I read an article yesterday, all about flexible working. Contained within, three reasons why companies need to consider it. One of them? Because the law says so and it might be illegal not too.
And herein lies the problem.
The flexible working discourse is mired in the legislative framework. It is all about how we ‘handle a statutory request’, as opposed to having actual conversations with people about their wants and needs. It is also the basis of our policies and processes.
Many of those policies do only that which is required by that statute. Often, the list of statutory reasons to say no right up front in the document. The legislation was initially written for those with children or caring responsibilities – and we continue to associate the need for flexible working with these limited groups.
Approaching flexible working in these terms will mean that we forever miss the point. We will continue to view it through a family friendly lens, rather than one of talent or inclusion, or many of the other reasons why flexible working can be a Very Good Thing.
So in the interests of balance, here are my reasons why flexible working should be the rule, not the exception.
The current model of work (for the traditional office based worker at least) is predicated on the idea that we all go into an office at similar times of day. This leads to poor outcomes for individuals and the environment – and even the organisation. Long, crowded, expensive and stressful commutes. Not good for wellbeing of any kind. We know too, that many of us don’t do our best thinking in an office environment, surrounded by distractions and even more traditions of work that are often not conducive to what an organisation really needs (excellence, innovation, agility and so on and so on).
So why do we do still do it? These working patterns are hard wired and traditions die hard.
There are plenty of reasons as to why we should have more flexible working.
Flexibility is an inclusion thing. If we truly want rich, diverse and inclusive workplaces, then they need to be open to everyone, whatever their personal situation. Consider someone with a physical disability. How much harder is it for them to even get into a workplace on public transport in the crowded rush hour? To travel to a workplace probably not in many ways set up for their specific personal needs, as opposed to their home which will be. Whilst I don’t want flexible working to be a gender thing, a lack of flexible working at senior levels is a contributing factor to the lack of women the further up we go in the hierarchy. Want to tackle your gender pay gap? Start by thinking about making work more flexible.
It’s not just an inclusion thing – flexibility is also a talent thing. We’ve all heard about the much clichéd war for talent. We are so bought into the concept of employee engagement that we spend significant amounts of money and effort surveying it and action planning it and communicating all about it. We worry too about our retention of our talent. Sadly, offering true flexibility is still a rare thing. Which means that it is also a big talent opportunity – a way to attract, retain, engage and motivate. All at very little cost.
Finally. And I saved the big one for last.
People want it. It is that simple.
I could go on about millenials and the new world of work.
But ultimately, the best reason of all is simply this one. Many of the people that work for you today, want more flexibility in their work and their lives. If you don’t offer it, just maybe they will go somewhere that will.
The Monday to Friday 9-5 pattern of office work is a one size fits all model that meets the desires of the few.
It is 2017. It is time to put aside our prejudices and stereotypes and yesteryear glasses about where and how we work.
Let’s make flexible work, work.
If you want to read more about this subject, check out this great post from Paul Taylor.