It is always interesting to see new trends evolve in the work place. Right now we are seeing a revolution. Changes are afoot that have the potential to turn into a transformation the like of which we haven’t witnessed since the industrial revolution in Britain. We are talking change of epic proportions.
To paraphrase Victor Hugo, “Nothing, not all the armies in the world, can stop an idea whose time has come”.
Technology, societal attitude shifts, de-industrialisation, and the rise of knowledge led job roles, have all coincided to create a new world. A world where people are increasingly unwilling to work the way their parents did.
Over recent years the labour market has witnessed a surge in flexible working, with many people now requesting that they set their own start and finishing times or taking employers up on their offers to work from home.
Flexible working has been in the news a lot. Not always for positive reasons. A study by the UK Policy Exchange think tank warned that women teachers were being driven from the profession by a lack of flexible working, leading to a ‘shocking waste of talent’.
In June 2014, the then UK coalition government passed legislation which gave every employee in the United Kingdom the right to request flexible working conditions, a right which had previously been reserved for parents and those with caring responsibilities. The new law meant that employers had to consider each application ‘in a reasonable manner’, with take-up in the first few months running into the millions and continuing its steady increase ever since.
A report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, published in December the same year, predicted that flexible working could benefit the British economy by as much as £11.5bn a year, and found that 83% of people in jobs outside of manual labour would use flexible working if it was available to them.
What is Flexible Working?
‘Flexible working’ is a very loose term, which can apply to everything from part-time working and job sharing to term-time only employment and ‘compressed’ hours; whereby an employee works a five-day week in four days.
It can also be used to describe the increasingly popular ‘flexi-time’ work model, which allows workers to choose when they start and finish their working day, and covers the rise in employees opting to ‘telecommute’ and work from home, either on a full-time basis or for one or two days in the week.
The Perks of Flexible Working
Flexible working has long been available to workers with young children and to those caring for sick, disabled or elderly relatives, but with the modern initiatives we are seeing it is now on the rise in the population as a whole and the benefits to employers are becoming ever more apparent.
Studies have shown that by offering flexible working, employers lose fewer days to sickness absence and have frequently found output increased, with their employees better motivated and more likely to stay with their companies too.
When the 2014 flexible working legislation was passed, the former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: ‘Modern businesses know that flexible working boosts productivity and staff morale, and helps them keep their top talent so that they can grow… It's about time we brought working practices bang up-to-date with the needs, and choices, of our modern families.’
EmployersSee the Advantages
Some of the UK’s largest employers have seen the potential in flexible working and have restructured accordingly, putting provisions in place to allow their work forces a greater say in how, when and where they work. Among them, the major retailer WHSmith has introduced a job share and holiday purchase scheme for all employees, while fast-food chain McDonalds has attempted to make their shift patterns more flexible around a workforce they recognise has commitments outside the working day.
Vodafone has publicly stated that flexible working is the ‘norm’ at the mobile phone retailer. They added that if a role didn’t require an employee to be on-site, they would allow them to work remotely, wherever possible.
However, bucking the trend in flexible working, one of the first acts Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made when she took the helm was to ban employees from working from home. A leaked memo expressed the senior management’s belief that ‘speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.’
Mayer caused a lot of controversy with her decision. She has since said, "Actually, I had less of an issue with people who had really good work-from-home setups. A lot of time when people work from home formally, it works really well. I have nothing against working from home per se."
Employers have to give up a measure of control when allowing workers to be more flexible, and that isn’t always easy. They have to learn to hire their staff, train them and trust them. Equally, employees need to embrace their new freedom and continue to take full ownership of their tasks.
The Future of Freelancing and Remote Working
Increasingly employers are recognising that physical distance is not necessarily a bar to creativity or productivity, and are harnessing the power of technology to revolutionise the world of work.
Companies like Daily Posts are entering new territory by setting up ‘virtual offices’, which allow their businesses to employ freelancers, contractors and salaried staff from all over the country, and all around the world. The concept of a virtual office allows employers and managers to keep in touch with their workforce via online meeting rooms and social spaces, and to manage, train and engage them through a virtual culture. Mayer was right that remote working needs a formal footing. More than that, the transmission and subsequent employee internalisation of a clearly defined and managed company culture is key to success.
At Daily posts we are developing a novel, ground-breaking new way to employ and retain the best remote staff. In the freelancer and remote working market there is very little being done to make the work environment more interactive and engaged. We are creating an online culture through our virtual office, and helping people work the way they want to work. It helps us by making us a 24 hour business, and staff productivity is solid.
For freelance workers, the increase in flexible working is opening up a whole new world of possibilities. Since the financial crash, the number of people describing themselves as ‘freelance’ or ‘self-employed’ has risen exponentially, and flexible working patterns mean that more and more people can now combine part-time work with freelancing projects, being paid to do something they love, on their own terms.
For skilled workers, increases in flexible working are opening up a whole new world of possibilities. Since the financial crash, the number of people describing themselves as ‘freelance’ or ‘self-employed’ has risen exponentially, and flexible working patterns mean that more and more people can now combine part-time work with freelancing projects, being paid to do something they love, on their own terms.
The millennial generation are not willing to live to work, they want to work to live. As time is passing people are expecting, more and more, to be allowed work freedom, to be trusted and valued within the bounds of their lives. Home and work lives have been merging since the first laptop was taken home, and the smartphone revolution has only fuelled that further. Employers need to embrace this change, or they will miss out on talent to their competitors. Change or die the saying goes. In a world where the pace of change is getting faster and faster business needs to wake up to the new emerging reality of a workforce that wants to telecommute, and set its own hours.