Why Flexible Working Drives Great Productivity

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"For any company culture to thrive with in-office hours and remote workers, you need to empower and trust employees to do their best work." - Caroline Lee, Senior Internal Talent Partner, Talentful

caroline lee

More than a decade ago I applied for flexible working in my media sales position. I requested only one work-from-home day and it was declined. This wasn’t a surprise in 2006. Being present in the office was essential. Having a suit jacket or coat on the back of your chair to prove your presence at work was seen as positive. 

The measurement of success in media sales was how late you stayed in the office working. Granted, we didn’t use technology as much as we do now, but the work my work needed to take place in the office, that was the status quo.

Fourteen years later we have mobile phones, laptops, or other portable devices on us all the time. We are connected with colleagues or employees 24/7 through email, Slack, or other project management tools. With technology, you are always reachable.  

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As this on-demand workplace developed, so did the concern for work-life balance. As a recruiter, I hear the latter talked about frequently. It’s a balancing act. We were keen to keep mothers in the workplace and at the same time hire great talent. We wanted to offer work/life balance but we still valued ‘presence’ in the office, needing reassurance that employees or colleagues are working. In addition, we knew that our workforce wasn’t at their most productive at the same time.

We all wanted to get the most from employees and the benefits of flexible working. We knew that enabling employees to work at the times when they produce their best work is beneficial to everyone. 

Times have changed. In the past five years, we have been in a candidate-driven market, slightly different than the decade ago when there were fewer jobs. Work/life balance is front and center. Employers understand the importance of a work-life balance. In many cases, the emphasis on presentism has diminished and remote and flexible working has become a must-have benefit in order to recruit and retain the best talent.

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Data shows that remote working increases productivity. (Harvard Business School and Northeastern University). The World Economic Forum (WEF) found that 100% remote work could make employees 4.4% more productive than the traditional approach. 

In fact, according to a 2019 study by the International Workplace Group, 80% of candidates — four out of four — would turn down a job offer without flexible working.

Several companies have jumped on remote and flexible working including EY which offered flexible hours, the opportunity to work from multiple locations and different countries. The Publicis Group implemented flexible working across all of its UK workforce, 93% of employees backed the policy. 

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A good example of companies adopting work/life balance is Adaptivist, a SaaS start-up that removed set working hours from employee contracts. Their CEO stated that the company wanted to employ the best minds and to do that they needed to create an environment where people have the freedom to solve problems and are liberated to implement the best solution for the business.

A question I get regularly from hiring managers is that they need employees to be working or delivering for clients and if they aren’t in the office, how do they ensure those things are happening. 

For any company culture to thrive with in-office hours and remote workers, you need to empower and trust employees to do their best work. If you start from a place of mistrust, then you may be hiring the wrong people. 

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Flexible working offers attractive benefits or employees and candidates. Not only does it remove the typical work commute; it allows us to do our work at the times that suit each individual, and in a location of their choice. Research shows that absenteeism drops and your employees are happier as they have more time with their partner, friends or family. 

Here are three insider tips to help you create a successful flexible working environment:

  • Focus on outputs. This shifts a companies focus from activity to business output and creates tangible ROIs’.
  • Set your boundaries. Let your team know the hours you are available to work and maximise your most valuable and productive time to produce great work and results.
  • Trust one another. Trust starts somewhere. You have to trust that your employees will continue and even improve their productivity.
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