Since its inception, it has been a norm that a company employee completes a stipulated amount of work, at a stipulated location, during stipulated office hours. However, numerous studies that involved world-renowned companies like KPMG, Microsoft and Pfizer have shown that the key to getting work done better and faster might in fact lie in removing those age-old stipulations. Those studies primarily sought to understand the effects of flexible working patterns on employee performance.
Flexible working was coined as a collective term for a system by which an employee has flexible office hours and/or the option of working from outside the office (such as remote work or being a freelancer). With regard to performance, a study from Cranfield University defined that there are four distinct points of flexible working, including ‘Quality’ and ‘Quantity’ of work done, ‘Teamwork’, and the improvement of the ‘Retention & Recruitment’ process (more commonly known as ‘staffing’).
Carnfield cited that all points were found to have improved except for ‘Teamwork’, which remained within the neutral range. This was not completely unexpected, as it can often be difficult for colleagues with different locations and working hours to coordinate with one another. The improvement of the other points, on the other hand, should come as no surprise. Organisations prefer to retain employees with good performance. When they allow flexibility and understand these employee’s needs, they will face minimal problems with recruitment.
On a deeper level, a significant number of individuals with flexible working arrangements expressed concern over career advancement. For example, some employees believed that being away from the office for periods of time allowed for a better work-life balance, but minimal contact with people in the office might lower their chance to improve professionally. This was believed to reduce the chances of being recognised by upper management, especially in terms of capability and commitment. Not only was flexible working found to directly impact the work accomplished, it was also found to do so indirectly. These indirect methods included the issues of job satisfaction, organisational commitment and stress, all of which were found to be improved.
Some employees felt that by having the freedom to control their working conditions, they successfully improved their work-life balance. This level of understanding builds a bond between employer and employees, thereby alleviating a significant degree of stress that is often experienced by disgruntled employees.
While the study did indicate that flexible working generally impacted employee performance positively, it also mentioned that further steps needed to be taken before it could be fully implemented. Some of the steps mentioned in the study consisted of better use of technology, such as cloud computing, to better facilitate flexible working; the restructuring of training and support systems; changing the way work is perceived and learning to embrace employee flexibility through trust-building.
As times change, the relationship between employer and employee must evolve to reflect changing needs – and flexibility is the current need.
While embracing technologies is said to be key to effective flexibility, business leaders and managers could either imitate or modify big companies’ flexibility rules/policies.
Global tech firm Dell made its move to allow flexibility after realising its benefits. Then, Dell board members implemented an informal policy where its employees can choose to work outside of standard business hours. Dell wanted to ensure that everyone felt comfortable and supported working where and when they choose, depending on their unique work style.
Another company known for its flexible working arrangements is Sodexo. Formerly known as Sodexho Alliance, the company has found over its decade-long journey toward optimising flexible work. Very few companies perfect their flexibility policies, but Sodexo takes a little trial and error to make the policies work for everyone. Their initiative started in 2008 where employees had to submit a formal proposal to ask for an option to work flexibly. But realising a rigid policy like that just did not match the goal, Sodexo introduced a new initiative called FLOW – a practice allowing employees to work with managers on an individual basis to craft flexible work options that meet their needs.
If you want to start your own flexible initiatives, here are some guidelines to determine whether your employee is eligible for the arrangements:
The next step is to ask employees who demand flexible working to file a request to HR, explain their reasons, and time of flexibility needed. HR should review and consider the above guidelines to approve or reject it. The decision must be revisited and discontinued if it negatively affects productivity or efficiency of the individual of the department. And in cases where employers do not approve, employees who file requests have to be noticed with reasons why.