Finding, hiring and keeping staff is the hardest and most important thing any employer will do for their business. Not only are excellent people hard to come by, they are often whisked away by better offers or improved opportunities. Retaining your staff can be as simple as changing your thinking as an employer. Flexible working is one of those areas that needs an overhaul in many companies and will reap rewards.
The jobs site Timewise released statistics in 2015 that indicated that 14m people in the UK wanted to work more flexibility, but that only 6% of job advertisements offered it as well as a decent salary. This is despite the fact that in 2014, legislation was introduced in the UK to allow employees the right to ask for flexible working - the employer had the right to refuse, but needed to give good reasons why it was not suitable for the role or the business as a whole. Meanwhile another report from Manpower showed that there is a critical shortfall in skilled workers and that employers are not making it easier for people to work in the way they want.
What is flexible working?
The majority of jobs in the finance sector start at 9am and finish at 5.30pm and run from Monday to Friday. Workers are based in a central office and may travel to visit clients from time to time. They rarely work weekends and may work late occasionally to finish important projects.
Flexible working takes all of this and turns it on its head. It can encapsulate working from home, working flexible hours both in the office and at other locations, spreading a working week over 4 days, creating job shares and any other working timetable that suits the individual and ensures that the work is done to a high standard.
The arguments against flexible working
Some business owners will sigh when flexible working is mentioned. They believe it means a workforce that is less committed, people who prefer to work at home and therefore work less effectively and a workforce that is not together as a team. Mostly, the fear of flexible working is based around the issue of control over staff. How can you, as a manager, keep an eye on what they are doing, what time they start work or whether they take a long lunch break, if they are sitting on their sofa and you are in the office?
In many cases, managers just don’t know how to manage someone who is working anywhere but under their nose. This shift in attitude requires a more flexible approach to management as well as hours and locations. Its a cultural change that must start with management.
In fact, flexible working can be entirely positive and many of the initial concerns are often pushed to one side once flexible working is tried within the business.
Spread the net
Once you open your mind to flexible working, you suddenly have a pool of talent that spreads beyond the basic one hour commute. People who work from home a few times a week are more than happy to travel into the office once or twice, even if it is upwards of an hour away. These talented and sought after individuals may be looking for a company just like yours but would discount it as being out of their maximum commute distance. The offer of working from home could change all that.
You also open your workplace to people who have other commitments. Parents who need to drop their children at nursery or school, women returning to the workforce after maternity leave, men who wish to have more time with their children, people who want to take sabbaticals, people who are disabled and cannot travel to work or work long days and people who simply want a more effective work/life balance. All of these people may be able to consider your workplace because you have offered a simple flexible working option.
This is a benefit many will overlook when it comes to flexible working. Your workforce will be able to share the office more effectively if a percentage work from home regularly. By allowing and encouraging hotdesking, there are fewer people in the office, energy consumption is lower and other attendant costs such as cleaning and heating are smaller. You can also choose smaller premises with lower rent. Or alternatively build your workforce without needing to move to a larger office.
Compartmentalise your workforce
This is a very new idea that involves asking certain employees to be in the office at different times. In this way you have certain teams together at different times of the week - allowing them to focus without other staff members capturing their time. Equally you can ask employees to have client and team meeting in the office, while their development and technical work takes place at home where they can more easily focus. The office then becomes a hub for creative work - this is known to improve overall productivity.
Perhaps the biggest and best benefit is the fact that your staff are happier and therefore more productive. They are seeing give and take within the business and feel more valued in their role. Staff are physically and mentally healthier and this can only be good for the business in the long term.
Making it work in your business
Flexible working relies on technology - without it, working from home and communicating with colleagues easily would be impossible. Most finance workers are now furnished with a laptop rather than a desktop, as it is recognised that many workers will take their work home in the evening - these laptops are easily used for working from home too. Many workplaces actually allow workers to bring their own devices into work - a policy that 44% of workers see as positive according to a study by Unisys. Clearly this is a huge cost saving measure for any business.
The majority of required technology for home working or flexible hours is already in place in most offices. Shared calendars, shared file structures with remote or cloud access, email, Skype and mobile phones all make it possible to work from anywhere. The majority of workers are already comfortable with this technology and use it in their own everyday lives to keep in touch with friends and family - using it for work is seen as normal and expected.
The safety of data is probably the main concern. Files that leave the office must be secured and firewalls and security measures should be in place to prevent viral infections of devices and the loss of sensitive information.
The costs of implementing new technologies is negligible compared to what is already required for all staff regardless of their working practises.
Encouraging new and exciting potential staff members into your office requires much more than a great looking desk and a smart laptop. People need measures that help them to work in the way they want - while still delivering high quality work. By being one of the 6% of business offering flexible working as a viable option, you are already putting yourself ahead of the game and providing something that sets you apart.