19th July 2021
There have been quite a few reports in the press discussing
what working life will look like as we slowly emerge from the pandemic. There’s
a range of views as well. Some suggest the majority of employees are desperate
to get back to the office five days a week: others claim that most employees would
prefer never to return to a workplace again. What does seem apparent from the bulk
of the research though is that the appetite for a more flexible way of working
has increased. And given its potential to help develop a more diverse
workforce, that could be a real positive.
First of all, it’s worth distinguishing between flexible working and remote working. Flexible working is the general term that refers to when an employee has some choice over issues such as work location, hours and/or pattern. Remote working is one form of flexible working, reflecting the fact that a person is doing their work in a place other than on company premises. People can work remotely from a whole host of locations: at home, in co-working office premises used by different businesses, or at a customer’s site for example.
And clearly not every role will lend itself to being done flexibly. In some cases, it’s entirely reasonable for an employer to have to specify the location, hours or working pattern. But some positions could have the potential to be done in a more flexible way. By being prepared to consider that possibility, a recruiting employer can widen the net.
There might be candidates out there who would be perfect for a role but who might screen themselves out simply because of the restrictions on the way the job has to be done. Greater flexibility could address that. Someone with caring responsibilities might find flexibility over working hours makes it easier for them to balance their work and home life. If someone lives in a rural location, the option of home working could mean they can do a role they have all the skills for but that would otherwise be too difficult logistically. Certain health conditions might make commuting difficult, or office premises harder to access, but a more flexible approach would mean a role could be adapted to suit requirements.
With some thought, employers can shape roles to deliver what they need operationally while making them more accessible (and more likely to increase people’s engagement levels longer term too).
It is important to recognise that flexible working will not be for everyone. Some people might prefer to be in a workplace, perhaps benefiting from the collaborative atmosphere it can provide. Some people will prefer the fact that they can leave their work behind as they depart from the work premises at the end of the day, rather than struggling with the boundary blurring that can be an issue for those who use their home for work. Other people might like the routine of a nine to five position.
But for many people, the prospect of flexibility will be appealing. As well as widening the net to attract more diverse talent, there are many other benefits to flexible working such as increased productivity levels, improved employee retention levels and higher employee engagement. It can help employees to do their best work, by making sure they are working in environments that are most conducive to them performing at their best. It can mean less stress and greater job satisfaction. This CIPD research highlights better wellbeing thanks to avoiding commutes and having greater choice over hours. The reduction in distractions was welcomed too, and the report also mentions how an increased use of technology opened up opportunities for greater inclusion.
But there are challenges as well. Organisations considering more flexible arrangements will need to address issues such as effective leadership and management from a distance. How can teams collaborate and keep the communications flowing even when they aren’t physically together due to location or different working hours? If employees are working from home, is there a dedicated working space available that will be free from distractions? Will broadband speeds be up to the job? And how will it leave people feeling in the same organisation if they cannot work flexibly? A manufacturing team, for instance, may be less than impressed if the office-based staff are never physically present. Without the usual flow and rhythms of the working day, it can be harder for employees to stay motivated and focused on the task in hand too.
But of course, flexible working doesn’t have to be an all or nothing arrangement and that may be where the best solutions lie. As the CIPD suggests, it seems likely that most companies will move towards a more blended style of working. That will enable employees to have a hybrid arrangement where some days are spent in the office and other days elsewhere: maybe with some set days and hours when a team needs to be physically together for collaborative work, or to ensure there is always someone present in the office while others work from home.
Organisations will still need to think about the practicalities, like increased use of technology and the provision of necessary office equipment. But working arrangements could be organised to make sure these requirements aren’t too onerous, given that employees could have at least some time together and also have access to office facilities.
It seems fair to conclude that there is no single ‘best way’. Flexible working opportunities will vary depending on company, role and employee.
But whatever way it could work for you, from a talent attraction perspective it’s really important that you think about where the opportunities could lie and then make sure you get those messages across loud and clear in your job advert content. Knowing that you are open to the possibility of flexible working will be a very significant draw for many applicants. And by talking about flexible working options within your job advert, you can expect to significantly increase the quality of applications you receive. By being as open-minded and flexible as possible, your business will be in a strong position to attract the best talent and build an effective and diverse workforce.
If you are interested in finding out how we can help you get your flexible working messages across to catch the eye of the right people, please do contact us for a chat.