· 2 min read · Features

Flexible working: a matter of trust


Imagine this. An adviser tells an employer that by introducing a working practice they could cut costs, reduce their carbon footprint, improve productivity and make life better for their workforce.

Should the employer listen hard and think how to make it work for the organisation? Or should they say, 'It sounds a good idea, but I'll limit the idea to a few senior staff members'?

The practice in question is: flexible working. The Regus report, Flexible Working goes Global, published in March, shows 83% of UK businesses now offer staff some choice about when and where they work. Vast numbers speak up for its benefits: 55% think flexible working is more cost-efficient than fixed-office working, 81% think it is more family-friendly and 67% think it helps staff achieve a better work-life balance.

Firms that took part in the survey vouched for other benefits too: flexible working is better for the environment; it improves worker productivity; it permits rapid scalability, crucial as we emerge from recession; and it helps attract a wider talent pool.

So, why is it that nearly 40% of companies restrict flexible working to senior staff? I believe they're missing out on a huge opportunity and depriving the very people that could benefit most.

In my experience, people of all ages appreciate the option to choose their working hours and location. But often the staff who appreciate it most are: those with young families; those who think work-life balance is a necessity, not a luxury; and those who have a life outside work - whether it's caring for older relatives, doing charity or community work, or playing sport.

Most under-30s have grown up in a technology-based world of social media, laptops and wireless; they expect to be able to work in more flexible and mobile ways. They often view traditional nine-to-five, fixed-desk working practices as alien and unnecessary.

By limiting flexible working to senior staff, businesses exclude many of those who could benefit most. It is the junior managers, the young talent that are the people with greatest job mobility. The simple truth is there are more job opportunities at their level and they are precisely the people that long-sighted organisations want to attract -they are the future of any business. Deprived of the working practices they want, they can and will move elsewhere.

Trust seems to be the issue preventing employers from making flexible working available to their entire workforce. But it's a management issue that should be easily addressed. If you offer staff the right incentives and motivation, they have every reason to achieve - whether or not you watch over them in a central office.

With so many firms recognising the advantages of flexible working, let's see more of them offering it to all their workers. Employers, employees, families, the environment, wider society - we'll all benefit.

Celia Donne (pictured) is regional director at Regus