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How to make flexible working a success in your business

Insight

13 November 2019

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31% of employees say they would rather have access to flexible working than a pay-rise.1 This may seem surprising, but it is testament to a rising trend of valuing work-life balance over financial rewards.

Flexible working means working anytime, anywhere, with a focus on output rather than hours. This approach can increase focus and efficiency,2 as well as providing employees with a better work-life balance. From this perspective, it isn’t surprising that 73% of working millennials are adopting some form of flexible working.3

The benefits aren’t only for employees, however: although often overlooked, flexible working does yield considerable rewards for businesses. Facilitating flexibility is in the best interest of business leaders: employees who work flexibly are more productive, as well as healthier and happier, meaning they take less sick leave and are less prone to absenteeism.1

With UK law obliging companies to consider flexible working on request,4 leaders will need to consider how they could implement some degree of flexible working in their businesses, if only to stay relevant to potential employees.

Although the case for flexible working is a strong one, it can feel daunting to make large-scale changes to working rhythm. Indeed, a CIPD report found business leaders implementing flexible working have concerns regarding managerial efficiency, operational pressures and existing organisational culture.3 This blog aims to relieve these worries by providing clear steps to implementing flexible working so that it successfully delivers the benefits promised.

Our flexible working blog series started off by exploring how flexible working has emerged as a new way of finding a work-life balance and how it has rapidly become a key player in many people’s daily routines. We then delved into the benefits and costs of the home vs office debate, concluding that the optimum for most employees and businesses resides in a combination of the two.

How can business leaders make the change to flexible working a success and get the most from this approach? Our research and interviews with colleagues have determined four steps business leaders can take to maximise the success of flexible working.

1. Put trust at the forefront of your leadership

Instilling trust within virtual teams is essential to ensuring flexible working is a benefit, and not a cost, to efficiency: leaders must believe that their team can be equally efficient at meeting their deadlines away from the office.

The control flexible working affords employees demands that leaders afford them enough trust to relinquish daily management. Being able to determine one’s working hours and location means employees feel they are accomplishing their job on their own terms, which is beneficial to their productivity and commitment. Although this may seem daunting as a leader, it is paramount to the success of flexible working.

The theory of planned behaviour in psychology suggests that when people have higher perceived control over a behaviour (here, it would be their work), their intentions and attitudes towards that behaviour are better.5 Flexible working, therefore, motivates and engages employees more than traditional work otherwise would. 

When employees feel trusted by their leaders, they repay that trust by performing as well or better than they would in the office.6 This, alongside actively building trust into virtual teams, means that leaders can confidently deploy flexible working without concern that efficiency will be compromised.

Action: Agree with your employees what output you expect of them, and what support they can expect from you. The aim should be that, wherever an employee is working, they understand their goals and targets, and feel trusted to meet them using the hours and location they see fit.

2. Change attitudes towards flexible working

Challenging the belief that if people aren’t working in the office from 9-5, they aren’t working as hard, is crucial to the success of flexible working.

Natalie, Marketing and Communication Director, shares the challenges she faced when she decided to adopt a more fluid approach to working between the office and home:

“I still sometimes feel guilty leaving ‘early’, but I think that’s more about me than the business – it’s a hangover from an outdated presenteeism mindset.”

Changing a historic narrative around work habits is no small feat. The change needed for flexible working to be successful, however, doesn’t have to be complex. Small changes can make a big impact. Research indicates that, in a meeting of three people, the most emotionally expressive person’s mood will be transmitted to the two others. In the same way, leaders can challenge attitudes towards flexible working by positively promoting it.

Action: Openly expressing positivity about flexible working can start changing beliefs. Instilling this positivity long term involves providing employees with a clear understanding of the strategic thinking behind the introduction of flexible working. This could be done by organising a team meeting on the subject and explaining the benefits each team member can gain from flexible working to promote positive momentum around the topic.  

3. Shift focus to the purpose 

Flexible working doesn’t just require a shift in behaviours – it necessitates a shift in mentality. As the focus for employees moves from hours worked to output achieved, the focus for leaders should shift from raw financial gain to a broader vision of the purpose of the organisation.

Leaders can communicate their view of the company’s purpose as a way to galvanise employees around shared goals and ambition. If employees are engaged and have shared aspirations in their work, the team will support and encourage one another. This has the potential to dispel any judgement or scepticism around colleagues adopting flexible working, and instead turn it into a positive way people are optimising their productivity.  

Action: Communicate your vision of the organisation’s purpose. If you can galvanise your team around a shared motivation, then the focus will shift from clocking hours to building something exciting, together.

4. Don't underestimate the power of organisational culture 

The benefits of flexible working don’t mean you should just up sticks and sell your office, however. The positive effects of employees sharing a workspace are considerable, and even the most pro-flexibility leaders should strive to make the office a place where employees want to be.

Staff attitudes towards flexible working can closely be linked to the organisational culture within the workplace. If the culture is one which nurtures curiosity, encourages collaboration and breeds authentic relationships, employees will feel motivated to spend time in the office. If, on the other hand, the workplace is a hub of one-upmanship, judgement and silos, there is a higher risk of flexible working turning into an excuse for employees to isolate themselves.

Action: Role model the behaviours and values you wish your organisation to embody. For example, at Lane4 one of our values is being people champions. Our Managing Director, Adrian Moorhouse, role-models this by meeting with all new employees and giving them time to introduce themselves, ask him any questions and get to know him. By role-modelling the behaviour you wish your employees to display, you will, over time, nurture an organisational culture that motivates people to be in the office, and deliver high results wherever they “log-on”.

Going forwards...

Whether you like it or loathe it, flexible working is now part of working life. An ability and a willingness to offer it as a benefit is an increasingly crucial part of any organisation’s employer value proposition, but flexible working isn’t just a talent acquisition consideration. As this blog series has shown, evidence is growing that productivity and output are improved, not diminished, by avoiding a rigid, “clocking in” culture.

If you’ve enjoyed this series, please follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for all the latest insights and updates from Lane4.

If you want to change your culture to enable flexible working, or need help building trust into your organisation, find out more here.

 

[1] https://www.thehrdirector.com/features/flexible-working/benefits-introducing-flexible-working/

[2] https://www.airtasker.com/blog/the-benefits-of-working-from-home/

[3] https://www.breathehr.com/blog/how-to-implement-and-manage-flexible-working-hours

[4] https://www.gov.uk/flexible-working

[5] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08870446.2011.613995

[6] https://hbr.org/2017/07/want-your-employees-to-trust-you-show-you-trust-them

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