In January, facilities specialist Direct 365 claimed flexible working is having a detrimental impact on the office environment. Here the company explains why, and three other experts give their views on the subject…
Phil Turner, head of digital, Direct365
We surveyed 500 UK workers and nearly a third of them were concerned that traditional office culture is in danger of being lost because so many of their colleagues are able to work remotely at any given time.
It was hoped that the introduction of the right to request flexible working would help to improve the work-life balance of the nation’s workforce, but there are arguments to suggest that the increasing prominence of remote working is actually having the opposite effect, as professionals are finding it difficult to switch off and relax.
This isn’t an attack on flexible working by any means. Such policies, when implemented sensibly, can be mutually beneficial for employers and employees alike. However, a lot of businesses are clearly struggling to find the right balance, with one in three people stating that the atmosphere in their office has suffered because so many of their colleagues are missing at the same time.
It’s not uncommon for somebody to be sat at their desk all on their own for an entire day because the rest of their team are either working from home or have been given permission to switch their hours. Technological advancements have made communication easy, but you really shouldn’t underestimate the importance of face-to-face contact.
Although companies are legally obliged to consider flexible working requests from staff, they shouldn’t lose sight of how these arrangements will impact the wider team. It’s arguably far harder to build a bond and strong team ethos if everybody is working in different locations. We’re in danger of losing good old-fashioned ‘watercooler talk’.
Direct 365 is a facilities and building maintenance company.
Karen Ovenden, operations director, Hireserve
The world is full of doom merchants isn’t it? They tend to look backwards to compare, not forwards to evolve.
The fear that flexible working might result in the loss of traditional office culture is scaremongering. From the days when we drew pictures on our cave walls to the technology of today, we’ve continued to find better ways to communicate. Now we can talk and work across time zones and borders. Surely that’s a fantastic door to open.
Let’s be honest here, how many of us have worked in places where this ‘traditional office culture’ never existed? If you don’t employ the right people – great people – just putting employees in an office together doesn’t magically create a good working culture.
I defy anyone to try and stop these great people from developing a positive team culture, whether they’re working in cyberspace or at a desk working 9-5. As an employer, you can’t make it, create it or demand it – it’s just what happens when you have an engaged, dedicated and loyal team.
So, in my view it’s not being in an office with a bunch of people that gives you ‘traditional office culture’. Instead, it’s having people who gel because of who they are, not where they are. Great office culture exists in our flexible world because it lives in great people – so make sure you only employ those who love to communicate and who love people. In good old fashioned speak: ‘They’ve either got it or they haven’t’.
Recruitment software provider Hireserve has twice won the WorkingMums.co.uk top SME employer award.
Jochen Boekel, area vice president EMEA sales, Citrix
With 24% of jobseekers and recruiters admitting that flexible working is at the top of their priority list when looking for a new position, according a survey by totaljobs.com, it is clear that the structure of the workplace is shifting.
To ensure office culture is not affected by teams reporting remotely and not always being physically visible in the office, companies need to ensure they make the right investments to keep colleagues communicating and working efficiently together.
Just because people aren’t in the same room, it doesn’t mean they can’t work well together as a group. Technological advancements were one of the main catalysts for the flexible working movement and cloud collaboration tools can provide the perfect virtual environment for people working together with common goals. From an SMB owner’s perspective, they can also provide a central place to delegate and monitor the progress of projects and tasks without having to micromanage remote teams and individuals.
A clear policy on flexible working is considered one of the most important factors for growth plans in business, according to our YouGov survey. There is no doubt the flexible workforce will be ever-growing and companies need to look at ways of structuring their business to ensure they experience the benefits of the new workforce of today.
Citrix is a global provider of enterprise collaboration software.
Chris Meredith, chief executive, OfficeBroker.com
Flexible working is an idea driven by the desire to encourage creativity and often the image that people conjure when they think of a flexible working environment is a “google campus” style space – with co-working areas and large soft seating for people to mingle.
I think that the reality is in fact very different. Whilst members of Generation Y have openly embraced the new era of flexible working, they perhaps haven’t taken into consideration the other generations within their workforce.
For flexible working to work at an optimum level I believe there are a few key factors to take into consideration:
The setup of the office when people do indeed come in for the day is critical. Getting this wrong may cause friction or issues for people embracing the flexible way of working and they can become outsiders
The use of technology and social networks is vital in making this work. Used in the correct way, social networks are a great platform for a company to keep its workforce in contact with each other and to deliver a unified message.
It needs to be accepted that flexible working is not a one size fits all solution and that businesses in certain sectors will surely see a negative impact on atmosphere and productivity, whereas others will benefit from the feel good factor that it brings and see a noticeable uplift in productivity and creativity.
I would also point to the fact that businesses from certain sectors have openly embraced a form of flexible working for many decades. Companies with field sales people who are often out on the road and in control of their own diaries are well versed in being in and out of the office and managing their workloads.
Flexible working has its place in the modern working world, and I have seen great examples of this working but have also seen it implemented with lack of thought and planning that has resulted in a complete disaster.
Officebroker.com is a UK serviced office broker.
Main image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/41813367@N02/