In an era when clients are looking for a better, faster, longer service delivery plan, how is it possible without a flexible working workforce?
Flexibility should be on the agenda for all companies, not only as part of HR’s remit but driven by a desire to create more innovative, efficient and effective businesses. As of 30 June 2014 everyone has the right to request flexible working, although it is yet to be seen how this works in practice.
The number of people who would like to work flexibly is rarely the issue but businesses are reluctant to create flexible working practices, usually because of the perceived burden on management’s time and the belief that flexible working creates inefficiencies. But surely this is just a logistical issue?
To start with we need to consider a few reasons why flexibility becomes a burden for managers:
- Communication: It takes more effort to communicate when members of the team are not working from the same office. There is greater reliance on email and phone calls rather than face-to-face conversations.
- Scheduling: How do you manage a team that works on a different shift patterns from multiple locations? You will need more extensive technology, including management tools, to keep in contact with the team and to ensure work is on schedule.
People often assume flexibility equals reduced pay, reduced responsibility and reduced career progression but here are some ways to make flexibility work for all.
Job-sharing: can bring double the skills and experience to solve a problem, often with not much additional cost – often people sharing a job have complementary skills which can often provide benefits beyond one FTE. Other benefits are reduction in office space costs with sharing of desk space. It can also actually be more productive for a business with job sharers prepared to cover each other during periods of holiday or leave.
Flexi-work or compressed hours: gives flexibility without the rigidity of a three or four day work and the equated reduction in salary. If there is transparency from both manager and employee it can be possible to flex hours to manage the ebb and flow and differing volumes of work.
It is arguable that a business that has good flexibility will have lower rates of staff turnover, sickness and stress and higher levels of productivity. When people feel they have the time to give to all areas of their lives they feel more positive about their workplace. Better morale equals better output for the business.
Nowadays clients expect a 24/7 service, which has put greater operational strains on some companies. Employers are seeing issues with their supply of labour, including costs and employee demands for a greater work-life balance.
At Halebury, when running a team remotely we have found it useful to consider the flexible model from all angles to achieve streamline and transparent solutions.
To ensure continued involvement and good communication, you may, for example, need to give your team more control and greater ownership and tie their remuneration and/or incentive plan into that.
For flexibility to work in the long-term it has to be sustainable and well thought-out. This means as well as making it work from a logistically point of view, you also have to ensure you create a model which considers all areas of operation and the overall structure, growth strategy and long-term needs of the business.
All of these processes take time to consider and set up, but, in the long-term, the potential cost efficiencies and increased productivity may be worth it.
Managing the process
Overall, once the process and infrastructure has been put into practice, whether that is implementing new technology or a change to the corporate structure, the next step is to ensure that the managers manage that process effectively. It is not easy.
Mangers will often need to learn a new operating system and ensure their teams have complete buy-in. They need to be given time, training and support, and work through any teething issues. Once the system is set up, you should be able to see the employees who truly fit your new model and those who do not.
Lead from the top
For flexible working to succeed there needs to be a supportive culture. Managers need to lead from the top – to organise effectively, to communicate clearly, be transparent and open minded, and to trust their team.
Janvi Patel is the Co-Founder and Chairwoman of third generation law firm Halebury.