Making a success of flexible working is a tough balancing act for both employer and employee. Pulling in one direction is the wish for a better work/life balance and in the other the desire to maintain productivity and a consistent quality of work. It relies on a combination of motivation, good planning and trust but despite the challenges, flexible working appears to be paying off for both sides.
The rapid development of business-friendly mobile technology and a cultural shift away from the rigid discipline of the typical 9-5 working day has accelerated the pace of change. Management fears that ‘out of sight’ means ‘out of mind’ and inevitably leads to a drop in productivity has never really materialised. Concerns that remote employees would feel isolated and even be psychologically damaged have proved unfounded.
A Gallup report shows remote workers are more productive. Nearly four in 10 employees surveyed said they spent time working remotely or in locations away from co-workers and felt more engaged. However, the report notes that there is a point of diminishing return for engaging remote workers with people who spend less than 20% of their time working remotely feeling the most engaged.
According to a study by Vodafone and the Royal Society of Arts, Britain’s economy could receive a £8. 1 billion shot in the arm from increased productivity if organisations and employees agreed to more flexible working hours.
In the past, opportunities for flexible working were restricted although nowadays more employees are able to consider the option. Recent research by the Institute of Leadership and Management found that at the top of the corporate hierarchy 77 per cent of chief executives and 54 per cent of senior managers work flexibly.
Despite this steady shift in attitudes, the Institute of Directors believes business leaders are not doing enough to harness the full potential of flexible working. A response to this challenge comes from the Agile Future Forum, which was set up by 22 companies to promote agile working practices that generate value for both employers and employees.
The UK government plans to introduce changes to flexible working in 2014 so it is more widely available. ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) notes that this will remove the current statutory procedure for considering requests. Instead employers will have a duty to consider all requests in a reasonable manner, however, they will be able to refuse requests on business grounds.
When you work away from your office you tend to face two key challenges: how to avoid distractions and maintain motivation. Forbes outlines several practical steps to maintain productivity, including taking a brisk walk around the block, a nap, a chat and even brushing your teeth. Freelance journalists are used to working alone and recommendations from this quarter include bringing structure to your day and having a dedicated work space.
Our favourite piece of advice for home-based flexible workers is to put on a pair of shoes when you sit at your desk rather than working in slippers (and definitely not the Homer Simpson pair you received for Christmas).