Flexible working is good for both employee and employer. But it needs businesses to do more than just buy a few extra smartphones
The value of flexible working to businesses and employees alike has been widely known for some years and was well documented prior to the flexible working legislation coming into effect in 2014.
In fact, research conducted by RSA and Vodafone UK in 2013 revealed that the UK could realise cost reductions and productivity gains of up to £8.1bn by optimising its approach to flexible working.
From an individual standpoint, a study by the LSE showed that employees who can work from home are more productive than office-bound colleagues: they are less distracted, save time on commuting and are grateful for the flexibility.
However, it is employees who split their time between office and home who are happiest in their jobs.
Although flexible working practices are mutually beneficial for businesses – through financial and productivity gains – and for employees, most businesses have yet to fully adopt them.
Just before the legislation was introduced, almost half of UK companies were not providing employees who work remotely with the technology they need for the job.
But that’s not the whole story. Businesses need to do more if they are to reap the benefits of flexibility, such as retaining and attracting employees who are increasingly demanding better ways of working.
A cultural shift, fundamentally changing the way business and the workplace are perceived, is essential and will ultimately determine how effective a business’s approach to flexible working is.
The key to this is the ‘psychological contract’: the perceived relationship between employees and employer, the expectations they have of one another and how these expectations affect workplace behaviour.
Trust that work is being done, openness to change and the organisation’s commitment to adopting more flexible working arrangements: these are essential tools for creating a positive psychological contract.
Flexible working is productive working
One of the key ways involves giving employees the freedom to work the way that suits them best – completely throwing away the traditional nine-to-five mentality.
The emphasis is no longer on how much time a coat spends on the back of a chair, but on how businesses can empower their workforce to work where, when and how is best for the individual and the job.
For this new way of working to be successful however, trust among executives and managers plays a particularly important role in changing the organisation’s culture.
To boost employee freedom while also ensuring productivity there are numerous flexible working options that businesses can offer, beyond merely providing the right technology: working from home or another location, flexitime, staggered or compressed hours, collaborative workspaces and hot-desking.
At Vodafone UK, we have invested significantly in changing workplace culture, empowering employees to work from anywhere, while celebrating performance over presenteeism. These changes have led to great results including a 20 per cent boost in productivity and significant operational cost savings.
A cultural shift within the organisation and emphasis on the psychological contract are fundamental to achieving successful flexible working environments.
So if flexible working is to become the norm, businesses need to do more than just issue employees with a smartphone and laptop – and start looking at the bigger picture.