Once upon a time, there was one way to work and one way only - you went to work, you did your hours, and you came home. That stood for whether working in a factory, in the Great Outdoors, in a shop, a cafe, restaurant, or in an office. There was no way to get around that fact; this was simply the way working was.
Perhaps it is because we didn’t know any better, but we went along with this rather rigid and static working pattern, without thinking anything of it. Then, out of nowhere, times began to change.
You can put this at the feet of technology changing, or whatever else you think fits, but as time slowly crept on, so did the way we began to organise our working lives around our home lives.
Enter the idea of flexible working.
This guide is going to talk in depth about what flexible working is, what it stands for, the pros, the cons, and give you plenty of advice on how to actually set up this method of working within your own working environment. We’re also going to talk about the actual psychology of flexible working, and how it makes people feel. By the end of this discussion, you should have developed your own clear idea of whether you’re in the camp for flexible working, or against it. Perhaps you already have an idea of your own, but go into this guide with an open mind, and allow it to be challenged.
So, without further ado, let’s dive right in!
What is Flexible Working?
The name really gives the idea away, but flexible working is finding a working pattern which suits the needs of a particular employee. There are various different types of flexible working arrangements, and we’re going to talk in more detail about those in an upcoming section. A workplace can choose to be totally flexible, e.g. everyone works flexibly, or it can be that just one or two employees do so, either at the request of the workplace, or because they have requested to do so for personal reasons, e.g. having a young family at home, or being a carer for a relative/partner.
In order for an employee to make a request for flexible working in a workplace which has a more standard way of working, e.g. 9-5 office hours, they must make something called a ‘statutory application’. Not everyone can do this, and employees must have worked for the same workplace for at least 26 weeks before an application can be made. Employers have to take the application seriously and give it due consideration, however they are not legally obliged to grant it, if it doesn’t fit in with the needs of the business.
In terms of a workplace making the entire office flexible, this is a more freedom-inducing kind of deal. For instance, a workplace might decide that 9-5 static hours simply don’t allow their employees the freedom they need to complete their other tasks, e.g. doctors appointments, looking after children, other commitments, and this is starting to impact on quality of work as a result. There are many major advantages to becoming flexi in the workplace, and again, we’re going to go over them in much more detail shortly. For now however, it’s worth bearing in mind that many workplaces decide to go flexible because it not only allows them to move with the times, but it helps to keep productivity high, because of employee satisfaction. There are also ways to cut costs when it comes to working flexibly too, e.g. using freelancers and virtual offices. This means there are no requirements to purchase office chairs and desks, and no need to pay for electric!
Types of Flexible Working
We’ve introduced the idea of flexible working very vaguely, but to help you understand it a bit more, we need to talk about the types of flexible working. Some of these arrangements are quite formal, and some are a little more fluid, even more flexible than regularly flexible!
• Job Sharing - This means that two members of staff work part-time, to make up a whole time equivalent. They will share the responsibilities of one job, and split the hours between them in a way that suits the pair of them. This can be a one week one, one week off arrangement, it can be a set number of hours per week, mornings for one, afternoons for the other - basically whichever arrangement fits and ensures that the job is covered at all times too.
• Working From Home - Many people choose to work virtually from home, i.e. they stay in contact with the office via a good quality Internet connection and over the phone, and submit their work virtually. There are many advantages to this, e.g. no need to heat and light an office, no need to purchase furniture, and it is up to the employee themselves to set up their own home office, perhaps with some stylish contemporary home office furniture such as their high-end office desks. To stay in touch with what is going on at work, many employees working in this way will go into the office and work from there perhaps a day or two per week, or whenever suits. Of course, setting up a home office isn’t an easy task, and there needs to be office storage in place as a bear minimum, as well as ensuring little in the way of distraction, to get the job done - not always an easy task!
Oh yes, and don’t forget you need robust cyber security from an IT firm like TMB Group, so only trusted parties can access your business remotely. Very Important indeed!
• Switching to Part-Time - Full-time workers might suddenly decide to cut their hours for whatever personal reason, and go part-time instead. This can be half the time, or it can be a fraction of it, and usually means working less days per week overall. In this case, the rest of the time will often need to be absorbed by other members of the team, which can sometimes cause an issue with an increase in workload for other people.
• Compressed Hours - This isn’t the most popular type of flexible working arrangement, because it means that someone is going to be working their usual full-time hours, but doing it over less days, e.g. working longer hours. Whilst that sounds great in practice, it does means very long days, and that can have a direct impact on tiredness and concentration, which in turn affects productivity. This can be something an office could use on occasion, during times when someone needs extra time off but doesn’t have the holiday days spare, but not really something which should be used on a regular basis.
• Traditional Flexi-Time - This was the first type of flexible working pattern to emerge when flexible working really began to take off. Many businesses have embraced this, and it gives employees a little more freedom to ensure they can do the things they need to do out of work, and still get their hours in at the office. Basically, flexi-time works by having flexible working sections at the start and end of the day, and sometimes during the lunch break, when staff can choose to come in early and work later, for instance, but then having a set of core hours in the middle of the day when all staff must be present. This ensures that the office is covered at all times during the busiest periods.
• Freelancing Arrangements - Some businesses choose to work with freelancers almost exclusively or at least for a portion of their work. This means that a business gets to take advantage of the specialised skillset of a freelancer, e.g. for copywriting, translation, proofreading, graphic design, etc, but can choose to use the freelancer when they need, and not have to employ them on a full or part-time basis. This can cut costs, and also means that an office set up isn’t required, as they will usually be working virtually. Many freelancers choose to travel the world and work in this way, e.g. working as a digital nomad!
• Virtual Office Arrangements - This is very much like the working from home set up, but employees can be based anywhere in the world. Everyone stays in touch via the internet, for video calls, messaging, and submitting work, and again, there is no need for a traditional office set up. Staff usually meet up a couple of times per year, to touch base and ensure everything is running smoothly.
These are all traditional and new ways of bringing flexible working into the workplace. Not all suit every single employee, but there are certainly plenty of arrangements to work with there! A business needs to check that the arrangement they are seriously considering really does fit in with the nature of the business, and ensures that its core practices and hours are covered at all times. Yes, flexible working is about the employee, but it also has to work for the business as well! It’s no good having your employees all off shopping during their flexi-time period, with no one in the office manning the phones!
The Prevalence of Flexible Working
The fact we are talking in so much detail about flexible working should tell you just how popular it has become over recent years. Many big companies have embraced the idea, and here at Calibre Furniture, we’re also on board with giving our employees options for flexible working too.
In our next sections, we’re going to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of flexible working arrangements, and this should really highlight the reason why so many big companies are choosing to give it a try, with quite a lot of success too. Vodafone, Unilever, and WorldPay are just a few huge companies who allow their employees to work flexibly in a variety of different ways, and over the Atlantic, huge corporations like Apple and Google are just as flexible too.
Basically, huge names such as those listed above recognise that in order to keep employees happy, they need to allow them a certain amount of breathing space and flexibility to fit everything into their time. By doing this, productivity is on the rise, and employee morale is on the up. There’s really no downside to that statement for either party! Let's now start by highlighting the advantages of flexible working options.
Advantages of Flexible Working
For completeness sake of any argument, we need to look at both sides of the coin. Because we’re positive people, let’s start with the advantages and benefits of setting up a flexible working arrangement in your workplace, and the benefits for the employee too.
Flexible Working Saves Cash
We can’t deny it, whether you’re a business or an employee, flexible working saves you money in many different ways. From the point of view of the employee, there is no need to commute to work every single day, and no need to purchase expensive meals from the local deli down the road, as well as that infuriatingly expensive coffee in the morning. From an employer’s point of view, there is no need to heat and light an office to the same degree, and profits are likely to be on the rise, simply because a happy employee is a much more productive employee. Fact!
Flexible Working Makes Employees Happier
An employee who has more time to do the things they need to do outside of work, and who isn’t constantly running themselves ragged, completely stressed out from a long to do list, is a much happier employee. In addition to this, an employee working a flexible way is more likely to be healthier too, because they have the time to look after themselves properly, perhaps go to the gym, concentrate on healthy eating, etc. This cuts down on sick days, which can lose a business a considerable amount of cash. And as with the previous point, a happy and healthy employee is yet again a more productive employee! You see how we keep mentioning that ‘P’ word?
Flexible Working Allows Employees to Spend More Time With Their Families
Employers really have a duty of care to their employees in terms of their general welfare, and whilst that doesn’t necessarily have to reach out towards their time away from the office, it doesn’t hurt to help out occasionally! A flexible working arrangement allows people to spend more time with their families, and in the case of a woman who has just had a baby, this will probably mean that she is more likely to return to the office after her maternity leave is over, rather than leaving completely. For the business, this means they don’t lose her experience and skills, and have to start over training up someone completely new, which takes time and money. Everyone’s a winner!
Flexible Working Reduces Stress Levels
One of the biggest reasons for sick days is stress. There are many reasons why working in a static 9-5 office job could cause someone a large amount of stress, and none of them are good. Stress is dangerous, and from a business point of view, stress loses a business money. From a health point of view, it’s extremely damaging. If you want to take your employees’ health into consideration (which you certainly should), and you want to ensure that you’re experiencing less days lost due to sickness, flexible working could be the answer. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that working from home, or cutting down on hours, can reduce stress levels, and allow an employee to feel more valued overall.
Flexible Working Allows Staff to Work at Their Sharpest
The reason why flexi-time became so popular isn’t just because it means staff can have an occasional lie in, it’s also because some people are simply more productive later in the day, or early in the morning, according to their natural rhythm. By allowing staff to work in a flexible manner, you’re allowing them to work when they are at their sharpest, and when they can get more done - there’s that productivity word again!
Flexible Working Helps Staff to Feel Valued, and Increases Job Satisfaction
By allowing staff to take responsibility for their own working hours and the tasks they complete, they are bound to feel more valued and trusted. This will increase morale ten-fold, and as a result, job satisfaction is seriously on the rise. As human beings, of course we want to feel like we’re liked, valued, and appreciated, and a little stroke to the ego doesn’t hurt every now and then! Someone who feels that they are appreciated is always going to do a better job than someone who feels they can’t do anything right. As a result, you can expect business to boom, and yet again, productivity to spike!
As you can see, there are many major advantages to flexible working, both for the employer and the employee. Now, to keep things as balanced as possible, let’s look at the other side of the coin.
Disadvantages of Flexible Working
Everything has a downside, after all! Let's now get familiar with some of the key disadvantages of flexible working.
Flexible Working Isn’t For Everyone
After speaking to a number of freelancers overtime, it is evident that, working for yourself at home, isn’t as easy as it might first sound. It can be very hard to get motivated sometimes, especially when you’d much rather stay in your pyjamas and watch the TV with a coffee in your hand. Before you know it, half the day has gone, and your stress levels are through the roof because you’ve not managed to achieve anything. Flexible working isn’t for every single person, but for those whom it suits, it can be very advantageous indeed. For flexible working to succeed, it’s vital that a business can identify the types of employees who will benefit from these types of arrangements, and those who may need a little more coaching beforehand.
Flexible Working Can Encroach on Home Time
Setting up a home office isn’t just about sourcing out the best executive chairs for comfort, or looking at luxurious office furniture to make your home look like an office, it’s about ensuring that you have a clear break between home and work. Allowing the two to encroach onto each other is not going to bring the advantages of flexible working, and is actually going to cause a much bigger problem. In addition, not every home is large enough to have a spare room for an office, especially if there are small children running around. In this case, it might be a good idea to source out co-working spaces, or look into a flexible working arrangement which means half the time in the office and half at home.
Flexible Working Means Employers Need to Really Trust Their Employees
Of course, most employers do trust their employees, otherwise they wouldn’t have hired and kept them, but there can be times when certain employees don’t pull their weight when working flexibly, e.g. at home. Employers need to have mechanisms in place to be able to check on their employees working practices, e.g. regular calls or video calls, and to check that they’re not really watching Netflix on the sly. In addition, employers need to learn to be able to ‘let go’ of the reins a little, and adjust to the new way of working in terms of management, and that can sometimes be difficult for some who have been used to the regular/traditional methods.
Flexible Working Still Means Regular Meetings Need to Occur
A workforce cannot work effectively and never meet, so with any type of flexible working arrangement, there still need to be face-to-face meetings occasionally. When going down the freelancer or virtual office route, this can be difficult, because staff can be at any location, at any time, and sourcing everyone together isn’t easy.
Flexible Working Can be an Issue When IT Problems Occur
No system is immune to the odd failure, and if you’re relying upon an internet connection to talk to your colleagues, and it disappears, what are you going to do? Similarly, computer systems can crash, and work might not be delivered on time. These are all challenges to flexible working arrangements, especially those which require working virtually or at home, but they are challenges which can be conquered by setting up a back up plan.
As you can see, generally speaking, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, but they are still there and do need to be heeded before going ahead with any type of flexible working arrangement.
The Psychology of Flexible Working
So, why does it work? It all comes down to the psychology of it in many ways, especially from an employer’s point of view. For the employee, of course, having more time and being able to fulfil other commitments is a key factor in going ahead with it, but there are psychological issues which need to be thought about too.
Overall, flexible working allows a member of staff to feel valued, trusted, and appreciated. They don’t feel like they’re being watched on a constant basis, and this means they are much more likely to put in the extra mile, in order to ensure the work is done on time, and to a high standard.
As we mentioned before, us human beings loved to have our egos stroked occasionally, and the major confidence boost of being good at what we do, and being told, is a great thing. On a deeper level however, there are four main theories which back all of this up.
• Hertzberg’s Two-Factor Theory - based on motivation and hygiene being linked together, bringing about positive mindset and feelings about work. In terms of the workplace, this would mean ensuring a safe, healthy, and comfortable environment for staff to work in, which would in turn encourage them to work to the best of their ability. This theory doesn’t just apply in a corporate work setting but also when you are going ahead with the flexible option of working from home.
• Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs - based on the idea that a human’s basic needs need to be met, before they will feel motivated to work to a high level. These needs are food, water, and shelter, feeling safe, feeling loved or feeling a sense of belonging, confidence, and self-actualisation. Again, a similar type of mind-set to the previous theory, i.e. if you meet the basic needs of your staff, they feel valued, and therefore are in a greater position to feel like they want to try their best. This means ensuring overall wellbeing, such as ergonomic chairs and desks, for example and also giving them flexible working options too on top. Double win!
• Hawthorne Effect - based on the idea that some people work better when they are observed, and others work better individually. In terms of flexible working, many people will be working without direct supervision, and this theory works around the fact that some flourish in this setting, and others work better when they have some degree of supervision. As mentioned, flexible working isn’t for everyone!
• Expectancy Theory - based on the idea that people make the decision on how they will perform and behave, based on what they expect to happen as a result of their actions, e.g. we work to the best of our ability because we are hoping for a pay rise. Similarly, if we carry on working hard and showing results our senior management might actually decide to grant us some days where we can work from home as a way to reward us for our continued hard work. How wonderful right?!
In fact, it might also be worth noting that during a recent Twitter poll we undertook, an overwhelming 72% of participants stated that they felt office workers should be given the option of working flexi-time. That should tell you just how important employees feel this type of working could be for them. Our poll statistics can be found below:
To have your say about flexible working and see our regular social media updates please click the following link: https://twitter.com/Calibre_Office
So to recap on the points we just covered, when setting up a flexible working arrangement in your workplace you need to take all of these psychological issues into consideration, based on the personality types in your employment. It’s also vital to think about employee wellbeing during breaks too, perhaps looking at installing a breakout space, and thinking carefully about office space planning overall, to ensure comfort during working hours.
Summing up/Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
So, there we have it! The wonderful world of flexible working explained. How do you feel about it by this point? Perhaps you’re a workplace looking to incorporate various different types of working practices, or perhaps you’re an employee looking for a new way of working, or a new challenge.
To bring it all together, let’s reiterate some of those most frequently asked questions, and a few we might not have touched on in that much detail.
What is flexible working?
A working pattern or arrangement which fits the needs of both the employee and employer.
Who is eligible for flexible working?
Anyone can request to work flexibly after a set number of weeks working for the employer. Similarly, a workplace might decide to change working practices and go totally flexible, after consultation with existing employees.
Will flexible working affect my workplace rights?
No. If you work for an employer, you will still have a contract of employment and the same rights as before. If you go part-time, your salary is likely to be pro rata however, as well as your pension. This is something to look into. If you are self-employed as a freelancer, you will need to register and pay taxes independently.
What is the best way to set up a home office?
It’s a good idea to try and keep your living space and your working space as separate as possible, to give you a good home and work life balance. Check out office bench desks to give you more space, and remember to look into storage options. Search ‘office furniture near me’ online for good choices, especially for London office furniture.
What are the main challenges of working remotely?
Discipline and self motivation! It can be very easy to sit there and watch TV, rather than work, but you must motivate and discipline yourself to get your work done.
Do I need to be self-employed to be a freelancer?
It completely depends on whether you are employed by a company or not. If you are, then they will pay your wages and your taxes through your salary usually, but always double check. If you are working for yourself and receiving payment from a particular company, or companies, then yes, you will need to register as self-employed and pay your taxes that way.
How do virtual employees/home workers stay in contact?
The advancement of technology has meant that flexible working is easier than ever before. Video calling, messaging, social media, and cloud storage have all made staying in contact and submitting work simple. Of course, there is the off chance that the internet might go down, or a software package have a slight issue, but back up plans need to be put into place, to ensure this doesn’t occur.
What is the biggest challenge in terms of home working?
Aside from the motivation issue we just talked about, setting up your office to ensure it doesn’t encroach on your home life is the biggest challenge. Of course, interruptions are also big issues, so it’s important to try and cut down on the amount of times visitors pop around, the phone rings, or social media pings.
Now you know all there is to know about flexible working, what’s your opinion now? Share your thoughts and let’s have a group-wide chat on the general feeling. Here at Calibre Office Furniture, we think flexible working is a good option for many different types of people, so, could it be something for you?