This week, figures released by Family Friendly Working Scotland highlighted the positive impact flexible working has had on businesses across the country. The survey of 257 business leaders found that out of the 200 who offer flexible work options, 87% claim it has been a positive move resulting in increased productivity, better staff retention and increased profits.
This all sounds good.
In the same week, a leaked email from media agency Starcom’s parent agency, Publicis Media UK appeared to backpedal on its approach to flexible working following the discovery that Starcom employees were disappearing on a Friday leaving an empty office floor. Not such a great advertisement for flexible working.
Often attributed to those who have dependents, it’s important to recognise the fact that the debate doesn’t just sit with those who have childcare needs. Across the European Union, intra-EU mobility is increasing. In 2017, 8% of the EU workforce commuted to work in a different region. In Belgium, one in five (21.9%) of people commute to a different region and in France, there were 438,000 cross-border outbound commuters. London recorded the highest share of commuter outflows where almost half (48.6%) commute to work in another region. These figures suggest there’s a lot of time being spent commuting to work, which could arguably be spent more efficiently by opening up flexible working practices.
In addition, the uprising of the gig economy highlights the need for us to think about how we work differently.
In a 2018 survey of 6,500 executives worldwide conducted by BCG in partnership with Harvard Business School’s Managing the Future of Work initiative, 40% of respondents said they expect freelance workers to account for an increased share of their organisation’s workforce between 2019 and 2024.
On whichever side of the debate you sit, the common ground between the two must be that the theory of implementing flexible working is easier than the practice. With the rate of change the workplace is experiencing means for us to find a way forward a middle ground needs to be found before organisations start losing out on talent.
There’s an obvious link between the rise of the digital workplace and rapid evolution of technologies which has enabled this trend to evolve apace. Collaboration platforms means team members can communicate and connect with ease.
So how do we address the need to cater for this change?
As with any change, responsibility for realising this shift comes down to commitment and shift in mindset. As communicators, we too have a role to play in making sure we are facilitating effective flexible working.
At a talk I gave to a global organisation recently, I shared my views on where we can step in to make this a reality.
Create a steering group with your key internal stakeholders
Effective flexible working is not a simple output of a HR policy. Leadership, manager’s, HR, IT and communications all have roles to play. IT manages the infrastructure, HR the guidelines,
communications to covey the how and the why and of course people mangers to help enable flexible working. Work together to plan the path forward.
Lead by example
All too often flexible working is restricted to a dated policy which requires paperwork and approvals. Have clarity over what flexible working means for your organisation and develop a set of guidelines from which people understand what they can expect from you, and in return, what you expect from them. Mutual understanding and respect of the business’ requirements will help ensure flexible working realises the benefits to all sides – not the select few.
Ensure tools and resources are available
A tricky one, especially if an organisation is working off legacy systems. This said, as more and more businesses adopt cloud-based systems, this is one which is becoming easy to navigate around. Implementing the right infrastructure; whether it’s a video conferencing system, an enterprise social network or an upgrade to Microsoft Office 365 is crucial. But once in place, the benefits are plentiful.
Managing flexible working effectively
Don’t expect everyone to embrace flexible working from the start. Support managers and those who may not feel comfortable with the shift in guiding them through the how and the why. Therefore, a clear narrative over what flexible working in your business is crucial.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Effective communication is key. Between colleagues, teams and external stakeholders. Check-in regularly to see what’s working, what needs attention and act on it.
Remember it’s about output not the number of bums on seats
Ultimately, it comes down to trust. As employers, we need to be able to trust that our teams are going to be able to deliver what we need of them. Any issues affecting output can quickly be identified if you have clearly outlined the expectations and taken the time to gather feedback and listen to teams.
Guest Post By Lisa Pantelli
About Lisa Pantelli
Lisa is an award-winning internal communications and employee engagement specialist and she founded Beyond Communications in 2017. Lisa will be speaking at this year’s smilelondon on the 18th November 2019.