James Manning, business development manager at Auto:time Solutions, considers the importance of offering flexible working to ensure organisations gain, and keep, that competitive edge.
Offering staff flexible working arrangements has previously been an overlooked business consideration and the potential benefits it brings has been particularly undervalued. However, having a productive workforce in place has become increasingly important as companies strive to be more competitive.
The traditional working week of nine-to-five, Monday to Friday, is gradually becoming a thing of the past and having strict working hours in place is proving inadequate to meet the demands of modern day practices.
Yet despite this, many companies are still failing to recognise how incorporating flexible working patterns, such as flexi-time and home working, into their strategies can have a profound impact on their business efficiency and overall success.
So why is this?
Part of the problem is that the myth that senior jobs can only be done full-time in an office still persists in many organisations. A workforce that works flexible hours rather than set times brings with it managerial challenges and many feel that it is simply easier to monitor and motivate staff with a physical presence in the office.
In the case of home workers, an underlying stigma that staff will simply have lie-ins, watch daytime television all day and do nothing still remains strong, when in fact the reality is quite the opposite. While adopting home working practices means it is difficult to oversee employees at all times, fewer distractions and less commuting time to the office can result in staff getting more work done.
According to research, the average home worker spends almost seven hours a day working, with 15 per cent spending more than 10 hours a day in fruitful employment.
At present over 3.4 million people, about 12 per cent of the working population, work from home either regularly or permanently, which is half a million more than a decade ago.
And this figure will rise considerably in the near future if businesses reassess their current working methods and begin to recognise that the diverse benefits of adopting smarter working practices far outweigh the risks involved. They need to accept that it is outputs that matter; how and where they are achieved should not be an issue.
A worthwhile investment
For companies looking for a competitive edge, adopting a flexible approach can prove to be an extremely welcome addition and worthwhile investment. Permitting employees to work office hours that suit them, or at home if need be, opens up the possibility for organisations to employ high calibre staff from a wider pool of applicants.
It is also a good way to improve staff morale and improve the retention of employees, especially those with childcare responsibilities and mothers on maternity leave who are often driven out of work from companies where rigid working hours are in place. A flexible approach will allow them to combine high-level work with family commitments.
Technology is vital to implementing a successful flexible workforce. Advancements in broadband internet connections and plummeting computer prices have certainly contributed to the trend of working away from the office. This, together with innovations in time management solutions, means companies can now install bespoke systems to manage remote staff effectively and monitor their performance on productivity as well as hours worked.
Morgan Motor Company Ltd is just one company that has reaped the benefits of implementing a flexible working structure. They recently commissioned Auto:time Solutions to install a Zeus 3rd Generation system into their IT infrastructure, to enable staff to work flexi-time.
Sarah Baldwin, HR manager, Morgan Motor Company
Sarah Baldwin, HR manager at Morgan Motor Company, says: "At Morgan we understand that our employees want to enjoy a challenging work role, but also fulfil other commitments in their lives outside of the office.
"We have found that offering flexibility not only helps staff balance their life and work more effectively, by allowing them to work hours that suit them, but also provides the company with a motivated, loyal and committed workforce."
Good flexible working arrangements need planning but need not be difficult. Phasing in a flexible working pattern on a small scale can allow companies to experience the benefits first hand.
Often splitting time between home and the workplace is the most productive solution as it keeps staff involved and doesn't isolate them from employee relations. One way to phase the system in is to invite staff to experiment compressing their hours to see if such a system works for them.
The way people work is rapidly changing and for many employees it is now completely different to how they worked only a few years ago. Employers need to be increasingly open and creative in their employment practices. Whether this is accommodating employees working hours or allowing them to work from home, the opportunities in allowing staff to have the smallest of freedoms is proving worthwhile. You never know, your staff may be more productive as a result.