This article was written by Richard Peers, Head of Human Resources, Vodafone Global Enterprise.
Flexible working is arguably the way forward for businesses to increase productivity and attract and retain the best talent – a win-win for employees and employers. So why aren’t all businesses doing it? Because despite the well cited benefits, many questions and uncertainties still remain. How does flexible working improve the way employees work and can it increase job satisfaction? Does the business have the right setup to enable true flexible working? Should flexible working be made available to everyone or just a select few?
Perceptions of mobile working have shifted from being a problem in need of management to a mechanism providing new business opportunities and greater freedom for employees. However, before giving employees carte blanche to work how and when they want, managers need to consult all areas of the business, from finance and IT to facilities management and HR and ensure that the right structure is in place to maximise the benefits of flexible working and ensure both employees and employers are happy with the outcome. This article will discuss the benefits and considerations human resources should take into account when implementing flexible working programs as well as the broader business implications.
Attracting and retaining the right talent – Freedom breeds better job satisfaction
When employees feel as though they have the trust, freedom and flexibility to work how and where they want, they are likely to be more productive. A recent experiment by Stanford University with China’s largest travel agency, CTrip, found that productivity increased by 30 percent after the company introduced working from home practices. [Does Working From Home Work? Evidence From a Chinese Experiment, February 2013] This was achieved by increasing output, while cutting capital and labour inputs. Employees are happier to dedicate the business hours they have allocated to doing “work” rather than worrying or resenting the time spent on a lengthy commutes. This in turn will boost job satisfaction and enable a better work-life balance. Increased job satisfaction can also have a positive effect on customer service, which is likely to improve customer retention. In this age of contact-ability, companies cannot afford to have poor customer service and those that ensure they exceed customers’ expectations stand to gain huge competitive advantage.
Attracting and retaining talent
Attracting and retaining the best people is always a top priority for the HR department. If employees feel empowered and are given the right tools for success they are likely to remain with a company longer. Flexible working is making employees happier and businesses have the opportunity to truly differentiate themselves with the right flexible working solutions and be considered employers of choice.
The job market has also become more diverse as young employees enter the workforce. This generation challenges traditional working patterns and are accustomed to independence and flexibility. They are likely to be responsible for a wave of business innovation over the next decade, as they expect to work how, when and where they want.
One in three workers under 30 say they would prioritise social media freedom, device flexibility and work mobility over salary in accepting a job offer; three-quarters of business school students already say they expect to be able to use their own handheld devices at work. [Cisco Connected World Technology Report, 2011] Organisations need to be at the forefront in accommodating these generational changes if they wish to increase job satisfaction and remain competitive.
HR flexible working policies
Businesses need to carefully consider which employees should have access to flexible working practices. Gone are the days where it is just working mums and dads who want or need to work from home for childcare purposes. If employers want to promote equality and opportunity within an organisation, then these practices should be open to majority of employees, where appropriate. Once the business benefits of flexible working are recognised by organisations, the HR department of the future will be asking employees if they really need to come into the office as opposed to what they currently ask, which is: do employees really need to work from home?
It is imperative that organisations couple the right policies and technologies to enable flexible working. This can also help manage costs and improve productivity.
IT is key – Ensuring business have the right IT infrastructure to manage flexible working
Managing mobile devices – ensuring businesses have the right mobile security policies and systems in place will enable employees to work the way they want, without compromising corporate data. Whilst the security of mobile devices has long been on the radar of the IT administrator, this major shift in working culture is opening up more risks in new areas. With the explosion of mobile devices, it is more essential than ever that enterprise protects business-critical data that can end up on unmanaged devices. Businesses that safeguard mobile devices will reap the benefits of a constantly connected workforce without putting themselves at risk.
Implementing unified communications – integrating real-time communication across all devices and platforms, such as email, instant messaging, telephones and video conferencing will enable employees to communicate with one another as they would if they were sitting across from one another in the office.
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies and support – increasingly employees want to bring their own device which they are comfortable using in to the workplace. Businesses need to put the right policies and processes in place that so that employees have clear boundaries and know which devices are supported by the employer. Each corporate must make a considered response and develop a policy which aligns with the broader goals of the business in meeting the aspirations of its staff.
Reducing operating costs
A recent survey [YouGov poll, March 2013] showed that flexible working can save British businesses £34 billion a year; however, in this same survey more than a third of leaders commented that they had not considered flexible working as a way of saving money. This represents a huge opportunity for businesses to save costs.
For example, Cambridge County Council recently upgraded its ICT and telephone networks so its staff could work flexibly, hot desk, and make or receive phone calls from any computer, no matter where they are located. This is helping the council to save £1.2 million over three years that can be put back into improvements to services for local residents.
Businesses on the whole significantly underestimate the money that can be saved by reducing the number of desks and enabling flexible working.
Flexible working can also have significant environmental benefits. Home working means businesses need fewer desks, and physical real estate. This can save money on property and energy costs, and with fewer staff commuting, can reduce travel costs and carbon emissions.
In conclusion, the businesses that offer employees the opportunity to work the way they want to work will win at the end of the day and employees will be more engaged. Whilst flexible working may appear challenging to implement, it can offer considerable business benefits and drive productivity. Empowering employees with the right tools and working environment will have numerous flow-on benefits; including improved customer service, retaining talent, ultimately giving the business a significant competitive advantage, in what continues to be a tough economic climate.