Posted: Fri 30th Oct 2020
The topic of flexible and remote working has never been more relevant. COVID-19 has meant more people than ever before are working remotely. In April 2020, 46.6% of people in employment worked from home (ONS), the highest number on record.
While we don't know exactly what the future looks like, we do know that this current situation is one of the most fundamental changes to working practices that we're likely to see in this lifetime.
But will this change result in a long-term change of attitude? And what does it mean for you and your business?
It's estimated that 87% of people want some form of flexible working available to them. Yet so many organisations have shied away from this statistic, preferring to stick to their traditional working methods and practices.
The impact is widely reported: loss of female talent from the workplace, stress and burnout from overwork, and an ever-growing gender pay gap.
But then came a global pandemic, which forced organisations into 'live testing' remote working in a way they might never have otherwise trialled.
The problem is that it was done in an unplanned, forced way - while being labelled 'flexible working'. It was actually just one form of flexibility - remote working - that was executed among a plethora of other issues; no childcare, stress and anxiety, and a lack of access to support networks.
In short, flexible working has been given a bad rep.
So, what is true flexible working?
Flexible working can mean many things - part time, condensed hours, core hours. Remote working is just one type.
The best employers listen to what their employees want before making use of the tools available to them. It's no coincidence that tech firms have the highest staff loyalty, lowest turnover and greatest engagement from their employees. They learnt early on to use objective-based incentives rather than presenteeism to deliver what they needed.
Have small and medium businesses embraced it?
The good news is that these outcomes have been realised by more organisations outside of the tech sector. Since some form of normality has returned since children went back to school and working parents have actual work time available, businesses are reporting better productivity. Many are continuing to allow home working and are being less strict on hours.
That's not to say there aren't issues. It's well documented that some people struggle with not seeing each other, particularly in smaller organisations. Lots of people don't like to be alone and are finding their mental health is suffering.
While companies may have shown that their technologies work, the culture, training and management techniques have some catching up to do. The wise businesses are focusing on fixing these issues rather than waiting for things to go back to 'normal'.
Newsflash: they won't. The world has changed forever.
The new normal
High-performing businesses have realised this - and that the key to happier employees is to give their people more control over when and how they work. If that's in the office, so be it. If it's at home, that's OK too.
When employers give us more control of our lives there's higher engagement, better loyalty and consequently improved profitability. Happier people make happier profit lines.
Small businesses can take advantage of this by attracting people they might not otherwise have access to. We see it every day: incredibly talented, skilled people looking for stimulating challenges that allow them to choose their hours. That means businesses can access super-experienced people for a fraction of the price for small windows of time.
How can small businesses embrace this?
My advice to all small businesses is to try and overcome presenteeism (you're only working if I can see you) and instead focus on outcomes. What do you need employees to do? How much will that cost? Focusing on 'I need you to do X by Y' will inevitably lead to a happier working relationship where both parties understand what's needed and, crucially, have the freedom to fit it around the other elements of their lives.
You can also take advantage of this movement in other ways. Offering flexibility will give you access to a wider talent pool and will ultimately afford you the same benefits larger organisations are seeing - higher staff loyalty meaning less turnover, less training time and reduced sickness and absence rates.
Use the free tools out there. Now you've nailed Zoom and Trello - and others that mean we don't have to be in the office - stick with them!
Stop waiting for things to 'go back to normal' and embrace the new way. Think about how much more time you have available now you're not travelling. Use it to do something you couldn't before.
Everyone has been given a taste of remote working, and that demand isn't going anywhere. This is a work revolution and flexible working will be the victor. So, get ahead of the game and be one of the winners!