Over the coming weeks and months, more and more of us are going to be working remotely, and flexibly. This means varied working hours and fundamentally different work patterns.
Whether we're stationed in our home offices, or perched on the sofa, flexible working certainly has its merits - with or without COVID-19.
While technology and hardware might be in place, it's often the social and work-life-balance aspects of home or flexible working that poses the greatest challenges. These elements are, however, the source of benefits of flexible working, too.
Although it may not suit everybody, it's likely we'll be isolated to our homes for many weeks to come. Regardless of the realities of today, here are the top ten reasons why flexible working is the way of the future for working - whether you work for a massive enterprise or a small startup.
For any business, renting office space is a major cost factor, yet on any given day, large numbers of desks may be left empty as employees visit customers, attend meetings or work remotely. This makes more flexible arrangements, like hot-desking, far more efficient, and could save companies a vast amount of their office costs.
Working from home could save employees cash too. Indeed, a great majority of people can save money by from neglecting to travel, making their own lunches, or buying less work-friendly clothing. All that adds up, especially given that the salary freezes many companies have already implemented mean many won't be seeing extra cash anytime soon.
Flexible working is widely believed to improve work/life balance and enhance employee happiness, as it's a much more employee-centric policy. This can be expected given the added sense of freedom and responsibility with which home-working is imbued. There are also benefits of increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and improved staff retention.
Workers may tend to show an increase in their productivity levels, as well as a fall in stress-related illnesses and, subsequently, days they have to take off, after adopting home-working. Anything that employers can do to save staff time and money, of course, lends itself to an added sense of relief, which improves morale, and can lead to better job performance.
Many people feel they work better surrounded by the comforts of home without the distractions of the office, but much of that depends on personality and the type of job you do. That said, there's no avoiding the fact that you save on commute time unless you have a very, very congested hallway.
Indeed, a study by Avaya suggested flexible workers save 39 working days a year by avoiding their commute and a fifth use that time to do more work. How charitable of them.
Flexibility is a straightforward way to improve work/life balance. Many workers desire to combine working from the office with working from home. For some, they're comfortable blending the lines - but for others, they still retain a distinction between both spheres. There's more to life than work, after all, and that time that's saved regardless of work habits can help employees spend more time with their families or take up hobbies, let alone anything else they'd like to do. People value their time so much that many surveyed said they'd take a salary cut to be able to work when and where they choose.
Cutting that commute time is good for the planet too. All those avoided journeys add up. If every commuter worked from home one day a week, not only would the travel networks be less congested, but fewer cars and trains would mean fewer emissions being released.
Whether you work for a large enterprise or an SMB, your competition is global. While the UK has made great strides in introducing flexible working over the past few years, it trails behind Nordic countries and Germany, where 40% of employees use teleworking, compared to 20% in the UK, according to figures from Work Wise UK.
A 2017 Millennial Survey from Deloitte showed that there are competitive rewards, finding that those in organisations that offered flexible arrangements were rewarded with higher levels of loyalty from its employees. It also found that in highly flexible working environments, only 2% more millennial workers saw themselves leaving their job within two years than those anticipating staying beyond five, compared to those in the least flexible organisations where the gap reached 18%.
Equality and diversity
Companies with flexible working hours that let people work from home have a wider pool of potential employees. Flexible working is good for anyone with small children or other commitments, while being flexible on location could help introduce disabled or even distant employees to your workforce, letting firms hire based on who really is the best for a job, not who has the time for it.
The tech is already in place
Not all job roles can be carried out away from the office, but many people spend their days parked at the same desk, in front of the same computer screen. Dish out laptops instead of desktop machines and most employees will easily be able to connect to the office via their own broadband network. Collaborative apps are free and easy these days, but do keep an eye on security as it is harder to keep systems safe from beyond the firewall.
Tech firms are well ahead of the curve on this one, so there's just no excuse not to be a bit flexible.
Government regulations mean you have to
That said, the government has passed laws requiring companies to consider requests from parents to work flexibly. Rather than being forced into it, why not offer it as a benefit to everyone, regardless of their family situation? Singletons in the office will appreciate being included too.
Disasters, transport strikes, traffic hold-ups or just bad weather might mean employees can't get into the office. Any company with a flexible working plan could keep its operations going, with workers set up to toil from their homes. Companies without such a set-up are more likely to run into difficulties - and if incidents happen which affect a sizeable proportion of the office, it could disrupt more than just the bottom line.
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