Each year at the National Worklife Week Conference, speakers from companies large and small present on the latest flexible working initiatives which have delivered not only bottom-line benefit to their organisations, but also invaluable intrinsic satisfaction to employees. 

At last year’s conference guest speaker, Ina De (Co-Head of UK Investment Banking, JP Morgan), pointed out how far society had progressed in a relatively short period of time. As recently as the 1940’s in some professions, marriage vows came hand in hand with the requirement for women to quit their jobs, don their aprons and give their all towards the attainment of domestic perfection. Progress aside, it remains embedded in our culture that managing work life balance is a woman’s issue. But whilst women face a much higher hurdle than men, wanting a better work life balance is not exclusively the preserve of the working mother. What about the 6.5 million people in the UK with caring responsibilities? Others may have a philanthropic interest in undertaking volunteer or community based work. Or maybe for some there isn’t one single defined reason, and it’s just about clawing back some valuable personal time.

It’s easy to see what’s in it for the employee. And the gains are innumerable for the employer too. It’s a classic example of how giving can be as good as receiving. And here are 5 great reasons why employers would be short-sighted not to recognise the value of agile working.

1) Productivity

Whilst popular myth prevails that working from home is ‘shirking from home’, this is proven time and again not to be the case. Speaking at the 2015 NWLW Conference, El Cavanagh-Lomas (HR Senior Director, EMEA and Russia, Cisco) quoted 77 hours additional annual productivity per employee gained from commute avoidance (equating to £4.3m in added value to the business). And, whilst there will always be the exceptional case, most employees, having negotiated the golden ticket of flexible working, in whatever format, will have a vested interest in proving it can work. As for the concern that employees will be at home in their onesies watching You Tube videos of cats lip syncing ‘Let It Go’ … well, there are myriad ways in which that same employee can be equally unproductive in the office, most likely distracting others as well. In the end, it comes down to managing output and productivity over presenteeism, and provided you have clearly communicated and set the expectations, this should not be any harder to do remotely.

2) Operating Costs

22 of Britain’s biggest companies have found that ‘agility’ in staff hours and locations can cut workforce costs by as much as 13% (Daily Telegraph, June 2013). Real estate, desks, equipment, heating and electricity all add to overall business running costs. Sachia Thompson (Project Manager, Ministry of Justice) told last year’s NWLW Conference how re-purposing under-utilised desk space in 20 hub offices around the M25 enabled many commuting workers (previously based in costly London HQ buildings) to operate closer to home, significantly reducing operating costs for the government. Additionally, both parties benefit from the flexibility to cope with situations such as rail strikes. Can’t get into London? No problem – either work from home or go online and book a space in one of your nearest hub offices for the day.

3) Environmental Impact

The journey to work is often a chore, and rarely a pleasure for most. Offering greater flexibility on location and structure of work arrangements could reduce your organisation’s carbon footprint.

4) Employee Engagement

The value of employee loyalty should never be underestimated. Emma Codd (Managing Partner for Talent, Deloitte) revealed at the conference how her organisation could have saved £38m in employee turnover costs in one given year if they’d introduced greater flexibility in the workplace. This data, acquired simply from exit feedback, was the basis around which she was able to build an undeniable case for the introduction of their Time Out Programme (a one month unpaid leave benefit). Cisco also quoted a 30% lower rate of employee turnover (£43m cost saving) for flexible / remote employees versus those with traditional working arrangements, and a 22% uplift in reported engagement levels among flexible workers.

5) Employer Branding

Your marketing material isn’t what sells you as an employer any more. It’s your people. They are the voice that will carry your employer brand via social media and feedback sites such as Glassdoor. So, it’s not just about the millions you’ll save on reduced employee turnover, but also the benefit that you will bring to your employer brand by putting people at the heart of everything you do.

As for making flexible working initiatives work, the consistent messages from all speakers at last year’s conference were simple and clear:

Know your people – if you don’t have a clear idea of your workforce profile (its diversity, demographic make up and current engagement levels) you can’t be sure you will be making the right kind of changes. So start with an audit that tells you ‘who you are and where you are’, as well as ‘who you want to be and where you want to be’. That might come from an engagement questionnaire, a diversity audit, or a review of recent exit data, but most likely all three. The results will help steer your approach to developing flexible working solutions that meet the needs of your people and your business. Address the issues that actually exist, rather than the ones you think exist.

Embed agile working into your organisational culture – Deloitte are a superb example of this. Not only is their agile working policy fully supported from the top down, but it is also made clear throughout their business that any form of negative reactions to flexible workers will not be tolerated, whether peer to peer, or manager to subordinate.

Champion it throughout the business – whatever the initiative(s) you choose to adopt, the resounding message is that creating credible and senior level sponsors business-wide is the key to success. HR buy-in and involvement is essential, but of equal importance is that it is not seen as ‘another HR led initiative’.

Provide the tools to make it work – an obvious point, but often overlooked. Don’t let it fall apart because you have not set up or thought through the means to maintain team communication, or the IT tools to enable employees to work productively.

To quote Richard Branson ‘train people well enough so that they can leave, treat people well enough so they don’t want to’. A comment from Emma Codd (Deloitte) at last year’s conference resonated soundly with this approach: she told the story of a valued senior employee who had benefitted from a month off to spend time with her family, thanks to the company’s new ‘Time Out Programme’. On her return to work, the employee in question commented that she had previously been considering leaving due to lack of work life balance. Now it’s a different story. ‘If I can do this every year,’ she said, ‘then Deloitte has me for life’. And who wouldn’t want to hear that from a valued employee?


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