While flexible working is now a given for employees, it can still be difficult for businesses to know how to truly embed it into their culture.
At O2, we’ve been championing flexible working for a number of years now and we truly believe it brings genuine benefits to employees and employers alike. Flexible working isn’t just about handing out a few laptops or letting the head office team work where they want. It’s about creating an environment across the whole business where people are empowered to really think about how and where they do their best work – thus helping boost staff effectiveness and productivity.
So how do organisations create that culture? And how can you ensure that your employees feel empowered to work in the way that works best for them? Here’s my advice on how to implement a successful flexible working culture within your organisation.
Try before you buy
Flexible working marks a real departure from the atmosphere of strict ‘presenteeism’ that was so prevalent in businesses of time gone by, so it’s only natural that some employers may have reservations. Trials and evaluations offer the perfect opportunity to win over any sceptics, and make improvements if needed, so that the policies can be rolled out seamlessly and easily. At O2, we held the UK’s largest flexible working pilot in 2012, designed to put flexible working to the test and bust any of the myths around its effectiveness. The pilot saw 3000 staff at our Slough HQ work remotely for the day, and demonstrated exactly what we hoped it would. Our evaluation found that 88% of employees said they were just as productive as normal, and over a third said they were even more productive than usual. This gave us the confidence to implement our own wider initiative – or rather culture – called smart@work, designed to turn these short-term results into long term outcomes.
Invest in the right tools to succeed
If you want to offer flexible working to your employees, the key is put the right technology in place to enable it before any strategy is implemented. As part of our smart@work initiative, for example, we invested in equipping our people with the right tools to work anywhere, and in the way that best suits them. All our staff were given a laptop, and our offices were equipped with digital tools allowing us to organise efficient, paperless meetings whilst limiting unnecessary travel. Investing in this technology has delivered great results for us – not just in terms of morale, wellbeing and supporting our people to achieve the right work/life balance, but also in terms of productivity and efficiency. For example, 75% of O2 employees say they are most productive if they can choose when, where and how they work. This has also helped us care for our environment. On our 1-day flexible working pilot alone, our staff saved 12.2 tonnes of CO2 by avoiding their commute, equivalent to the CO2 emissions from driving 42,000.
Demonstrate confidence in your people
Flexible working isn’t just about boosting staff effectiveness and productivity – or making your business more sustainable – it’s also a no-brainer for any business seeking to boost staff engagement. Flexible working policy is all about putting trust in your employees and measuring them based on the quality of work they produce, and not the hours they spend chained at their desk – something employees are increasingly beginning not only to value but to expect. If your leadership team fails to demonstrate that confidence, your flexible working culture will simply fail – and staff engagement with it.
Make your policy accessible to all
We’re increasingly seeing people of all ages prioritise other elements alongside pay when looking for jobs – whether it’s flexibility, volunteering opportunities or workplace culture – and adapting to those demands is vital if businesses don’t want to miss out on talent, whether that’s young people fresh out of university, working parents or those with caring responsibilities. Whilst not every role in the business can be done at different times or locations, smart organisations recognise the need to think outside the box if they are looking to future proof their business by attracting and retaining a workforce which is both happy and productive in equal measure.
With the backing of the government and a greater understanding from businesses of the benefits it offers, flexible working is no longer a buzzword within HR – for many companies, it has become the norm. But the truth is businesses need to work hard to ensure that flexible working policies work for their employees – and as with anything, you get what you put in; the more you invest in making flexible working a part of your workplace culture, the more likely you are to see your employees thrive, and your business with it.