“We are stubborn on our vision but we’re flexible on details.” – Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.
In June, an extension of the existing provisions of the 2002 Flexible Working (Procedural Requirements) Regulations, made it possible for any employee to have the right to make a request for flexible working, previously a right only made available to for child care and family care reasons (you can see the BBC article about the Government’s policy on Flexible working here).
The Government believes that flexible working is good for employees and the economy and wants to make it easier to do. A spokesman from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said in a BBC news item;
“We want these reforms to bring about a culture change in Britain’s workplaces. Family-friendly policies and economic growth can go hand in hand. Flexible working really can help employers boost productivity and profits.” – (BBC, 30 June 2014)
How will this affect you and your business? Will your team members be asking for more flexible working? And how can you make sure that flexibility brings you strength and balance? Just like yoga…
This is a fast evolving topic that is increasingly part of the conversations for entrepreneurs and managers from small enterprises to large corporates.
A 2012 survey by Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) suggested over 96% of firms offered some kind of work flexibility and in 2013; The Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (The RSA) published ‘The Flex Factor’, a report that explored the current status of flexible working practices in the UK (you can see the full RSA report here).
It revealed that 77% of UK businesses already had some form of flexible working (including home working and remote working) and that 50% of employees worked in businesses that had some kind of flexible work policy. Powwownow’s own research from 2013 revealed similar figures with 68% of over 1,000 senior managers we surveyed allowing some kind of flexible and remote working.
Both the Powwownow research and The RSA study show that UK businesses promoted flexible working practices as a means to create cost savings, improve productivity and provide more work-life balance. For example, a flexible worker was estimated to save a business £650 per annum alone, just by saving on the need for full time desk and office space.
Having the ability to do certain work tasks at home without distractions and balancing family pressures more reasonably is perhaps the smartest way to get some jobs done. Using the right technologies, such as file sharing, audio and video conferencing tools means that good communication is not lost.
Of course, remote working is not a silver bullet for all business challenges – and it has its own issues. The RSA report for example, pointed out that there is a danger of work intensity and that it can be hard to switch off if we are always online, whenever we are at home. Also, some would argue that fewer face-to-face interactions may make for a less social business culture and potentially a less creative environment and perhaps – a more sterile one?
Badly managed and implemented flexible working could result in resentment (people being away too much) and a confused culture of communication. But used correctly, it can allow greater freedom, smarter productivity and a more positive business culture. So how is it done?
During our Spring Webinar Series we explored in a practical way why flexible and remote working can improve productivity and quality of life and how one goes about building the kind of business that promotes it well. In ‘Business Yoga – Why Smarter Business’ Use Flexible Working’ (which you can see in full here) we discussed the topic with someone who has built a business on these principles.
We spoke with Duncan Thomas, the founder of London based digital agency, Pomegranate. Whilst his agency’s main office is based in Clerkenwell, just around the corner from the digital heat of Silicon Roundabout, Thomas himself is based in the calmer surrounds of the Cotswolds and a lot of his technical team is based in another location in the West Country.
The agency’s continued success is not dependent upon them all being in the same office all of the time. Far from it. As Thomas pointed out in our webinar, designing remote and flexible work practices into the way his business works has been a challenge but is has led to a culture where being organised as a team, running effective meetings, good communication, smarter use of IT systems, conference and video calls is just the way they now all work.
Most importantly, allowing people to work away from one office and not be governed by the traditional 9-5 means Pomegranate has a spirit of trust and employing the sort of people who really want to get the job done, regardless of time and place. Whilst he originally introduced flexible working to allow some more work life balance into his own life, it has actually led to him building a smarter business.
With flexible working, he believes he has a better team and a more creative environment for people to work in, which for business reliant upon dealing in ideas, design and innovation has to be a good thing.
For entrepreneurs such as Thomas and companies such as Pomegranate, the new extensions of flexible working announced by the Government will not be an issue. They have already embraced a business culture that encourages the kind of work practices that the regulations are seeking to encourage.
Meeting with him, the clear message is that flexible working has to be managed and seen as important as any other business process. It has its challenges and you need the right people and business rules. But done right, it is a great work benefit for employees, a smart tool for managers and valuable productivity bonus for the business overall.