Flexible working: what a way to make a living

Tony Glass, UK and EMEA general manager for e-learning provider Skillsoft, says employers have many reasons to embrace flexibility in the post-nine-to-five environment.

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Over the past few years, the growing influence of technology has had a profound impact on our lives. From our home life to our work life, the modernisation of information and communication processes has become the driving force behind everything that we do. We’re now more connected than ever.

Trends such as bring your own device (BYOD), mean that no longer do we have set boundaries between work and home. Dolly Parton and her notion of the 9-5 working day is slowly becoming a thing of the past. Instead businesses are looking to embrace the blurred lines between work and play, with 94% of UK organisations now offering staff some form of flexible working, according to a recent report from the Institute of Leadership and Management.

So how exactly is flexible working defined? According to the CIPD, flexible working is a type of working arrangement which gives a degree of flexibility on how long, where, when or what time employees work. Furthermore, back in 2014, the government finally sat up and took note, which led to flexible working becoming ingrained into UK law. This means that all employees have the right to request flexible working that suits their needs, for example working from home or having flexible start and finish times, once they have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks.

The evolving image of the traditional working day and advancements in technology have been the primary drivers in the emergence of flexible working as a standard concept today. Just 10-15 years ago, working meant that employees would turn up each day to the same place at the same time, come rain or sunshine, regardless of their situation. Fast forward to today, work is now increasingly becoming something that individuals can do anywhere, at any time – provided they are equipped with the right tools.

The meteoric rise in mobile devices and BYOD over the last decade has meant that businesses now have the right security infrastructure in place to allow staff to use their own personal devices in a working environment. Not only does this afford employees the flexibility to work from anywhere and be connected, it has the added benefit of reducing hardware cost for a business. BYOD also allows employees to learn flexibly. Through e-learning, workers don’t have to put their training on hold if they’re working out of the office, they can simply log on from anywhere or click on a mobile app and continue their learning journey whenever suits best.

The changing demands and expectations that arise from living in an always connected 24/7 world has meant that organisations are slowly beginning to realise the benefits of allowing employees a flexible timetable. Traditionally viewed as a taboo, flexible working has been surrounded by an undercurrent of negativity, but now perception is shifting. Changing attitudes from the boardroom are filtering down, as employers understand the benefits that flexible working can have on a business, whether this be an increase in productivity, reduction in overhead expenses or even an increase in commitment from employees.

The importance of flexible working must not be underestimated when looking at the wider talent ecosystem. The incoming workforce, whether defined as millennial or generation Z, place a greater emphasis on the importance of flexible working. Not only does it create a happier workforce, allowing employees to fit work around their schedule but it also has an impact on the recruitment and retention of staff.

Conventionally, the concept of flexible working and families with young children have often gone hand-in hand. However as time has gone on, it is no longer exclusively associated with a particular group, but a sign of changing expectations about work. Interestingly, this shift also touches upon the changing expectations associated with gender roles, with men now likely to be working as flexibly as women. Research has indicated that there is now just a two percentage point difference in those who have worked flexibly at some point in the last four years (88% of men and 90% of women), regardless of home life commitments.

With this in mind, during any recruitment process, it’s imperative that organisations understand the importance and value that flexible working has for those looking for new opportunities.  According to the Timewise Flexible Jobs Index, 95% of employers stated they offer a form of flexible working to their staff, yet only 6.2% explicitly communicate this in the job description. Employers need to ensure they are communicating this to potential employees and their current employees.

Flexible working is slowly becoming the new normal for employees – something they are actively searching for and, to some extent, expecting. No longer are people confined to the boundaries of four walls for eight hours each day. Instead the doors have been opened and organisations are now affording employees the opportunity to work in a way that best suits them while businesses are reaping the benefits. Now who could turn down a proposition like that?

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/clawzctr/

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