Can Modern Companies Meet the Demand for Flexible Working?

Stuart Hearn, HR expert and CEO Clear Review, examines the relationship between flexible working and modern companies, and provides tips on how to incorporate flexible working into successful performance management strategies.

There are a number of perks and attractions that will prompt the best and brightest to apply to a company. We all like to see a competitive salary advertised. A strong company culture can make all the difference to an employee’s daily life. A focus on employee development is also critical, but increasingly, it is becoming clear that flexible working is king for modern employees for a number of reasons.

Some parents might be trying to balance their responsibilities at home with their eagerness to succeed in their careers. Other individuals might find they are far more focused and productive while working from the comfort of their own home. Others still might have productivity rhythms that are incompatible with the traditional 9-5 routine.

Whatever the case, it seems that flexible working is the way of the future and, as such, we need to not only accommodate for this trend, but adapt our performance management systems to support it.

Can Modern Companies Meet the Demand for Flexible Working?

flexible working

Below, we’ll cover flexible working as a perk, the benefits offered by flexible working, and the reasons why some companies are lagging behind in terms of offering flexible working roles. Finally, as someone who lives and breathes performance management, I’ve compiled some top tips on how to incorporate flexible working into your company.

Flexible Working Is a Top Perk for Employees

According to Glassdoor’s 2015 Employment Confidence Survey, 60% of people state that perks are a huge contributing factor when it comes to whether or not they’ll accept a job offer. The same survey also showed that a remarkable 80% of employees would pick benefits over a pay rise.

This goes to show that if an ambitious company wants to fill its ranks with determined, enthusiastic employees, attention needs to be paid to what they actually want. As we’ll soon see, there is extensive evidence that above almost everything else, flexible working is what employees are calling out for.

Research from CV Library found, in a study that explored the views of 1,000 workers, that flexible working was the most desired perk, outscoring other favorites such as seasonal bonuses or casual dress codes. Further to this, a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, which surveyed 2,000 US workers, also found that flexible hours were a highly-valued job benefit. In fact, the study showed that with the choice of a high-paying job and a lower-paying one with better benefits, 88% said that flexible hours would likely tip them over towards the lower-paying job.

The surveys don’t end there. A poll by technology staffing firm Modis showed that more than 50% of its U.S. recipients picked flexibility as their top job perk, over free food, unlimited vacation, and on-site childcare.

Flexible Working Has Many Benefits for Employees and Businesses

So it’s clear that employees want flexible working as part of their lives, and even look for it before accepting a given position, but what incentives to companies have to include it as an option? Does it provide actual business benefits that help a company’s bottom line? Or is it simply a perk that will help improve recruitment drives?

By all measures, flexible working appears to have the edge on traditional working. Flexible options such as telecommuting encourage results-based work, rather than placing an arbitrary focus on the amount of hours worked. A remote employee is generally subject to fewer interruptions and distractions. On top of this, flexible working has the potential to reduce turnover and widen a recruiting talent pool. In addition, flexible working can lead to lower overheads, particularly if a company hires remote workers. The benefits don’t end there.

Research has shown that flexible working can improve staff engagement, motivation, and performance. It can also seriously improve company loyalty.

In terms of studies, we can look to a survey which included more than 500 remote employees in the U.S., which found remote workers were overwhelmingly happier and more productive than those who worked 9-5 in an office. In another survey, 58% of HR professionals cited flexibility as the best and most effective way to attract new talent.

In terms of case studies, American Express benefitted from flexible working in terms of productivity. The American Express BlueWork program also saved the company as much as $15 million annually in real estate costs. Furthermore, Best Buy adopted flexibility in its headquarters and saw a 45% reduction in voluntary staff turnover.

Knowing all this, it only makes sense for all companies to at least consider to implement flexible working. But, how widely is it really used?

Not All Companies Advertise or Accommodate Flexible Working

According to recent research conducted by World at Work, 80% of American employers offer flexible working arrangements—which sounds great until you factor in that only 37% of these companies have a formal, written policy to support flexible working options.

In essence, this means that while the majority of workplaces claim they are open to flexible working in theory, most employees don’t know of these options and wouldn’t know how to go about putting them into practice. What’s more, despite the fact that flexibility is widely regarded as a huge job perk, it is rarely offered in job descriptions, meaning employers are missing out on qualified, promising candidates

Why Are Some Companies Reluctant to Incorporate Flexible Working?

When you consider how far technology has advanced and how team collaboration software and online performance management tools are able to connect people around the world in a multitude of ways, it seems unusual that remote working has been widely embraced.

One source suggests that the lack of flexible working opportunities is a result of management resistance. The only way for managers to become convinced of the practical merits of flexible working is to put a formal program in place and measure its effectiveness. However, until businesses make those first steps, they will likely always have doubts that their employees will get as much done.

As Cary Cooper, Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health, states, trust is very much an issue:

“Managers want people in the office because they want to see their little empires there in front of them. It’s totally about trust, and the incompetence of managers who don’t know how to manage people remotely.”

Luke Hughes, Managing Director at Origym, agrees: “I think many employers, especially managers of very small companies, are very afraid of flexible working. They very frequently do not have the infrastructure in place, both technologically and protocol-wise, that can make it a successful model. Without mechanisms to track objectives and productivity, it creates a fear factor that no work is therefore being completed.”

Sarah Jackson, CEO of Working Families, suggests managers need a shift in perspective. Jackson says that flexible working is still seen as a “privilege,” rather than a mutually beneficial tool that could bolster productivity and performance. 

Tips for Businesses Starting to Welcome Flexibility and Autonomy

For managers who want to take the first steps towards a flexible workforce, there are a few critical considerations to keep in mind:

1. Prioritize daily communication

Communication is important to the success of any career and to the morale of all employees. This becomes even more necessary when flexible working is involved. Manager and employee need to discuss the terms of the flexible arrangement, everyone needs to be on the same page, and employees need to feel part of the team.

Make use of online communication tools and platforms, and make the effort to ensure you build and maintain a strong company culture and a supportive atmosphere.

2. Have regular, meaningful check-ins

Employee and manager need to have frequent catch-up sessions to ensure everything’s running smoothly and objectives are on track. Regular discussions will also show your employees that you are supportive of them and, though they might be out of sight, they are not out of mind.

3. Work on trust

Flexible working will not work unless the arrangement is built on a foundation of trust. If you hired correctly, you recruited intelligent, responsible adults. Have faith that they are capable and they know what they’re doing. If or when employees betray this trust and start to under-perform, you can then take steps to remedy the situation. You shouldn’t begin with an assumption that employees aren’t to be trusted.

4. Be clear about goals

It is always necessary for employee and manager to collaborate on clear SMART objectives. When flexible working is concerned, this can make all the difference between an employee who is productive, determined, and successful, or an employee who is floundering and uncertain.

5. Focus on goals, not hours spent working

Which would you prefer? An employee who diligently attended the office from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every single day, but rarely surpassed their objectives, or an employee who put in the hours when they could, but regularly excelled?

If you’re shifting towards flexible working, it is necessary to focus on goals, rather than simply hours spent at a desk. For this reason, companies such as Netflix don’t even track employee hours, preferring instead to judge performance on results.

Are you interested in making the switch to flexible working within your business? Share your answer when you connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook and Twitter. We’d love to hear from you! 


About the Author: Stuart Hearn has over 20 years of experience in Human Resources, previously working as the International HR Director for Sony Music Publishing. He is currently CEO of Clear Review — a purpose-built performance management software system.


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