further.
Flexible working helps you to get the best out of your employees. When you allow them to set their own work patterns it enables them to work at the times of the day that they are naturally more productive, energised and the least distracted. You may also find that by empowering employees to own and control their personal workloads, you spark an entrepreneurial mindset in people, which not only improves their productivity but also their ability to come up with fresh ideas and problem-solve creatively.
With a more engaged workforce you’re also more likely to increase longevity of service, creating more stability and security for the business, the ability to retain knowledge and experience and a more continuous and consistent level of service for clients.
Attracting a more diverse workforce
Flexible working increases your options to recruit from a more diverse range of candidates. When you’re no longer restricted to hiring employees within commuting distance of your office, you can attract talent from a much wider pool. It also increases accessibility for older and disabled workers, or those suffering with long-term health conditions. Based at home, these employees can work in an environment that is set up for their needs and have the flexibility to attend wellbeing or medical appointments.
A flexible approach can also be instrumental in attracting female employees into key roles and keeping them on board. Unfortunately, a lot of mothers are faced with the unwelcome dilemma of having to give up work or reduce to part-time hours to manage childcare responsibilities. By offering flexibility you open up more options for working mothers and the ability to retain their talent within your organisation. This can lead to the positive benefit of increasing the number of women in senior roles, which helps increase diversity of insight at your board level. It also helps address issues around the gender pay gap.
Reduction in overheads
In addition to the many benefits that come as a result of having a happier, healthier more productive workforce, flexible working can open up considerable cost-saving opportunities. By offering remote working options, you’ll require fewer desks in your office, which means you can reduce costs on everything from rent, furniture and IT equipment to utilities. Having a smaller workplace with fewer employees travelling into work daily can also reduce your organisational carbon footprint.
With flexible working proven to increase employee engagement, which in turn reduces attrition and sickness, businesses are also likely to save money on recruitment fees and reduce costs associated with employee absence. By retaining staff, you also save against the associated costs of lost knowledge and expertise and the impact of poor continuity for your clients.
Many organisations are feeling the pinch this year and may be unable to offer pay rises or bonuses, but the ability to offer flexible working can come as a welcome alternative for employees. A survey by Investors in People showed that a third of people would actually rather take flexible working arrangements over a 3% pay rise.
The future of the workplace
The Covid-19 crisis has given us a unique opportunity to rethink what the workplace of the 21st century looks like. As we transition back to ‘normal’, organisations must be careful not to revert to outdated ways of working. By embracing flexibility and embedding remote working as an intrinsic part of your culture, you’ll attract and retain the best talent and reap the rewards of a happier, healthier, more diverse and more engaged workforce.
Interested in this topic? Read Flexible working: how the unlikeliest of industries can embrace ‘true flex’.