This time last year, the working world was returning to normality as the London Olympic and Paralympic Games drew to a close. Many employers prepared for the games’ impact by pushing a flexible working agenda but – according to recruitment process outsourcer Hyphen’s Zain Wadee – too many businesses still remain well behind the flexible working curve.
Many companies embraced a cultural change during the Olympics and experimented with flexible working, the benefits becoming clear to those that fully implemented it. A significant number said they saw an uplift in productivity and new collaborative approaches to work; others reported a change in employee behaviour, with workers viewing flexible working as an opportunity to extend their annual leave quota and take full advantage of the summer of sport.
Flexible working in its various guises has become increasingly popular as a result of technological advancements in recent years. Conference calling, video conferencing, email and social platforms mean workers no longer need to be in the same locality to operate collaboratively and effectively. In addition, many workers are adopting an alternative approach to the prescriptive nine-to-five, “presenteeist” approach to working life – preferring instead to work in a number of environments and increasingly for more than one employer.
Integral part of the workforce
At present, the right to request flexible working is a demand that many employers simply react to, rather than incorporate into their wider corporate culture. We still see instances of temporary, casual or contract workers being excluded from several aspects of life in the workplace, including group communications and performance evaluation. Far from companies embracing flexible working as an innovative and necessary means of navigating a changing economic environment, too many organisations remain behind the curve.
We believe that firms of all sizes need to embrace this new approach to working culture as a matter of urgency. In many companies, more than 20% of the workforce is regularly comprised of non-permanent headcount, and that number is rising rapidly.
With younger generations seeking flexibility around where they work, rather than being tied to the office, we are witnessing an emergent workforce that will see their career as a portfolio of different employers, rather than adhering to a traditional single-job structure.
Moreover, temporary and contract workers need to be seen as an integral part of the workforce rather than as a stop-gap measure. Companies that have engaged with smart, flexible working practices have experienced first hand that, over and above the initial investment and time needed to introduce new systems in the workplace, there are real, tangible benefits to flexible working practices. It is time for the culture to spread across sectors and industries.
Embracing change: ensuring buy-in
Developments at Yahoo! brought flexible working to the top of the news agenda. The tech giant’s move to discourage flexible working entirely was in part due to a belief that collaborative thinking must take place in the workplace and that effective work cannot be done outside of the office.
But organisations can adopt a rather different approach to flexible working. In order to achieve the greatest return on investment, all levels of the workforce need to embrace the shift in focus. There needs to be a realistic investment from across the business, and senior leaders need to ensure that an effective communications strategy has been put in place that educates staff on how to work smartly away from the office. This will involve investment in training and new technologies that allow efficient communication.
Meanwhile, altering the perception that people working flexibly are less committed to the business can prove challenging. But with the support of senior leaders and an appraisal criteria based on an employee’s contribution and value to the business, rather than hours spent in the office, organisations can begin to evolve attitudes towards flexible working, and away from a culture based on presenteeism.
This trend is set to continue and employers need to be aware of how permanent employees, flexible workers and freelancers operate, in particular the differences between them and how this manifests itself in the workplace. The age where temporary workers are excluded from broader corporate culture or engagement initiatives simply because they are not a member of a “permanent” headcount should be over. Those failing to shift with this trend risk retention and recruitment issues further down the road.
Zain Wadee is managing director at Hyphen, the recruitment process outsourcer