At the beginning of the year, Citrix sponsored a report from Lancaster University which identified 2017 as the tipping point of flexible work becoming the expected norm, rather than the exception for a specific few.
With 50% of companies working flexibly by 2017, and a projected 70% of companies adopting flexible work by 2020 (Working Anywhere by the Work Foundation), this report reinforces the trajectory of the majority of companies reaching a point where flexible work is a real phenomenon which becomes unstoppable.
The pace of change has increased over the past few months. We need to turn up the dial and spin the conversation around, so that we are talking about the benefits and advantages for business that can be clearly noted from a raft of research.
With campaigns, legislation and research all pointing to the benefits of flexible work, with technology facilitating collaboration and workplace flexibility, what is blocking wider adoption?
Making flexible work
Voices have been getting louder this year in calling for a shift in thinking about flexible work. Over the last couple of months we have seen a series of research and campaigns, all raising their voices in the belief that flexible working is the way forward and calling for more support to make this happen – and now.
October’s National Work Life Balance Week 2016 gave an opportunity for employers to showcase their flexible working policies and practices, and saw the launch of the annual benchmarking survey Top Employers for working families, which highlights some excellent examples of where flexible work is transforming the work and lives of employers and employees alike.
At the same time, The Equality and Human Rights Commission has launched a new national campaign, led by British business, and designed to make workplaces the best they can be for pregnant women and new mothers. A coalition of businesses, leading the way on pregnancy and maternity rights for employees, will share advice, knowledge, and expertise with their peers.
At the recent Conservative Party Conference, Theresa May announced a major review of workers’ rights, saying she wants to be certain that employment regulation and practices are keeping pace with the changing world of work, including the growth of part-time work and the use of self-employed staff by companies such as Uber and Deliveroo.
And individual campaigns from companies supporting flexible work, such as #Hirememyway and #Workthatworks, are driving awareness by highlighting issues such as the potential £62.5 billion boost to the UK economy that more widespread flexible work could bring.
Let's talk about business perception
The real debate now must tackle company culture and perception, as the evidence is stacked in favour of flexible work being the best way forward for companies as well as individuals.
What can we do further to highlight the benefits of a motivated, energised and effective workforce waiting to make a positive impact within a flexible work pattern?
While many employers are convinced of the benefits and the great match between the current business climate and committed flexible workers, barriers remain.
Some employers have a fear of change in the workplace, are concerned that managers and supervisors are ill equipped to manage flexible workers, are worried about the abuse of policies, or the fear that treating all employees equally might lead to a fully part-time workforce.
On the contrary, introduced as a key part of your business strategy, a robust implementation of flexible work will make a major contribution to your business and in turn your bottom line.
With careful planning, training managers in how to supervise and develop flexible workers, and trust on both sides, the barriers are clearly floored by the benefits. And the quality of the candidates you will open your doors to will improve your chances of making exactly the right hires to drive your business success.
Where do we go from here?
Availability of technology is driving the change, individuals are increasingly seeing the benefits and the appeal, but organisations hold the key to making it happen. Rather than seeing the requests for flexible working as a challenge to the status quo, employers need to embrace and instigate flexible working as a positive move.
Which company wouldn’t want increased productivity, improved employee well-being, the ability to attract and retain the best talent, and reduction in costs?
What we really need now is strong and enlightened leadership to set a culture of trust and enablement combined with a focus on results rather than presenteeism.
Learn lessons from the early adopters and the innovators, but don’t get left behind as working culture tips towards flexible work being mainstream.
Be part of the solution
With all the hard evidence of these positive examples, where are companies looking when it comes to solving issues such as the chronic shortage of talent and the need to be increasingly competitive in a difficult and rapidly-changing business environment?
Where senior leaders champion flexible work practices, their companies are in a better position to meet changing demands from many sectors of the population, and will be best placed to attract and retain the best talent.
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- McDonald Butler, a strategic B2B sales and marketing agency specialising in the IT and technology sector, were overwhelmed by the quality of applicants for a recently advertised role as HR Manager, and were able to choose the best candidate from a very strong shortlist.
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Employers who change their perceptions and act now will give themselves a competitive advantage, and as higher visibility leads to better understanding and wider adoption, strong leadership with careful planning, education and trust will continue to realise the business benefits of tapping into this highly skilled workforce.
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