To mark the start of Work Wise Week 2008 this Thursday, which highlights smarter working practices for all, Sandra Beale gazes into her crystal ball to find out what the future of flexible working will look like.
In recent years, many companies have realised the benefits of introducing flexible working, which can include working from home. The typical male white worker of 20 years ago has been replaced by a workforce that is made up of a diverse population, who have different needs from the workplace.
For example, women now make up a large proportion of the workforce, the majority having the main responsibility for childcare. They often need flexible working in the form of part-time working, job share and term-time working to allow them to manage their lives. Companies have responded to these differing needs fuelled by increased employment legislation and use of technology.
Increased technology has allowed the ability of many employees to work from home i.e. internet, mobile phones and so on. Organisations can benefit from the reduced costs of office space, while employees have a better work-life balance not having to battle their way to the office in the increasing amounts of traffic, which is forecast to increase dramatically over the next 10 years.
This idea will appeal to the green agenda being adopted now by so many organisations, which hopefully in the future will be supported by government initiatives and funding.
The concept of the 9-5 employee sitting at their office desk may disappear. They could have meetings with their colleagues in designated workspaces whilst undertaking their duties at home, performance managed by monitored outputs.
Life as we know it
There is a view that the concept of the office as we know it could disappear, with mini business centres set up as satellite offices. There are already organisations that offer serviced offices – telephone answering, admin support and office/meeting space to rent at minimal cost, and this concept is set to grow with such centres springing up all over the UK both in city centres and in locations near to the motorways.
The use of technology will increase even more. There are already towns that are set to offer wifi, at no cost to the consumer, across their whole geographical area allowing access to the internet to be possible in any location.
Some rail networks already offer a wifi service allowing internet access on the train, so that emails can be answered for example, and this can only grow to incorporate all forms of public transport. Where companies issue wifi-enabled laptops and mobile phones that allow email/internet access, the possibilities are endless. This can be for all levels of staff from senior management and below, depending on their role.
An added bonus of this mobile concept could be a reduction in the UK-wide skills shortage. Many employees are unwilling to locate for a new role and may have key skills required by companies, which may lead to the impression of a skills shortage.
Recruitment problems solved
If such companies consider recruiting remote workers when their actual workplace is not important, but their skills are highly prized, then their recruitment problems could potentially be partly solved.
However, this new type of working has its own challenges. As mentioned, there is the need for companies to carefully performance manage employees working in this manner. Involvement and consultation with remote employees with relevant company business will be very important to establish a cohesion across the organisation. Training and promotion opportunities must be carefully communicated and regular meetings, whether face-to-face or via teleconferencing, will allow remote teams to stay in touch.
Training for line managers in managing remote teams will be essential. The policies of the organisation should also reflect this change in how employees are managed and should conduct themselves.
The ability to work flexibly in this manner will obviously not be for everyone, i.e. those workers who, by the very nature of the work they do, have to work on site e.g. factory workers, nurses, shop assistants. However, for those roles that this type of work is ideal for, such as IT, HR, marketing, finance, the possibilities are endless.
Organisations that fail to recognise the benefits of this type of working and its likelihood of growth will sadly miss out in more ways than one. They could start to experience severe retention problems as employees vote with their feet and search for roles in more progressive companies that value this concept.
Sandra Beale is an HR consultant. For more information, please visit her website.