In candidate-driven markets like digital and technology, it can be hard to persuade the best talent to join your organisation. Candidates have an increasingly long list of demands beyond pay: they want to work for diverse organisations, they want to work for a company they believe in, and more and more, they want to be able to work flexibly.
It’s true that right now, digital and technology is less of a candidate-driven market than it once was. But this is expected to revert back to how things were in 2019 and early 2020; as the economy recovers (with the digital and tech sectors likely leading the way), the power will be in the hands of candidates once again.
That means you should seriously consider offering hybrid working. Enforced remote working has not been easy, but it’s been proved beyond all doubt that it’s possible, and many millions of employees don’t want to go back to the way things were.
A poll of our LinkedIn followers, for example, found that most would prefer some combination of home and office working – often referred to as hybrid or flexible work – with the most popular choice being three or four days per week working from home.
Below are some important reasons why flexible working is good for your organisation, some of the ways in which you can implement a flexible working regime – and why you should continue to offer flexible working beyond the covid-19 era.
It boosts productivity
Ultimately, improving life for your employees should also improve life for your company. There’s a lot of research out there that says that offering more flexible schedules – moving away from a strict 9-5 and away from mandatory attendance in the office, essentially – improves your workforce’s productivity.
Business Insider quotes Ron Friedman, social psychologist and author of The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, as saying:
“We have decades of studies showing that people are happier, healthier, and more productive when they feel autonomous. The more autonomous we feel, the more likely we are to be engaged.”
Hiring and retention
We’ve already noted that employees want flexible working. But how does this manifest itself in the employment lifecycle? Research shows that it affects both sides of the coin. Companies that offer flexible working are able to recruit better talent.
And it also improves retention. A Staples study found that two-thirds of employees would consider leaving if hours weren’t flexible enough – and that was before the pandemic. Consider how much more demanding employees will be now. Other research found that companies offering flexible working keep their staff for much longer, too.
It’s also worth noting that health issues, which often come as a result of over-long hours and stress due to lack of flexibility, cost businesses millions.
How to Hybrid
Here’s one of the silver linings of the pandemic. When we first covered this topic, pre-covid-19, there were a lot of uncertainties. Organisations wanting to pursue flexible working had to figure out things like communication, cybersecurity, and how remote/flexible staff would be perceived by the rest of the workforce.
But now, nearly every organisation has been forced to learn – and fast. The entire corporate world has learned how to communicate, through tools like Teams, Zoom and Slack. We’ve learned how to network online and how to shore up cybersecurity for remote work setups. And, of course, the (unfair) social stigma associated with flexible work is no longer there.
What’s more, once things return to normal, you’ll have the best of both worlds. If you need to run a big meeting, or attend a conference, or work securely, you can. But for the rest of the time, you’re free to let your employees work where they want and when they want, within reason.
Hybrid Working or Reduced Work Week?
When we first settled into remote work last spring, there were lots of grand predictions about the end of the office and a complete, 100% move to remote and flexible working.
Now we’ve had a whole year of it, and a more nuanced picture is emerging. Some companies, like Twitter and Facebook, are giving staff the option to work completely remotely if they want – but these are the exception. Most, instead, will offer hybrid working, and this is what staff will come to expect – meaning it should be a core part of your recruitment and retention strategy.
Look at Unilever, for example. The leviathan consumer goods company has asked its more than 150,000 staff about their preferences, according to Nitin Paranjpe, the company’s chief operating officer. Based on those conversations, it has gone beyond remote and flexible working and is looking towards actually cutting the workweek.
Paranjpe said at a recent event that it is “very unlikely” the company will ever go back to a mandatory five days a week, reports Mint. If a company as big and globalised as Unilever can do it, anyone can.
One of the keys is to consider your metrics of success in HR terms. Moving away from old metrics like reducing absenteeism towards an output-based way of thinking may be beneficial. Consider the concept of “trust-based working”.
This involves leaders “assessing employees on their outputs alone, rather than time put in, the World Economic Forum says. The same WEF report says that since remote working came in, productivity in many cases has actually gone up. These things may seem counterintuitive for those ingrained in the old ways – but they are likely to represent the future of work.
Finally, try to consider at all times what works best for employees – because what works for them also works for their employers. On that basis alone, flexible working is here to stay.