It’s not healthy to sit at a desk for eight hours straight, with a quick break for an at-desk lunch, or to run the countless errands needed to manage adult life. Employees and companies know this, yet have made limited steps to address it, stuck in a rut of habitual behaviours.
With employees demanding more from their companies, including vision, a great culture and meaningful projects to work on, it’s surprising that so few are embracing a truly flexible working pattern.
To channel the great Ron Swanson (if you know, you know…), when I say flexible working, I’m worried that you hear “give me the ability to start and finish work within a short window.” Or worse still, “work early or late shifts that you’ve pre-agreed with your manager.” That’s not what I’m saying. That is not truly flexible working, yet it’s marketed as such.
The creative brain is wired differently
We’re told that to be creative you must be open-minded and experiment with ideas. It’s odd then, that companies expect their people to design campaigns, innovate processes and continuously improve - all within the constraints of set working patterns. It reminds me of a one-sided job advert that notes down all the tasks you need to be able to do without offering anything in return.
Creativity and ‘soft skills’ are becoming more and more relevant, as automation takes over mundane, repetitive tasks. We’re looking for intuitive, flexible people for our businesses, so working patterns need to support the attraction of this talent.
“I don’t want my staff to take the p**” is the most common barrier to flexible working that I hear. The truth is, yes, not everyone is going to thrive in a completely flexible environment. That’s why hiring decisions are so important. And not decisions based on skills and experience... Instead, attract talent with the behaviours and attributes that fit with company culture. If your company is flexible, then your people’s values should align with this.
In a worst case scenario managers can easily see if someone isn’t achieving KPIs or is missing deadlines. If the manager can’t tell whether a member of their team is working efficiently or not, the problem lies with them.
What does flexible working mean?
I believe that flexible working is the freedom for employees to choose when and where they work. For example, I work best first and last thing. My ideal working day is starting off my emails over my breakfast, going into the office to collaborate with colleagues, taking some time in the afternoon to read and eat, and logging back on later - when I get my best ideas.
I’m aware this sounds radical and it’s not possible within every company/job function. However, all too often we use excuses like ‘customer service’ to prevent change, when actually we could provide a better customer experience if we worked more flexibly. For example, we ran a survey to find out when and how candidates preferred to be contacted, finding that they favoured emails in the evening. That gave us the data to spark change within our business, and it’s this sort of data that companies must gather to empower them to make decisions on flexibility.
Three ways to make flexible working happen
- Attract and engage the right talent - show off your employer brand to capture your audience’s attention. It’s not about volume, it’s about quality, so honestly represent your brand to encourage applications from people who fit with your company’s ethos.
- Give your staff freedom and trust - according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 75% of employees say the relationships they have with their employers are their most trusted (above the media and government). Thus it’s vital that companies behave with integrity and mutually share that trust with their employees. A culture of freedom and shared responsibility reduces the likelihood of unwanted behaviours from both parties.
- Move to objectives and KPIs over activity metrics - accountability is key. Give your people clear goals and objectives to achieve. Forget activity metrics like phone time, it’s all about outcomes. Moving to this model gives you the freedom to operate flexible policies, with no fear of productivity drops.
Have you experienced inflexible flexible working? Or does your company run a scheme that truly suits the needs of both the individual and the business? We'd love to hear your stories. Tell us in the comments below.