In business, just like in yoga, it pays to be flexible. But while most companies in the UK—especially very large ones—aren’t yet bending over backward to offer their employees flexible working hours, mounting evidence suggests that allowing workers to pick and choose when they’re expected to be at their desks can have a significant benefit for a company as a whole.
Flexible working has a specific meaning in UK employment law. While it’s always possible to informally ask for it, anyone who has worked for an employer for more than six months has the legal right to formally request flexible working conditions. In turn, employers must consider the request seriously and respond in a reasonable manner. The government has a bunch of helpful resources and information about the rights of employees to request these arrangements.
While companies in the UK have been slow to adopt the idea, the popularity of flexible working across the rest of Europe is having a positive impact on the work-life balance of employees. But does a flexible workforce really have a profound effect on a company’s performance? And how can UK companies benefit from allowing more flexibility? Let’s look at some of the facts.
What is flexible working?
Flexible working refers to any working pattern that falls outside traditional office hours or locations. In the UK there are different definitions of working flexibly, including job sharing, working remotely, part-time or staggered hours, or working flexitime.
Flexitime allows workers to shift their start and end times while still working the same number of hours each day or week. Rather than arriving at 9 a.m. and leaving at 5 p.m., for example, a flexitime arrangement requires that employees be present for a set of core hours in the middle of the day and allows them to arrange their remaining hours to suit themselves.
This form of flexible working allows employees to shape their schedules around school runs, childcare, and personal appointments, as well helps them avoid rush hour traffic and packed commuter trains.
Why are some UK companies reluctant to embrace flexible working?
The obligation to formalize new working conditions in a contract can cause some employers to hesitate to approve flexible-working requests because altering the new conditions can be difficult. Many companies also operate under the outdated notion that flexible working equals less productivity or encourages workers to slack off entirely. Many think employees left to manage their own schedules would inevitably abuse the privilege.
But research shows that flexible working leads to increased productivity, not less. A 2016 study by Vodafone found that 83 percent of companies with some form of agile working policy reported greater productivity, along with higher staff morale and profits.
There are also indirect benefits of flexible working. Research by the Chartered Management Institute shows that long or fixed hours negatively affect managers’ stress levels, so the option to change up schedules fosters a happier and more productive workforce.
How does flexible working improve productivity?
Under a flexible-working arrangement, workers who aren’t hamstrung by inconvenient working hours or difficult commutes can spend more time doing the things they’re good at when they are at their best. By adapting to individuals’ work styles instead of making everyone conform to the same schedule, a company can access productivity that might go untapped during traditional office hours.
A survey by Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom of 16,000 workers over 10 months found that employees who were able to work remotely increased their productivity 13 percent, reported higher job satisfaction, and took fewer and shorter breaks compared to their office-bound counterparts.
Does flexible working reduce absenteeism?
The Stanford study also found that flexible workers took fewer sick days than colleagues on traditional work schedules. That’s because workers who can more easily attend doctor’s appointments or unexpected family responsibilities, for example, are less likely to feel the need to skip work or call in sick. The overall reduction in stress and fatigue that flexible working policies foster also contributes to less illness-related absenteeism.
How does flexible working attract new talent?
Flexible working is one of the most sought-after perks for job seekers, with many younger workers rating it as more important than salary. Nine out of 10 British millennials either work flexibly already or would prefer to, according to a 2017 study by EY and Timewise. That means companies that offer these policies are better positioned to attract and retain the best staff in a competitive job market.
Software provider and WeWork member Adaptivist is headquartered at WeWork Waterloo and offers employees flexitime and unlimited time off. “By investing in our employees’ wellbeing off the clock, we can generate the best work environment and output for the business as a whole,” CEO Simon Haighton-Williams says. This flexibility is one reason the company made the Sunday Times‘s list of “100 Best Small Companies” in 2018 and 2019.
Whether it’s through flexible hours or remote-working policies, dynamic workplaces that respect the evolving needs of workers is a boosts employee satisfaction and improves productivity. WeWork’s flexible workspace options provide the environment that allows these people-first businesses to thrive.
Check out our WeWork London office locations to explore the ways you can start transforming your company’s work culture for the betterment of your employees, as well as your business as a whole.
Steve Hogarty is a writer and journalist based in London. He is the travel editor of City AM newspaper and the deputy editor of City AM Magazine, where his work focuses on technology, travel, and entertainment.