The changing workplace - flexible working arrangements

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Our daily lives have become busier with an increased importance on technological advancements designed to make our lives easier. People have become exceedingly focused on improving their experiences in all areas of life.

This focus rarely touches on our working lives. The standard 9-5 is still the standard it was 40 years ago.

An increase in traffic, greenhouse gases and technology has given many reasons for employers and employees to adopt new approaches to the standard working day. Yet it is far less common than not for an employer to actually flexible working arrangements.

What are Flexible Working Arrangements?

  1. Flexible Hours – Instead of working the typical block of 9-5. Flexible hours or Flextime, allows the employee to set his or her start and finish time – within limits determined by management.
  2. Job Sharing – Allows two people to share the responsibilities of one full time job. Another form of part-time work.
  3. Extended periods of Leave – allowing longer periods of leave, especially important for retaining younger staff.
  4. Remote Work/Telecommuting – A portion of the hours or days is spent working from a remote location, generally the home. Some positions can even work exclusively from home. (Entrepreneur).

What are the Benefits for the Employer for Flexible Work Options?

“Only 7% of Workers Say They’re Most Productive in the Office”. (Flexjobs)

Consider this statistic with the fact that our day to day lives are continuously being bombarded with new stresses – with family commitments, work and money topping the list.

If production isn’t likely to be hindered with flexible working arrangements, yet it has a dramatic improvement on work-life balance for the employee, then why isn’t flexibility the new norm?

According to research from professional services firm, Towers Watson, “Employees suffering from high stress levels have lower engagement, are less productive and have higher absenteeism levels than those not working under excessive pressure”.

The most obvious benefit for an employer is employee retainment, improved loyalty and a decrease in the workers overall stress which in turn improves their production.

What are the Benefits for the Employee?

Whether working remotely or working hours better suited to one’s schedule, an employee’s stress and anxiety levels are majorly improved.

Avoiding commute times, managing family arrangements and working around beneficial schedules are all advantages to not only the employee, but the organisation. Remote work and flexible hours allows an employee to be productive in their preferred environment and at the hours that they are best suited to.

What are the Disadvantages?

It wouldn’t be fair to mention the advantages without adding a splash of negativity. Everything has an opportunity cost.

Unfortunately, for some workers, especially customer facing roles, flexible work options aren’t as easy to implement as with other positions. This can cause jealousy and inter-department relations to suffer, particularly if one department is allowed to work remotely or come into work at hours that suits them, and one department cannot.

Reliance on Technology – meetings still need to be held and guidelines need to be set. Collaboration software may need to be implemented throughout the organization to make sure that person Y can still engage with person X.

Taking advantage of the situation – there is always the fear that someone will be watching Netflix with their laptop open instead of actually working. There may be few bad eggs that ruin it for the rest of the workplace – but this is an extreme minority.

Working from home is hard – even if you have a secluded home office, distractions are everywhere – it isn’t a life for everyone. In the end, it’s a case by case scenario.

The pros and cons should be brought to the individual employee to give them the flexibility to choose or not choose a flexible working arrangement.

Implementing a new flexible work program

To first determine whether a flexible work program should be applied, you should consider following these steps prior to, during and post implementation.

  1. Survey your employees to get their thoughts on potential flexible arrangements. Choose the ones that are best suited to both the organization and the employees.
  2. Conduct a trial run first – what was revealed in the survey may not work in practice. Have a test period and analyse the results from the get-go as to whether or not these flexible arrangements should be adopted. Consider the length of the sample before making any rash judgements.
  3. Not every employee will want to utilize these programs. As stated above, 7% of employees feel they are most productive in an office – consider other perks for workers who don’t wish to be involved in the flex-work program.
  4. Train your managers to manage flexible workers – this ties back into collaboration software for maintaining / meeting deadlines.

What works for one company may not work for all. You will have to take a look at your organization to determine what, if any, flexible working arrangements can and should be applied to your company.