By Christian Lanng, CEO Tradeshift
On 30th June, change to UK legislation meant that all employees now have the right to request flexible working, provided they have been in continuous employment for at least 26 weeks. But although employers have a statutory duty to consider applications, they can also reject them, and recent research from Citrix suggests that the latter may be indeed the case. It found that only one in ten small and medium sized businesses see the change as a positive move, despite the government predicting it will generate £475 million of economic benefits through increased efficiency and employee satisfaction in the first ten years.
This is a rather confusing paradox. The majority of today’s modern businesses are founded on policies that allow employees to work as efficiently as possible. Mobility is being embraced in a big way and it’s working for many companies. Bring your own device (BYOD), hot-desking and virtual desktops are just some of the commonplace initiatives in SMEs and enterprises today. So, it would seem that natural extension to mobility is the implementation of truly flexible working. By loosening the constraints around the traditional working day of nine-to-five, employees can start early, stay late or work from home – fitting working hours into a lifestyle while driving efficiencies within business.
However, management teams often approach truly flexible initiatives with trepidation and it’s easy to see why. Without a full complement of occupied desks and a bustling office, it can feel like you’re not in control. It’s then equally easy for doubts to creep in, leaving you questioning how hard your team is working. But at the very heart of this matter is trust. Getting the job done is obviously by far the most important aspect. However, it makes sense to place trust in your employees to get their workload done in the way that best works for them (and their teams). This can do wonders to lift employee morale and will be incredibly motivating within the business overall.
In my own experience, I have seen this create a whole new degree of diligence and engender a sense of responsibility which can otherwise be hard to find. In a world where business is global – increasingly for SMEs – there are times when you have to work outside the traditional hours. But giving your staff the freedom to manage their own workloads is empowering.
My company, Tradeshift, is still a start-up itself and flexible working is something I’ve always championed. We do place a huge value on regular face time between colleagues, but this doesn’t need to be in large chunks. We make a strong effort to engage face-to-face even when working remotely - using video and chat services. Visually connecting with other team members is hugely beneficial to getting the most out of remote meetings and conference calls. Additionally, we have employees whose days frequently begin at 6:00 AM or 7:00 AM to accommodate our colleagues who are in different time zones. It certainly makes sense to me that those individuals may call it a day a bit earlier if they’ve wrapped up their responsibilities.
So, my question is: Why force people to be in the office or create an atmosphere where people are scared to leave their desks in case colleagues think they’re not working hard enough? In this day-and-age there is enough technology at our fingertips such as Skype and Google Hangouts, which mean that staying in touch has never been easier. So why not let your employees work from home or outdoors occasionally? Equally, if they’re an early bird and prove more productive and motivated in the morning, let them come in at 7am and leave mid-afternoon.
I would urge SME and enterprise employers alike to embrace the new legislations and drop the barriers to flexible working. In most cases, it is a sure fire way to make sure you’re getting the best productivity from your employees, and at the same time boosting their morale. So, don’t set a number of hours, but set targets which represent the creation of value for the business.