If businesses are to accept the benefits of flexibility recommended by the Taylor Review, they need to be aware of their impact on company culture. Jack Curzon from Thomson Online Benefits looks at the key issues.
“We want to embrace new ways of working.” These were the words of government minister Greg Clark, responding to the Taylor Review in mid-February.
The business secretary went on to say that the Good Work plan, as the Government’s response was called, would put the country, “at the front of the pack in addressing the challenges and opportunities of modern ways of working”.
Clark is right of course. The world of work is changing and fundamental shifts in working practices are both an opportunity and a challenge for the UK.
The Taylor Review and its response are centred on making the gig economy work better for those in flexible employment.
However, the question it addresses – how can organisations navigate the changes we are experiencing in work? – is one that echoes right across the business landscape.
Flexibility works both ways
One of the most significant changes is an increased desire among employees for flexibility in the way they work.
Flexibility is one of the biggest selling points of the gig economy, enabling people to work as much – or as little – as they want, when they want.
But the call for flexibility isn’t just coming from gig economy workers. It’s also resounding through even the most traditional workplaces.
The gender pay gap is currently at the forefront of businesses’ thinking. The accepted wisdom is that narrowing this gap depends primarily on getting more women into senior positions in the workplace. However, the issue is much more complex than this, and requires an understanding of why women might not be reaching these positions in the first place.
Retaining the best talent
A lack of flexibility in working arrangements can place women, particularly those returning from maternity leave, at a disadvantage.
Attempting to juggle a career and childcare duties can force women to drop out or take a side-step in their work, meaning they fall behind their male counterparts in terms of pay. Making the workplace more flexible would undoubtedly help with this issue.
While discussion of the gender pay gap has shone a spotlight on women’s need for flexibility, they are by no means the only workplace demographic that could benefit from this.
Working fathers, people with elderly relatives or those with caring responsibilities could also do with help from their employers to balance work and personal commitments.
Employers meeting this demand for flexibility – in terms of offering flexi-time and/or working from home – are not just doing their employees a favour. They are also reducing their likelihood of losing great people, in whom they may have invested heavily. It’s imperative that businesses see flexible working as a way to help protect their bottom line.
In addition, high property prices in economic hubs such as London mean that employers can save a substantial amount of money by allowing their employees to work remotely.
While in the past this would have come with concerns around whether employees were actually working, the plethora of digital communication tools available today – phone, instant messenger, collaboration tools, and yes, email – mean that it’s easy to see when employees aren’t at their virtual desk.
However, this flexibility in remote working can pose other challenges. The problem isn’t whether employees are working as hard, but whether they are as engaged with their employer as they might be if they were in the office each day.
Without a daily, physical connection with a workplace and face-to-face interaction with colleagues, it can be easy for individuals to feel disconnected from their companies.
Even if the need for home working is driven from the employee themselves, it is still up to employers to ensure remote workers feel part of the company and its culture.
Without this vital connection, employees may look to move on in search of this employer-employee rapport elsewhere.
As workforces become increasingly disparate, enterprise technology will play a critical role in reinforcing company culture and driving employee engagement.
Breaking down borders
While employees communicate with each other at lightning speed, their interactions with their employer – be it executive communications, corporate newsletters, or filling in forms for the HR team – are often far less fluid or timely, made through outdated, counter-intuitive technology.
With fewer opportunities to engage with employees, employers need to ensure that each interaction improves the employer-employee relationship.
Taking employee benefits as an example; every time an employee accesses their benefits, they are being told how much their employer values them.
If their experience is bad, or they end up struggling to access their benefits at all, they won’t feel valued very highly.
Our recent Global Employee Benefits Watch 2017/18 research found that 38% of organisations globally have yet to deploy benefits management software, and only 17% have deployed it globally.
With the shift in working patterns to become more flexible, these organisations will be caught out, as they struggle to deliver benefits programmes that fit with modern working practices all over the world.
Technology also provides a means of displaying and disseminating company culture throughout an organisation.
Returning to the example of a benefits platform, this can be branded any way an employer chooses, to align with that brand or influence employee perception of their employer.
If a company brands their benefits portal as a wellness centre, for example, this will encourage employees to see that they work for a responsible company, that cares for their health.
Technology also enables employers to speak to their employees more directly. Besides desiring flexibility, employees today crave to be more than just a number, and technology can play a key role in ensuring employees feel heard and understood wherever they are based.
The latest benefits technology draws on employee data to tailor benefits communications to individuals, meaning that someone expecting a baby may receive news about saving schemes.
Personalisation enables employers to offer employees something they really need, creating a more meaningful connection. Employees will likely become more engaged with their employer and, our research has shown, are around 20% more likely to put discretionary effort in at work, driving better business productivity.
Opportunity versus challenge
Modern working practices have shifted, and the rise of remote working offers many positives for employer and employee. Yet it also means that employers are no longer able to rely on an employee’s physical presence as a means of securing engagement.
As we move towards increased flexibility in the years ahead, we face the possibility of centralised offices disappearing altogether. Instead, employees could be based in disparate locations across the globe, collaborating and working through online tools.
In this world, it is the employers able to connect their employees with each other – and themselves – across vast distances that will have the competitive edge.
Technology will be essential in making sure increased flexibility is an opportunity, not a challenge.