What Next? Pros And Cons Of Offering Flexible Working

Posted in Best Practice Research Thoughts & Culture

Our research shows 87% of employees want flexible working to continue – but will you listen? Should you?

woman in white long sleeve shirt and blue denim shorts sitting on bed using tablet computer

Flexible working had been steadily growing for years pre-COVID, but the traditional workplace still dominated. The CIPD say only around 5% of the workforce worked mainly from home before the pandemic, for instance.

Demand for flexible working was often met with excuses (sometimes reasonable, sometimes not), or employees were fobbed off with “flexibility” that offered little actual flex.

Even where organizations expressed commitment to flexible working, the immaturity of the practice often meant employees lacked the processes, policies, and culture that would guide and support uptake.

 

With COVID, that changed practically overnight. Excuses were sacrificed on the altar of necessity, and entire workforces transitioned – with teething problems but mostly with overwhelming success – to working from home.

 

Now, as office returns become tentatively possible, the question is… what next?

 

If you’ve read our recent Hybrid Workforce Revolution Report, you’ll know the vast majority of employees want flexible working to continue after the pandemic.

But will you listen? Should you?

On the upside: 6 pros of offering flexible working

 

1 – Power employee engagement

man in green crew neck t-shirt sitting on white sofa

87% of respondents to our global research said they wanted flexible working to continue after the pandemic. You know what’s great for engagement? Giving your people what they want 👀.

 

Our research showed the overwhelming majority are either thriving or completely unphased by their current situation – which, when you consider the vast upheaval and turmoil the pandemic has brought, is pretty impressive. Only 17% of employees find it difficult not being in the office daily.

 

This trend is even more apparent among business leaders – a whopping 67% say they’re thriving with the freedom and work-life balance of working from home.

 

2 – Safeguard against turnover

woman in brown sweater sitting beside man in white dress shirt

Of course, the opposite to the above is also true. If you don’t respond to what your people overwhelmingly want, expect them to vote with their feet.

 

In fact, 69% of employees said they’d consider moving jobs if they were forced back to the office. You’re playing with fire if you ignore the stats here. Even if you’re against flexible working (which hopefully this list might help change), a workforce working from home is better than no workforce…

 

3 – Bolster your employer brand

woman in black long sleeve shirt using macbook

So…this 69% of people who’ll consider moving jobs. Where do you reckon they’ll go?

 

To employers who do offer flexibility, of course. 90% of our respondents said flexible work options are critical when considering future roles ­and almost a third wouldn’t even consider a role that didn’t offer flexibility.

 

Can your employer brand survive being on the wrong side? There’ll be winners and losers when the dust settles from all this, marked by a tidal wave of talented people crashing towards flexible employers.

4 – Decrease burnout

girl in white and gray stripe shirt sitting on white wooden table

Gallup say 76% of employees sometimes feel burnt out and 28% feel burnt out very often or always. Our own research echoes that, with 66% of employees and 81% of leaders saying they currently feel burnt out.

 

Gallup also make an interesting point: “how people experience their workload has a stronger influence on burnout than hours worked.”

 

In other words, how people work has a massive impact on burnout.

 

  • In the red corner… long commutes, early starts, unnecessary group meetings, distractions, peer pressure to stay late, managers looking over your shoulder, average canteen lunches or expensive take-out, terrible coffee, social anxiety, work dress codes, missed parcels, childcare…

 

  • In the blue corner… no commute, several hours gained each day to yourself, autonomy, affordable-and-nice homemade lunches, great coffee/tea/whatever you drink, lunchtime dog walks or jogs, comfortable clothes, muting zoom, collecting post when it arrives, having the plumber round, multi-tasking around family needs…

 

That’s not the full story, of course, and there are pros and cons to both. But the truth is, working from an office 9am to 5pm really means giving your life over to work from, say, 6am to 7pm. While working from home means blending your life with work.

 

That’s got to have a big impact on reducing burnout – and curbing the plummeting productivity, spiraling absenteeism, and spiking turnover that come alongside.

5 – Increase productivity

man sits while writing in front of MacBook

There’s a reason employee engagement is jostling for space on most organizations’ corporate agenda right now – and it’s not fluffy or feel-good. It’s cold hard ca$h.

 

Engagement drives productivity, which drives profitability. That’s how come the most engaged business units outperform the least engaged by 21% on productivity and 22% on profitability, as Gallup report.

 

With global productivity stagnating, it makes sense that organizations are laser-focused on any tactic that’ll earn them an edge and galvanize their workforces. Flexible working is one of the biggies.

6 – Support your diversity agenda

 

Talking of the corporate agenda, few line items sit as high as improving diversity – and creating the fair, equitable and inclusive cultures that must come alongside.

 

Allowing your people to work flexibly around their needs is a massive part of that, making work more accessible to groups that might’ve otherwise have struggled or been excluded. Working parents, say, or returners to work, or disabled people who might find physical workspaces or commuting difficult.

 

On the downside…?

 

1 – Flexible working is an experiment

 

When you boil down objections to flexible working, this is normally what you’re left with. Flexible working is a huge experiment and organizations are generally allergic to uncertainty and risk.

 

As a working world, we’ve had decades and decades of experience building processes, buildings, policies, and culture around office-based work – the same’s not true for flexible work.

man in black long sleeve shirt sitting on chair in front of computer

Flexible work has only really been feasible since the technology existed to enable remote collaboration. And we’ve only really optimized that technology in the last few years, arguably even since COVID when we’ve had no choice. COVID has been a tipping point.

 

But let’s not catastrophize.

 

70% of our respondents said their organization is already equipped to manage a hybrid workforce, and another 24% said they’ve got a robust plan in place to get there.

 

Even if you’re in the 6%, the more progress everyone else makes the clearer the path for you to follow. It’s a learning curve, sure, but we back you 😉.

 

Plus – what’s the worst that can happen?

 

If you don’t offer flexible working, there are a whole heap of benefits you’re leaving on the table, at best, and probably a whole heap of issues you’re building into your future workforce too.

 

But if you do offer flexible working and it doesn’t work, you’re not stuck with it. You can make changes, trial new options, ultimately completely switch back to how things were.

 

If you stick with a hybrid model so you’re not forcing people either way there’s very little downside here…

 

COVID has done nothing if not highlight how quickly we can learn, grow, and adapt if we’re forced to. Let’s not forget the resilience we’ve all proved we have. We’d be doing our organizations and people a disservice to return to old ways out of fear or habit. We’re on the cusp of a new era of work – it’s time to stride forwards with our heads held high.

 

Download our 2021 Hybrid Workplace Revolution report to explore the expectations and impact of hybrid work for global employers.