Being Flexible also makes you Stronger

Posted by Robin at 7:03 PM on Sep 5, 2013


Flexibility in Action

A recent survey undertaken by ComRes on behalf of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and the Professional Contractors Group (PCG) highlighted the value of flexible working policies in helping companies to emerge from recession stronger. In the survey of 158 MPs and more than 2000 members of the public ComRes found that 71% of the public and 78% of MPs believed that those companies that adopted flexible working had come out of the recession better than they would have otherwise.

Over the past 10 years I have observed global Blue Chips’ perceptions of the value of workforce flexibility move from being a ‘nice to have’, seen primarily as a sideshow to the employee benefit package, to a significant competitive advantage achieved through the benefits of improved attraction of the best staff, cost efficiencies achieved from its implementation and increased resource flexibility in challenging economic times.

“But it’s different for us. Small and Medium Sized organisations simply can’t afford to make flexible working more available.” I hear you say.

I think the question is can you afford not to?

I understand this view. Quite reasonably, the majority of SMEs see flexible working simply as a cost forced on them by legislation. And that is their experience: ‘employee A’ falls into this category or that category and now needs a new working arrangement and you have to move all of your work structures around to accommodate this new idea.

But, and it’s a big but, this view is missing the massive opportunity that embracing flexible working can offer all employers – whatever your organisation’s size.

In reality, flexible working offers great opportunities for organisations to reduce costs, improve business performance, reduce your carbon footprint and enhance your employer brand (what it means to work at your organisation in terms of attracting and retaining employees). Cost savings and revenue enhancements jump out of increased staff productivity, improvements in space allocation, reduced travel costs, improved staff satisfaction, reduced absenteeism, greater willingness to go above and beyond the contract, etc., etc.,.

The business case for flexible working the smart way is, in fact, very strong.

So, given the choice, which of these benefits are you not interested in!?

Flexibility, an organisation formed in 1993 to promote awareness of the opportunities that flexible working offers, has created a fabulous guide for organisations to help them take advantage of the benefits on offer. The Smart Working Handbook is available for download free by clicking here.

To help you on this journey I have distilled what I consider to be the top 10 tips to make Flexible Working work for your organisation.

  1. Build a strategy. We are nearly all aware of the legislation that makes us respond to flexible work requests from employees in certain categories but being a reactive organisation is no way to take advantage of this opportunity and integrate cost reducing, business performance improving, carbon footprint reducing or employment brand enhancing practices into our day to day activities. A thoughtful and deliberate approach will be much more successful.
  2. Challenge wasteful practices. Making a target of reducing practices that waste your time and resources puts your business’s performance at the heart of the strategy.
  3. Embrace a continuous improvement culture. Changing everything at once will make the journey more difficult. By seeing this journey as continuous your organisation will acquire the mind-set to become continually adaptive to the changing opportunities that are presented to it.
  4. Aim to make flexibility the norm and not the exception. By opening up the flexible working opportunity to all of your employees you will multiply the returns for your organisation and, equally important, lay the foundations for a more inclusive culture where flexibility is available to all rather than just the chosen ones.
  5. Shift your management culture to measure performance by results rather than presence. This is not such a radical shift for most organisations since the management skills required are the same but, nonetheless, it is an important step to be able to manage increasing flexibility in the workplace whilst empowering your employees to take more responsibility
  6. Let your employees share the responsibility for making flexible working work. Flexibility is a two-way street and it is important that you embed the flexibility to vary working arrangements to meet your service delivery needs as well. For it to work, flexibility has to deliver both personal and business value.
  7. Embrace collaborative technologies. We are living through a period of rapid change on the workplace technology scene and there are some great new and low cost technologies coming through now that can increase connectivity and collaboration across your workforce. Sometimes there is no better solution than a face to face activity but particularly for routine, information sharing processes and increasingly for idea generating processes the new technologies could make a big difference to how much flexibility your workplace could absorb.
  8. Involve your employees on the journey. This has many benefits but principally you’re building something that will work (because they helped design it) and the marketing back to your employees (telling them what a great employer you are) is built right into the consultation process. Win – Win all around!
  9. Measure the return on your investment. As with any venture that requires an investment, knowing at the outset what measures you will be using to determine your relative success is critical to appreciating its value.
  10. Start at the top. Having a programme of change like this will reap the greatest reward if it is whole-heartedly supported from the top of your organisation down since, with that support, everyone is clear of the intent on delivery.

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