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The daily commute is taking its toll on the UK workforce. Recent research reveals that 53 per cent of employees arrive to work feeling stressed or flustered, with over three quarters admitting that a potential job offer would be made more attractive if it included a flexible working provision. With employees now entitled by law to request flexibility in working patterns after six months of service, businesses must renew their efforts to devise occupational solutions which increase wellbeing and productivity while preserving business continuity.

The implementation of flexible working patterns often affords employees the opportunity to start early, finish late or work from home. This in turn allows workers to beat the traffic, enjoy a less stressful commute, or improves their ability to find suitable childcare. However, while this has many positive implications from a lifestyle perspective, providing such an offering is not without its challenges. Spending less time in the office with colleagues can have a negative impact on motivation, wellbeing and team cohesion, which in turn can impede working efficiency and job satisfaction.

For many firms, the advent of ‘touchdown’ office spaces has become an important component in increasing the interaction between remote workers. Often available for rent on short notice, these private working spaces allow face-to-face interaction between colleagues in a conveniently located environment. Where possible, businesses should insist that employees continue to have regular catch-ups with other members of their team, whether this is in the office or in a neutral location, to promote creative ideas sharing and collaboration. Of course, this contact should be supported by an efficient electronic communication system encompassing email, instant messenger, telephone contact and video conferencing.

In some instances, flexible working arrangements may afford commercial benefits by reducing the amount of static office space required by businesses, many of whom are struggling under the burgeoning weight of increasing office rents. This can be achieved through the implementation of an adaptable working space where mobile desks and movable partitions are rearranged to accommodate a changing workforce, while a ‘hot-desking’ facility allows employees to slot-in where required during the dates and times they are in the office. The potential for transient office layouts is likely to increase further with new technological innovations – the first prototype ‘smart desks’ are currently under development and are designed to allow individual employees to access their own personalised computer settings via cloud computing, at the touch of a button.

The most crucial consideration for firms looking to increase employee flexibility is the preservation of business continuity. In some instances, for example where staff roles have a key customer service focus, adapted working hours or remote working could prove unfeasible and negatively affect client satisfaction. If this is believed to be the case, businesses should follow a two-step evaluation process. First of all, employees should be given the opportunity to provide suggestions as to how flexibility can be offered in a manner which preserves service levels. This open dialogue will likely increase employee engagement and may prompt novel solutions that could have otherwise been overlooked.

If after this process it is decided that flexible working patterns are not a viable option, efforts must be made to improve employee satisfaction, taking stock of the working environment, culture and other benefits. Simple measures such as installing employee break rooms, providing in-house exercise or catering facilities and, where applicable, providing childcare facilities or vouchers can all be hugely beneficial in improving job satisfaction and increasing the retention of talented staff.

 

By Nigel Crunden, business specialist at Office Depot

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