The benefits of flexible working

Contributed by AXA PPP healthcare

Many may dream of avoiding long commutes by working from home, but how do businesses fare in the flexible working structure debate?

Flexible working is a theme that’s gained a lot of traction in recent years, but ultimately simply refers to a way of working to suit an employee’s needs.

This can mean making adjustments to start and finish times to allow an employee time to drop off/pick up a child from school, or even working from home where necessary.

This simple gesture can improve an employee’s loyalty to their employer, and make them feel more motivated. It can also have the added benefit of making them feel less stressed. And any improvement to their health and wellbeing is ultimately good for business.

How popular is it?

A lot of employers are starting to offer flexible working as a perk, but many are happier sticking with the traditional nine-to-five office hours approach. A Powwownow survey found that 47% of employees don’t have a flexible working structure encouraged at their workplace.

However, any employee that has worked for the same employer for 26 weeks is eligible to request a flexible working structure – and employers are obliged to deal with applications for flexible working in a reasonable manner.

Is it better to be flexible?

Flexible working acknowledges that employees have a life outside of the office, and a nine-to-five job plus a commute can take up a considerable portion of the day.

The Powwownow survey also found that almost 45% of people spend over an hour commuting a day, which can lead to increased stress levels – 66% of commuters say they feel stressed or flustered at least once a week. Flexible working can enable employees to travel at off-peak times or avoid dreaded journeys altogether.

Parents and carers often need a more flexible approach to working hours to allow them to fulfil all of their obligations, and many other employees appreciate the flexibility simply as a perk. In fact, 67% of employees wish they were offered flexible working.

It can also be a handy tool when it comes to recruitment and staff retention – 70% of respondents to the survey claimed that being offered a flexible working structure makes a job more attractive to them. In addition, 30% of people would rather have flexible working than a pay rise – so it can be a cost-effective way to make employees feel valued at work.

Naturally, some managers will always be concerned that employees are more likely to be idle when they are not under close scrutiny. However, 58% of people believe that working away from the office would actually make them feel more motivated.

What about the drawbacks?

One drawback to the scheme comes in if an employee cannot be trusted to work off-site. Managing home workers can be tricky, and indeed around 56% of people in the survey believe that managers need to learn skills to manage a remote workforce. Of course, if an employee is responsible for their own workload, the incentive is there to get everything done on time.

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Another drawback is if an employee is absolutely required in the office. For example, IT support, or a member of a team that often works collaboratively might be able to achieve more from the office. However, there are lots of tools available to help employees work remotely, such as web conferencing, online messaging and cloud applications for file sharing.

Overall, there are so many potential advantages to a flexible working structure that it’s worth considering. Most employers would be glad to see an improvement in their employees’ health and wellbeing, if not for their sake then for the business – reduced stress levels and increased motivation is good news for the bottom line.

How can you support your home-based workers?

Help get them set up in their home

Visit your employees and make sure that they have a good working space, with a desk and chair set up to ensure they’re sitting comfortably and their posture is right. You should also ensure they have the easy access to resources such as technology, IT support and HR.

Keep up the communication

To help identify wellbeing issues and offer the appropriate support to home-workers, there must be sufficient lines of communication in place. Make sure that you book in those face-to-face meetings that virtual meetings can’t always replace. Identify good work that they are doing and highlight it to others; recognition is a positive motivation. For employees that can feel isolated and miss the social interaction, you could also set up an instant messaging service which would support real-time communication with others in the business.

You must get the balance of communication right; enough that employees feel connected but not so much that they feel watched. Remember though, some people need more communication than others, so get the balance right for each person.

Offer the appropriate training

Working at home comes with its own stresses, so offer employees training on how to handle these. This could include online training on issues such as how to balance work and family when your work is your home.

Set up an Employee Assistance Programme

Give your home-based workers easy access to support by setting up an EAP. It can be trickier to identify issues and know when to step in with support when your employees work remotely, but an effectively run EAP can help you with this and provide ways of enabling these employees to deal more effectively with the pressures in their lives.

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