Remember the humble office – that inner sanctum of industrious labour with its leaking water-coolers, narrow cubicles and stifling meeting rooms?
No, neither do we. In the early twenty-first century, the nature of the workplace as we once knew it is shifting from the traditional bricks-and-mortar institution to a partially virtual environment. But as flexible and remote working practices becomes more mainstream, some companies are causing a backlash.
Earlier this year, Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, issued an edict to her workforce that reversed the trend for home-work: ‘We need to be one Yahoo!,’ she announced, via HR, ‘and that starts with physically being together.’ Is Mayer right? Does working remotely cause morale and productivity to slump? Here at Nokia, we’re yet to be convinced. In fact, flexibility is key to our Smarter Everyday working philosophy. Here are five reasons why.
In conjunction with London Business School and USC, professional services firm PwC polled over 44,000 workers born between 1980 and 1995 (the so-called Generation Y) about their attitudes to work, and found that this very significant portion of the workforce tended to value a sustainable work-life balance and flexibility over financial rewards. In effect, this means that the carrot of future earnings is no longer, for many, compensating for the stick of long and gruelling hours at the office. For employers, it indicates that a shift in attitude towards the 9-5 will cause workers to have greater loyalties to the firms, which appreciate their extra-curricular commitments.
PwC Head of People, Gaenor Bagley, notes that by 2020, Gen Y will make up over 50% of the workforce, meaning that many employers are going to have to reconsider their flexible working policies to match the preferences of their staff.
2. It helps more women work
Ruby McGregor-Smith, chief executive of Mitie, the FTSE 250 outsourcer, told the Financial Times this June that UK employment figures could soar if companies enabled more women to take up positions. McGregor-Smith said that if flexible working practices could be implemented to accommodate working (often female) parents and careers, she’s pretty confident that it could make a significant contribution to workplace participation and add up to 10% to British GDP by 2030.
With childcare costs and schedules, combined with a notable gender bias in business – women are often deterred from returning, and Mitie’s report is clear in saying that a culture change is needed so that employment contracts no longer focus on where and when a job is done, but rather on what is done. Is this shift likely? McGregor-Smith is hopeful, and so are we.
3. It’s easier than ever before
With telecommunications tech racing into the future, in many ways there’s little effective difference between working at home and sitting in the office. Video conferencing, secure file-sharing and cloud-based operations – even simple email! – ought to make the transition seamless. Marissa Mayer’s line is that casual chats in the corridor lead to the best ideas and that this can’t be replicated in business that operates remotely, but some experts question that: David Fagiano, training consultant and COO of Dale Carnegie Training, says that these casual, yet crucial, conversations can just as easily take place online or over the phone.
As tech gets naturalized into our lives and routines, there’s little sense in workplaces failing to acknowledge that. In fact, tech makes telecommuting a more inclusive, interactive and creative experience than ever – which can only be good for the workplace.
4. It’s better for working globally
That leads us neatly onto globalization: in a world where industries and workplaces are globally linked, it doesn’t make business sense to pin people to a 9-5 routine, when their international colleagues are working different hours anyway. Of course, the danger there is in over-extending an employee’s hours to accommodate, for instance, awkwardly-timed international conference calls, so the keyword has to be flexibility. If we want a UK worker to connect with an east-coast US colleague by working late, we need to free them up to start work later, too, or allow them to conduct the call from home, which means supplying them with the tech and support – IT and HR – to do that.
Although there’s a turn in some industries back towards localization, big business and tech operations are unlikely to follow suit, and as more eastern countries join the global market, companies need to consider how they can alter their workplace practices to make the transition to international operations more manageable.
5. It makes us more productive
Finally, one of Mayer’s reported concerns is productivity: ‘Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home’, says her memo. The implication here, of course, is that people who aren’t in the office under the panoptic gaze of the line manager are likely to slack-off and underperform. In fact, though, that demonstrates a lack of trust in the employee that isn’t likely to translate to a positive working environment in any office. David Lewin, Management Professor at the University of California, says that multiple studies have proven that telecommuting and working from home can, in fact, be associated with higher productivity.
Nonprofit HR organization WorldatWork claim that companies that implement a flexible culture experience less turnover and greater employee satisfaction and engagement. Not only, then, is the commute eradicated and the school-run accommodated, but a switch in management practices towards flexible working indicates that the employer trusts and respects the employee – which can only mean better performances all round.
It’s easy to see why flexible working is central to our Smarter Everyday working philosophy. But how do you feel about it? Are you for flexi or against it? Let us know in the comments below.
Updated October 1, 2015 1:27 am