If there’s anything Flow Communications knows lots about, it’s innovation. How many other companies started in a spare bedroom with one client, growing to 60-plus employees in 14 years … with a whole raft of major national awards on the wall and a reputation for quality and class?
Flow prides itself on moving with the times, cherishing transparency and putting our people first – including keeping up with the changing workplace and agile work practices.
It’s a no-brainer that smart devices, wireless technology and the ubiquitous cloud make it possible for people in many professions – including communications – to work anywhere, any time. Who wouldn’t prefer to swap rush-hour traffic for a leisurely session opening your overnight emails in your pyjamas?
The truth is: some of us do just that already, some of the time – and there’s a body of research that shows this not only makes us more productive, it also makes us happier and is good for Flow’s bottom line.
So, looking at global trends, where are we heading?
There’s flexitime (be at the office during core hours – say, 11am to 3pm – but you decide on the rest); home working (you work from home on a set day, or days, every week); remote working (work anywhere, as long as you produce); and compressed hours (think you can fit your full week’s hours into four days?).
Largely unknown in South Africa, but common in Europe, is job-sharing: two employees work part-time at one job to make up a full-time position. (A friend in the United Kingdom is a hospital matron with a counterpart who shares her job – they overlap once a week to make sure each is up to speed with the minutiae of their shared responsibilities.)
How about an annual hours contract? You work a fixed number of hours over the year, but your working day and week vary. And term-time working? Your contract stipulates that you’re free to take paid or unpaid leave during school holidays.
What’s in it for you?
The obvious wins include that you get to cut down on your daily commute (plus the accompanying frustration and stress), save on petrol, gain more freedom during the workday and achieve a better work-life balance.
It certainly seems flexibility makes a job more attractive. UK recruitment company Capability Jane Recruitment says 92% of millennials identify flexibility as a top priority when job hunting; 80% of women and 52% of men want flexibility in their next role; 70% of UK employees feel that flexible working makes a job more attractive to them; and 30% would prefer flexible working to a pay rise.
It’s empowering, too. “Giving employees the freedom to work in their own way shows they are a valued and trusted member of the team. It also empowers them to perform to a high standard and be as productive as possible,” says Sage People vice-president Paul Burrin.
How the company gains
Having fewer staff around at any given time means companies can downscale in terms of office space (translating into lower costs for rent, air-conditioning, electricity and other necessities).
Ironically, not having staff chained to their desks can actually help them bring new perspectives to the job – not to mention making deadlines outside regular hours (website development rush job, anyone?).
The statistics are fascinating: research by Canada Life found that home workers rated their productivity at 7.7 out of 10, compared with 6.5 out of 10 for those working in open-plan offices.
Cardiff University research showed that nearly 40% of people who mostly work from home often put in extra hours to complete their tasks, compared with less than a quarter of those in fixed workplaces.
A recent Association of Accounting Technicians poll compared the productivity of 1 500 workers who set their own hours or location against 500 who did not, finding that a quarter of respondents worked longer hours in their flexi-routine. Of those who moved to a flexible schedule, 21% said they were “much more productive”.
It’s a culture thing
The UK-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says companies offering flexibility are able to recruit and retain a broader talent pool and experience lower attrition, leading to financial gains and competitive advantage. Employees are also “more likely to be flexible for the organisation and show more loyalty”.
Other benefits, says the CIPD, include more efficient ways of working, the creation of a positive working culture, less work-related stress, reduced absenteeism and a more diverse workforce.
A one-size-fits-all approach is impossible, maintains PwC’s United States “people experience leader”, Anne Donovan. “There’s merit in letting teams figure out what works best for them, as long as they deliver excellent work, on time.”
Flexibility should apply to all employees, not just one segment, she says. “One person’s reasons for needing flexibility are not more or less important than any other person’s.”
Trust should not have to be earned. “If you trust an individual enough that you hired them, you also should trust them to get their work done when and where they prefer, as long as they meet deadlines,” says Donovan.
Mind the pitfalls
The cons of implementing flexible working in the workplace could include employers feeling a lack of control and/or awareness of the work being carried out, says Hakan Enver, managing director of global recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley. He adds that “a lack of contact with colleagues at the office could limit the cohesiveness of teams and exchange of ideas”.
“Employers could lay themselves open to discrimination claims if they only agree [to] flexible working requests for parents and carers, or vice versa. They will need to make ‘value judgements’ that are not limited to the personal reasons behind the request,” Enver says.
One survey showed that some employees worried that colleagues would think they were “work-shy” for not being in the office regularly, or be envious of their work-life balance. Others felt isolated or concerned they would be passed over for promotions or other responsibilities.
There are practical considerations, too. Is the company culture geared to home working? Are all staff members set up properly to work efficiently and productively from home – do they have good internet and an appropriate workstation?
Staff well-being is another priority. The UK government, for example, has guidelines to ensure that home workers are protected under the country’s health and safety law.
Keeping it all together
Everyone’s online all the time, but teams still do have to get together in person. In a flexible setup, times must be scheduled for everyone to be at the office for meetings, one-on-ones, brainstorming sessions and other teamwork.
In the light of many global research studies carried out so far, it seems the future lies in new office layouts and “hot-desking”, but the space must be “agile” so people can talk, work together and solve problems.
Think break-out and meeting rooms for face-to-face and Skype meetings and for conference calls, or even just to work undisturbed in a quiet space. Flow’s vibrant Rosebank offices and colourful small meeting rooms already set the trend.
What does this mean for Flowstars?
All these statistics and studies matter a lot to Flow. One of the company’s goals for this year is to explore innovation in our workplace: when, where and how we will be working in the future.
Flow plans to start piloting various flexible options in our teams. Watch this space!