Flexible working

How have flexible working rules introduced a year ago changed your organisation?

Paul Lawton

It’s been just over a year since the government introduced flexible working legislation, giving any employee in the UK the right to request the ability to work flexibly. Flexible working isn’t a new concept, yet many businesses are unaware of the many benefits it can bring.

According to research recently conducted by Microsoft, only a fifth of employees working in small and medium sized businesses have requested flexible working as a direct result of the law. Our own research earlier this year found that while half of UK workers were aware of the right to request legislation, four fifths hadn’t taken advantage of the option. So why the disconnect?

The productivity puzzle

Lack of trust, general business culture and not having the technology to facilitate remote working are often cited as barriers to adoption. Yet, with UK productivity levels lower than the G7 average, businesses of all sizes should be looking towards flexible working as a way to improve the often cited ‘productivity puzzle’.

Affordable technology already exists to allow small businesses to become flexible and by extension, smarter working companies. Things as simple as choosing laptops or tablets instead of desktops for employees are a good place to start. Laptops equipped with Microsoft Office 365 for example, the cloud based office system, mean staff can work and collaborate anywhere, and apps like Just Call Me make conference calling as easy as picking up the phone. These tools are relatively inexpensive and can be deployed easily across a workforce with a high return.

Over the past few years, flexible working has become ingrained in our culture at O2. I actively encourage my teams to work flexibly which not only improves morale but has a genuinely positive impact on our bottom line. What we’ve found is that the first step to enabling this type of working is to ensure that all employees are as connected as possible, whether it’s through a secure broadband connection or a fast 4G mobile service.

Advantages of flexible working

Small businesses are often more agile than larger ones so implementing flexible working policies early can keep costs down and employee satisfaction high. Happy staff provide great benefits to any business, including a higher rate of staff retention and a reduction in absenteeism. A couple of years ago, research conducted by IBM found 67 percent of employees who had the option of working flexibly felt they had an improved work/life balance. Businesses offering remote working also benefited from a 20 percent jump in workplace productivity and a 20 percent decrease in costs.

For businesses looking to reap these kinds of rewards, my top tips to introducing flexible working include:

  • Training: provide adequate training for managers and team leaders to ensure the arrangements are managed and implemented in the right way, being realistic for what work can be done flexibly as well as when and how it can be done
  • Technology: make use of the latest digital technology such as cloud and collaboration based tools like Microsoft Office 365, so that employees are equipped to work remotely
  • Connectivity: 4G is a game changer for flexible working. It allows employees to carry out complex tasks while on the move
  • Trial periods for staff: flexible working isn’t for every company so a trial period to see how it can work is worthwhile

With the summer holidays here, it’s the perfect time to see how flexible working can help your business.