When I conducted some research with Millennials I found that flexible working was vital for any modern employee, with 91% saying flexible working was important and 92% saying they wanted the option to work from home. Interestingly however, 66% said they would prefer to work more in the office than at home and 0% saying they would want to work exclusively from home.
As someone who has worked 100% in the office, 100% at home, a mixture of both and on the road travelling round the country, I have had a fair amount of experience of the various ways of working. Sadly there is no utopian way of working as each scenario has its positives and negatives.
However, the important thing to note is that flexible working does not simply refer to where you work (i.e. Home or office) but also when and how you work. Flexible working should mean that you have the flexibility to manage your time and resources in a way that is most effective to you. This allows you to be the most productive so that the work is not only done, but gets done to best quality possible whilst maintaining a better work life balance.
Flexible working does not simply refer to where you work but also when and how you work
For example, when working in advertising agencies, it seemed that the more creative people did not like early mornings and preferred to work later. As such I would rarely see members of the creative team in the morning but a few hours later they would be in, full of life and energy, ready for the day ahead. Come 6pm they would often go for a drink with everyone else who were finishing work, before heading back to the office to craft their next masterpiece late into the evening (often with empty pizza boxes and beer bottles as evidence on their desks the following morning). What I learnt from this experience was that being ‘creative’ and applying yourself does not just happen in the office between the specified hours of 9-5, so trying to force it was counterproductive. In such a competitive marketplace where these creative and innovative thoughts are the things that move businesses forward and set them apart, it is vital to allow employees to work in a way that is best for them as it ensures motivation and creativity remain high and the best work is delivered time and again.
This flexible approach to work also helps businesses retain their best talent as they are giving their employees an option to do great work, but in a way that fits their lifestyle providing a win-win scenario for all.
All this being said, the practicalities of business mean that you do need to have team meetings and be face to face at times, but this can easily be solved by having a few fixed days and times when everyone has to be in the office – for example, every Monday and Wednesday between 10 and 2 everyone has to be in. This means all core meetings and department meetings could be held between these times, but then the staff have the ability to work flexibly for the rest of the week in order to deliver the work required. On the odd occasion when key meetings do need to happen outside of these allotted times, video calling and fast connectivity has improved so much that you can easily get on a video call or share your screen from anywhere.
For all the benefits that flexible working brings and the new ways of working offered by technology, none of it can happen without trust
However, for all the benefits that flexible working brings and the new ways of working offered by technology, none of it can happen without trust. Sadly many companies have the mentality of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, i.e. if they cannot see you they do not think you are working. This is why the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer's decision in 2013 to ban all remote working was so controversial, as many saw the decision as her saying she didn't trust her staff to work properly if they were not present in the office.
Also, statistics show that people who do work away from the office overcompensate with their communication and work longer to show their colleagues they are in fact working. This is in response to the negative view many have that those working remotely are just having a day off (hence the Dr.Evil image at the top of this article!). This mentality and lack of trust defeats the point of working flexibly in the first place as you end up working more hours and feel guilty, meaning working the set hours in the office would have been the better option.
Modern businesses need to remove the old habits ingrained from the industrial era where you went to a single place of work between 9 and 5 every day to perform standardised tasks
Modern businesses need to remove the old habits ingrained from the industrial era where you went to a single place of work between 9 and 5 every day to perform standardised tasks. Instead they need to recognise that the world has moved on, modern service based jobs are significantly different to the manufacturing jobs of the past, technology has improved and become widely available and people work differently. They need to trust their employees to take accountability of their own workload and time management to get things done, whether this is at 9am in the office or 9pm at home. If businesses cannot trust their employees to work flexibly then surely they cannot trust them with anything else such as confidential business information and financial details? And if businesses do not trust their employees, then it begs the question of why they hired them in the first place?