The flexible working ‘movement’: where are we with it?

Today’s complex working landscape presents businesses with the challenge of meeting the demands of people with very different values, expectations and needs. Yet, they all seem to share a desire for flexible working.

It’s little wonder, then, that the flexible working movement has gained such momentum in the last decade. Employers have recognised that the traditional workplace is no longer fit for purpose. But we’re yet to reach a point where flexible working is ‘the norm’, even four years on from the introduction of laws by the UK government which gave everyone the legal right to request flexible working.

 

To use the ‘right to request’ or not

People are still unsure whether or not to use their right to request flexible working, for fear it could be perceived as a sign that they are less than dedicated to their job. In a study conducted by social media training experts Digital Mums last year, more than half (51%) of UK employees believed that asking for flexible working hours would be viewed negatively by their employer and a further 42% thought it would have a negative impact on their career.

Millennials, who are one of the key drivers of the movement, were particularly wary of not wanting to upset their employer, with two-fifths (40%) saying they’d be too nervous or worried to ask for flexible working hours, despite eight in ten (77%) wanting this way of working.

Those fears might very well be legitimate. According to a new joint report from flexible working experts Timewise and consultants Deloitte, more than 30% of workers who opt for flexible hours feel they have less status and importance as a result. A quarter of the 2,000 people surveyed also thought they had missed professional opportunities because of this.

For freelancers and contractors, there aren’t the same lingering fears, although they might have some concerns about whether working remotely could impact on the relationship with the client, if there is an expectation to be on site every day.

 

Remove the need to request

As we revealed in our previous blog on the pros and cons of flexible working, however, any concerns employers might have about what flexible working could do for business are often shown to be ill-founded.

Ask anybody who works flexibly whether they work harder and more productively now than they did when they were in a more structured setting and the answer would be unequivocally ‘yes’. Flexible workers often say they feel like they owe it to their company to go beyond the call of duty every day. While that brings up another issue entirely around work/life balance – another main driver of the movement – it goes to show how much staff value flexible working.

In a recent piece of research by SmallBusinessPrices.co.uk, more than a quarter (28%) of respondents said they value additional holiday days, sabbaticals and flexible working hours as employee benefits, over receiving a pay rise.

By promoting flexible working – rather than making employees request it – employers could find themselves with a line of new talent at the door, while holding onto the existing talent they already have in the building.

It could even help end gender discrimination in the workplace. According to the Timewise/Deloitte report, one of the biggest barriers to gender equality and pay parity is employers’ continued refusal to accept non-traditional working practices.

Timewise chief executive Karen Mattison stresses that the family structure in which one person stayed at home and another went out to work is “no longer the case for the majority of UK households” and employers need to react by changing their flexible working practices.

With the technology available today to facilitate flexible working, it’s never been a better time for individuals to dictate how long, where and when they work. More and more people are taking the plunge and ‘going it alone’ as either a contractor or a freelancer.

Of course, with Intouch Accounting by your side, you’re never alone. We are here to support you by answering any questions you may have, from assessing whether it’s the right time for you to contract or freelance, to helping you set up a Limited Company.

 

 

This blog has been prepared by Intouch Accounting. While we have made every attempt to ensure that the information contained in this blog has been obtained from reliable sources, Intouch is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. This blog should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional accounting advisers. If you have any specific queries, please contact Intouch Accounting.

Flexible working: Pros and cons

There’s no doubt that we’re now living in the era of flexible working. Of course, for contractors and freelancers, this trend of choosing how long, where and when you work is nothing new, but now it’s not just the self-employed who are empowered to manage their schedules.

In the UK, nearly-two thirds (64%) of employees now work flexibly, according to the ‘2017 Flexible Working Survey’ by Ten2Two. However, it seems that employers are still a little reticent to fully embrace the flexible working revolution, with Timewise’s 2017 report revealing that less than one in ten jobs paying over £20,000 are advertised as being open to flexible working.

So, why is it that firms are somewhat unsure about whether or not to promote flexible working to staff? Like anything, flexible working has its pros and cons. We’ll start with the cons:

 

1. Could hinder productivity

Organisations are concerned that giving everybody a degree of freedom in deciding how work is completed will result in reduced productivity for both individuals and teams. Even if employees are just 5% less productive working remotely, it’s going to start adding up once you think about it collectively. Meanwhile, for those who are self-employed, a day of distractions at home could mean that you have to play catch up at the weekend.

 

2. Feelings of isolation

Flexible working sounds good in practice for individuals, but the reality can be very different. For some people, too many consecutive days working solo can lead to feelings of isolation, particularly if communication with the ‘outside world’ is lacking. A good support network is essential so that individuals don’t feel like they have nowhere to turn should they need to. Meanwhile, from an employer’s perspective, a lack of collaboration between colleagues could limit the cohesiveness of teams and the sharing of ideas.

 

3. Work intensification

Flexible working often blurs the line between work and home, to the point where individuals struggle to switch off at the end of the day – an issue all contractors and freelancers who work remotely wrangle with. For the sake of work/life balance and productivity, individuals need to feel like they can pack work away for the day and not like they owe it to their company to go beyond the call of duty every day.

 

However, few would doubt that the pros of flexible working far outweigh the cons. In Ten2Two’s survey, 83% of employers agreed that flexible working had benefited their business. Here are the main arguments for adopting the trend:

 

1. Work anywhere remotely

Perhaps the benefit you most associate with flexible working is the ability to work remotely, away from the traditional office environment; be it at home, in a cafe, library, shared space, or even in a foreign country. Find the environment that brings out the best in you – if that’s at home, make sure you ‘craft’ in a way that means you can get stuff done.

 

2. Less stress + fewer sick days = increased productivity

Workplace politics can be a real problem if they are rooted in manipulation or gossip. Flexible working can help to minimise office politics, so the potential for conflict and any resulting occupational stress decreases. As stress decreases, so will the number of sick days employees take in the working year. This has obvious benefits to employers in terms of greater productivity, but it’s also valuable for freelancers and contractors who might have to forfeit a day or two’s work if they’re too sick to get out of bed.

 

3. Greater convenience for life priorities

Everybody has different priorities in life. For some people, their children will be the priority; for others, it might be sports and keeping fit. Flexible working gives us a better chance of being successful at what matters most to us. For example, having a flexible schedule means you can take an hour out to pick up the kids from school and do the food shopping.

Ultimately, flexible working works for some people, but others may need a bit more structure.

If you’re considering a flexible approach to work and think contracting is for you, Intouch Accounting are here for support by answering any questions you may have, from assessing whether it’s the right time, to helping set up a Limited Company.

 

This blog has been prepared by Intouch Accounting. While we have made every attempt to ensure that the information contained in this blog has been obtained from reliable sources, Intouch is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. This blog should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional accounting advisers. If you have any specific queries, please contact Intouch Accounting.