Shipleys LLP

Chartered Accountants and Professional Business Advisers

Flexible working and the modern office

Back in 1980 Dolly Parton sang about the frustrations of the traditional working culture.  Her classic song is a workers anthem and most people at one time or another will have probably agreed with the refrain, ‘Working nine to five, what a way to make a living!’

Nearly four decades later developments in technology and changes in our culture and legislation have made many people question whether the traditional office is the best way to organise a workplace. Is it the optimum way to foster loyalty and employee satisfaction?  Do we produce our best work in that environment?

Some companies are taking the traditional office as a workplace and completely turning it on its head.

What are the benefits?

Companies are finding that a flexible approach makes it easier to attract and retain talent.

Vodafone conducted a survey in 2016 and out of 8,000 employees found that 83% said adopting flexible working had increased productivity and 61% said that it had helped increase company profits.

Sweaty Betty, a winner in the Healthiest Employees category (medium-size companies in the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace awards), believes a rigid attitude to bums on seats and working hours is a thing of the past.

"We trust our team and operate on a flexi-hour policy," says Jessica Howden, people and events co-ordinator. "If a team member would rather leave earlier in the afternoon because of a long commute, they can start earlier in the morning. Our working hours are not set in stone."

A winner in the Healthiest Employees category (large in the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace awards), Microsoft operates an "Anywhere Working" initiative that allows employees to choose where, when and how they work.

"It enables employees to work from home, in another Microsoft office or remotely, on an ad hoc basis," says Theresa McHenry, senior HR director. "This flexibility allows people to choose their environment to fit the task at hand, or manage unexpected family commitments or transport disruptions."

Obstacles

All employees have a legal right to request a flexible working arrangement and employers have to make sure they have a policy in place to deal with these requests.  See our 2014 guide here (www.shipleys.com/business-club/past-meetings/the-flexible-workforce1) or www.gov.uk/flexible-working/overview for more information.

In spite of these legal rights for employees, some employers still encourage a culture of ‘presenteeism’ with the notion of workers pulling ‘all nighters’ or being chained to your desk from 6am as being a sign of hard work and productivity worn as a badge of honour.

What does a truly flexible workplace look like?

Google recently topped Business Insider’s 2016 list of the 50 best companies to work for in America.

Google allows employees flexibility to work on passion projects. Workers have on-site childcare, generous paid parental leave, laundry and fitness facilities, healthy and gourmet meals, on-site massages, free fitness classes, gym memberships, generous holiday plan.

They work a lot but they don’t have to do all of it chained to their desks.  There are free wifi-enabled shuttles to and from work. And, only 28% of employees work from home or telecommute some, most or all of the time.

The work is demanding and they encourage employees to set ambitious goals for themselves, but they don’t place unreasonable expectations on people to meet these goals and instead make a point to help people learn from their failures.

The modern workplace

It’s understandable if smaller companies or those in different sectors look at a modern technology giant like Google and they’re not able to relate to that kind of arrangement or provide that kind of set up for employees, so they dismiss it as unachievable.

However technology enables people to work in increasingly flexible ways in many sectors, and more and more companies are embracing its potential.  It should be a valid alternative to work from home, or not ‘normal’ office hours, and it’s not always difficult or expensive to set up.

The benefits of coming into the office and working within a team shouldn’t be overlooked, so companies need to create a space that encourages productivity and collaboration.

Many employees have long commutes or interests and responsibilities outside of their jobs. If their employers can help them achieve more of a work-life balance by adopting a flexible approach, it could be argued that they are creating the right kind of environment for them to fully engage with their work and be truly productive.

Ultimately companies need to know and trust their employees and enable them to do their very best work.  Sometimes that will mean them coming into the office, working with colleagues and getting on with things; other times, it means cracking on with a difficult report at home, while waiting for a plumber to arrive.

Whether it involves an early start or a late night, it’s important for employers and employees to be flexible with each other and to keep the lines of communication open.