Flexible working in the new normal: Why it is good for business
We've had a fair bit to say about flexible work here at Weekly10. Our points usually focus on why it's so popular, and what benefits it has for employee wellbeing and engagement. But this time, we'd like to focus on the flexible working benefits for business, particularly pertinent perhaps going forward in 2020 and beyond.
Different approaches to working flexibly
It doesn't take a genius to see that remote work is the big one right now, given that it's currently the only option to keep many businesses running. But there are many other ways companies can offer flexibility to their employees that may have been a bit overshadowed lately, that will come more in to focus over the coming months. These include:
- Part-time work
- Job sharing
- Compressed hours
- Staggered hours
- Annualised hours
- Phased retirement
These arrangements can be incredibly beneficial for employers, by improving recruitment potential, productivity and morale, and reducing turnover. The flexible working benefits for business are certainly considerable, so let's take a look.
We'll get this one out of the way first shall we...
Many businesses across the world have remote-enabling technologies to thank for their ability to keep running with some semblance of smoothness in 2020. Agile project management, video conferencing and file-sharing technologies give businesses a certain level of resilience to crisis.
But aside from simply allowing us to "˜keep going', remote work has a raft of other benefits. For instance, remote work means employers can widen their pool of potential applicants. Especially with fully remote positions, geographical convenience becomes pretty irrelevant and the opportunity to hire the best talent out there is maximised.
On top of that, studies have shown that "˜telecommuters' can be as much as 40% more productive than their office-based colleagues. Employees are generally happier, less stressed and more engaged when working remotely also.
Remote work also shares a particular benefit with some of the other types of flexibility: It means employers can save money on office costs averaging around $10,000 per employee a year for US companies.
A lot of us probably started out on part-time work when we were younger, and many of us will be working part-time now due to the convenience it offers. While it can be a good flexible arrangement on its own, part-time work overlaps with some of the others, like job sharing or phased retirement.
Part-time work can widen your pool of applicants by improving accessibility. If your workplace has certain tasks or roles that take up a lot of people's time and attention, but they aren't enough to make into a full-time position, offering part-time work can improve your ability to delegate and maximise productivity.
What's better still is that if a full-time position opens up, later on, you could potentially have someone ready, willing and able to settle into the role right under your nose.
Again, not a new idea for many of you. Job sharing is when the hours and responsibilities associated with a single role are split between multiple people.
One way this can come about is when two people are promoted to a shared position. This means that, when faced with multiple highly skilled candidates, employers do not necessarily have to prioritise the career development of one employee over another.
It can also put employees with out-of-work commitments in a better position to accept these job offers, improving accessibility, and potentially reducing employee turnover.
Obviously, like any flexible work arrangement, it's subject to certain practical considerations. For example, salary, holiday and other benefits are often split on a pro-rata basis. It's important to consider what's best for both employees, but well-implemented job sharing can be ideal for businesses to retain key talent.
Job sharers can effectively coordinate things like time off, also minimising any potential loss of productivity. For example, some law firms assign multiple mid-level associates to the same case. Two heads are better than one, and you don't compromise client access. We touched on this a while back in an article focused on the legal sector about four-day work weeks, which often also go by another name"¦
Compressed hours follow the logic that the best way to improve someone's work/life balance is to compress their work week in order to give them another full day off a week. Typically, this is done by extending each eight-hour working day into a ten-hour working day.
Some critics of this approach point out that ten-hour days could be too demanding to be sustainable. But it's worth bearing in mind that many businesses that have tried providing options for compressed hours have found them popular with employees.
Ultimately, while compressed hours probably aren't for everyone, they're perfect for some people. The main benefit for business here is that it enables organisations to extend operating hours without incurring overtime.
Read this great article from Marketwatch for a quick summation of some of the best compressed/4-day examples.
Flexitime, staggered hours and annualised hours
These are all slightly different ways of accomplishing the same thing: giving employees more control over the hours they work.
Flexitime allows employees to choose when they start and finish, provided that they work certain "œcore hours".
Staggered hours are when the employee works the same number of hours a day, just out of sync with the rest of the office. So someone's staggered hours might be eight to four, or ten to six.
Finally, annualised hours are when an employee gets a yearly quota of hours to put in at whatever pace they see fit.
These options allow employees to structure otherwise ordinary full-time work around their personal commitments.
Of course, the main benefit to employers is that it can boost staff retention and productivity. But staggered hours, in particular, have the benefit of predictability that makes them useful for extending opening hours in much the same way as a compressed work week.
A phased retirement means that rather than having a set retirement date, older employees slowly have their hours reduced, enabling them to save some money before relying on their pension. More importantly, it can help retiring employees maintain a sense of purpose while they decide what they want to do with their time.
But phased retirement is easily even more beneficial for employers...
Senior leadership is incredibly valuable for any organisation, and there's no replacing decades of experience overnight. Phased retirements mean employers have time to find suitable replacements. Meanwhile, the retiring employee has time to tie up loose ends and even show their replacement the ropes. This can fit perfectly with the phasing of their retirement plans, with the replacement gradually taking the reins as their mentor prepares to step down.
Why a multifaceted approach to flexibility matters
It's all well and good if one of these approaches jumps out at you, but in order to provide real flexibility to your staff and reap the benefits of what that entails, it's important to provide a range of options.
While, say, a compressed work week might be a godsend to one person, it may just make someone else's life worse. Or you might have introverted staff who would love the chance to work remotely, but to your extraverted team members, it might not have the same appeal. With the popularity of flexible work arrangements, the best way to get a broad range of job applicants is with options. After all, nearly 30% of workers would change jobs for the chance to work flexibly.
If you would like to learn more about flexible working benefits for business such as yours, or how to drive employee engagement, check out the rest of the Weekly10 blog, we have articles covering every aspect of work-life (or will write one if there is something you want to see!).