What does ‘flexible working’ mean today?
For many, escaping the office 9-to-5 is a distant dream, but recent research shows that, for many workers around the world, it is now a reality. Indeed, two million Britons work from home, a 27% increase from 10 years ago. Swedish workers are encouraged to make a 6-hour working day their norm and in Finland, access to flexible working has even become part of their legal system. Microsoft Japan even trialled a four-day working week recently, and found it increased productivity dramatically.
An Airtasker report reveals that there are benefits to homeworking beyond saving money on commuting: increased productivity, less distraction and better health are just some examples. However, the downfalls can’t be disregarded: homeworkers also risk isolation from colleagues and added stress from the blurring of home and work.
Flexible working is a relatively recent phenomenon for the vast majority of people. Laura (55), Lane4’s Commercial Director, was one of the first people in her company to have ‘flexible working’:
“When I started my career there was no such thing as working from home. I remember when I went on maternity leave I was given a computer – a great, big beige thing – with email, which at the time was very exciting because I’d never had an email address before. Unfortunately, the only other person at the company with a computer was the CEO, so he would just send me messages asking how I was doing because he had no one else to email!”
“Technology is the main factor behind the rise of flexible working. Before video conferencing, you had to be physically present for the vast majority of meetings and I can assure you that, being on a leadership team, you have a lot of meetings.”
Today, videoconferencing and email are as important to our working day as pen and paper were for previous generations. By allowing instant communication over any distance, these technologies have liberated teams from the limits of geography. Today, 46% of organisations have teams that primarily interact virtually, and 41% of people in virtual teams have never met face-to-face.
Flexible working – a series
Over the coming weeks, we will delve into the home vs. office debate to try and answer what benefits and risks each pose. In this first blog, we explore what flexible working means to different generations. Next week, we put the office-aficionados against the hygge-homebodies to get both perspectives of the debate. And in our final blog, we investigate flexible working from an employer perspective, dissecting cultural factors, benefits and the future of flexible working.
But first, we need to determine what flexible working actually means. Most people associate flexi-working with working from home, but it actually opens up many more options than that, such as choice of location, hours, attire and work rhythm more generally. Some companies are now even offering flexibility of equipment and holiday. We interviewed Lane4 colleagues to get a sense of how different generations view flexible working.
What does flexible working mean to people at Lane4?
Our interviewees are Lane4 employees spanning across the generations, from Millennials to Gen X. They belong to a variety of departments, each with different role requirements and expectations that affect their relationship to the office. We asked each of them what flexible working means to them and how they feel about working from home.
Natalie, 36, Marketing and Communications Director
Flexible working means I have the freedom to manage my time as I see fit to achieve my deliverables, targets and ambitions. Since becoming a mother I’ve chosen (after some trial and error) to operate in a far more fluid manner, as the idea of a hard-and-fast clocking on and off time is outdated and certainly wouldn’t maximise my contribution to or engagement with work.
Laura, 55, Commercial Director
For me, flexible working is the ability to manage my working day so that I’m in the best place to do what’s needed and make the most productive use of my time. I’m not a big fan of working from home, the main reason being that is you risk losing some of that team cohesion that comes from working alongside people every day.
Jeremy, 30, Senior Consultant
I believe that flexible working is where someone has elasticity in how they perform their role (hours or location for example) whilst still being accountable for their goals and expectations. The societal default is to come to an office to work, but I think that’s the wrong way around: we should look at how employees need to work to hit their peak productivity, and then consider the best way to facilitate that.
Joe, 27, Client-Solutions Coordinator
I see flexible working as a way of combining work with those hard-to-move occasions in everyday life – doctor’s appointments, important deliveries, that sort of thing. I don’t think everyone working from home is the right goal as it doesn’t create the right culture at work. It should be for important events and not taken advantage of.
Nicola, 25, Talent Acquisition Coordinator
Flexible working to me isn’t just working from home or soft hours, it’s being able to do your work whenever and wherever is best for you to be the most efficient. I don’t think we should all work from home; some roles should be office-based due to the nature of their work, such as internal functions like IT or reception staff.
Everybody has a different relationship to work, and flexible working allows individuals to recognise their preferences and maximise their output accordingly. For some people that might mean carrying on as before in the office, for others that might mean logging on at home at 6:30am.
The views above provide a glimpse into the debate over the future of the workplace, and in the next blog we explore the extremes of opinion. It’s easy to assume that younger people will be more averse to office working, but as we can see it is not quite that simple. Check back next week to learn about the benefits of both sides of the debate: homeworking and office working.
Questions for business leaders to think about…
– What does flexible working mean for your business and employees?
– Have your employees’ attitudes towards flexible working changed in the last 10 years? If so, how?
– How could flexible working benefit your business?