At one point or another of our career we have all thought about finding a better balance between our personal and professional life and looked into the flexible working options offered by our employers. Thanks to technology, many of the challenges that made it difficult for organisations to implement flexible working were overcome over the last few years. Employees can now benefit from contract, time and location flexibility with initiatives that go from part-time working and job-sharing to working-at-home, compressed hours and flexitime.
The benefits for the employee are evident: from a personal point of view, they can achieve an improved work-life balance resulting in more quality time to dedicate to their families, travels and/or hobbies. Flexible work also helps avoiding rush hour and, when working from home, cutting the transport and time costs completely. For many families, flexible working also has a positive impact on the expenses for childcare and the need to take extra time off. From a professional point of view, employees feel empowered and more independent when organising their working routines based on their preferences and needs.
On the other hand, it is often more difficult to identify the immediate benefits of implementing a flexible working scheme for organisations. First of all, implementing some of the flexible working options might be tricky from a management point of view, especially when it comes to controlling and assessing productivity. For it to work effectively, it should be introduced gradually and be based on appropriate and efficient processes.
Organisations should move towards an outcome-based performance rather than one based on the amount of time physically spent in the office. This requires high levels of trust and a very collaborative environment were transparency is the norm.
Another barrier that needs to be overcome is that these working options do not necessarily involve hands-on support from managers and requires a certain proactivity and self-discipline on the employees side. In the short term, a lack of ‘traditional’ supervision and guidance might result in employees feeling isolated and without support, at least until they find their autonomy. In the longer term, flexible working should lead to a decreased need for office space, which is one of the most significant overheads, especially for small-and medium-sized businesses.
Key for the success of this working model is to know and trust the employees as well as to understand their working preferences and habits well enough to fine tune the flexible working conditions. Flexible working should not be seen as something useful only for certain categories of professionals like, for example, parents; organisations should look at it as an essential part of their employee retention strategy and a way to increase motivation and productivity. If well integrated with the other business operations, flexible working should create a more attractive workplace, dominated by a culture based on trust and collaboration while still respecting the needs and preferences of employees.
Even though it is clear that, overall, some sectors as well as bigger companies usually are in a better position to implement flexi-time initiatives; in the longer term, all organisations could benefit in some way from these initiatives, thanks to an increased employee satisfaction and lower overhead costs. As a result, businesses will manage to retain a wider pool of committed and more productive employees.