By Sylvia Laws, Technical Associates

At the end of last month, a change in UK legislation meant that employees who have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks have the legal right to request flexible working. There may be some relief for employers to know that they are not obliged to grant the request but they do need a sound business reason for rejecting such applications. It seems we are not totally at ease here in the UK with the idea of flexible working compared to other countries. Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics show that 87% of the UK workforce is still mainly office-based compared to the US. Having been in the business for 30 years this figure does somewhat surprise me as I believe strongly that flexible working is at the core of the success my company has enjoyed. Of our 30 employees, 60% have a flexible arrangement to some degree or another, this could mean working certain days from home or starting early and leaving late (or vice versa.) It allows us to recruit and retain outstanding talent, mainly with the language and engineering skills we need, which we would not have been able to do if we had imposed static working conditions. For me, the positives far outweigh any perceived issues — it is proven that attrition rates for companies with flexible arrangements are incredibly low and absenteeism during the year tends to be less of a problem as employee engagement levels are high.

But are remote workers actually working?

Trust is the key to making this model work, especially if you have a high contingent of remote workers. It’s predominately one of the reasons why many employers choose not to embrace flexible arrangements as there is always the fear that individuals are not working to their full potential. Most companies who do adopt this way of working recruit outstanding, extremely talented individuals who are passionate about their work and so trust is never an issue from the outset. Usually remote workers will come into the office once or twice a week as required and in most cases, professional pride means that no-one ever drops off the radar. A strong team dynamic can prevail equally as well for remote teams through regular social events and the use of private groups on social media channels to communicate and maintain the “banter” throughout the day.

It is reported that individuals who have flexible arrangements register higher levels of employee engagement. They recognise that the organisation regards them as a valuable asset and in return they are motivated to produce a higher output and demonstrate a deeper understanding of the company’s objectives and aspirations. It can make a huge difference for an employee to have the option to avoid daily traffic congestion or even to simply do a school run before or during the working day. When an organisation shows an understanding of an individual’s commitments outside of the workplace then this usually results in an emotional buy-in which is not typically found in the traditional “9-5 at the desk” environment.

What about the future?

In preparation for the new legislation, Jobsite surveyed UK companies and revealed that over half (53%) were unaware of the changes and of those that were, 25% admitted they hadn’t considered the impact it could have on business. In contrast, of the UK workforce who were surveyed, 66% of respondents said they would request flexible working if given the opportunity to do so. From my perspective, without giving employees the ability to work remotely and have a flexible arrangement, I would certainly not have been able to build up such a successful team and recruit in the skills needed. This is particularly true as we are seeing an increasing expectation from clients to expand global outreach to markets like the Middle East where local language and cultural knowledge is certainly an advantage in gaining traction. This in turn has paved the way for growth within the business and now one of the attractions for future employees to our organisation is the opportunity to have a flexible arrangement. Companies need to consider where the future talent pool is coming from and if they will let geography be a barrier to having the right skill set. Flexibility is definitely a future-proofing for sustainable growth.