· Features

The future of the workplace is flexible

Time is running out for employers who are not willing to be flexible when it comes to employee management, vacation and working hours.

At SilkRoad, our company ethos is to treat our employees with respect: they're adults and deserve to be treated as such. This means trusting them to handle their workload responsibly. We find that if we give them this trust they repay it with good sense and maturity, and most importantly, with a realistic approach to flexible working which allows everyone to achieve their goals.

In the US, SilkRoad operates a pioneering flexible working model. Simply put, our employees can have unlimited annual leave, with no caps or disallowed dates; the only condition is that their work gets done. The employee can approach his or her line manager with, for example, a request to work from home one week and, provided the workload is manageable and can still be completed to the same high standard, there's no problem. At SilkRoad nearly half of our employees around the world work remotely; the rest mix working from the office and from home.

This model has great benefits for both the employee and for SilkRoad. It means staff can fit work around the other commitments in their personal lives and, because we're not clock-watching, they feel empowered to take ownership of their workload management. If they can work productively from 6am to 10pm and take a four day weekend, we're happy for them to do so. Of course, we like our people to be together in the office sometimes, to maintain a great social working culture, but there are lots of options open to them.

We find that people tend to work harder under this model and achieve more. We've all heard about Google's working culture: one day each week, it lets its creatives work on whatever they want. When Google reviewed this system, it realised that the best work had been done during this 'free' portion of the working week.

At SilkRoad we know that businesses must be adaptable and flexible in their HR structures in order to attract and retain the best staff. We work with people from all walks of life around the globe and therefore cannot discount potential staff because of travel, family or other personal commitments.

If you're worried that the system is open to exploitation, or that employees can take their managers for a ride, think again. Good workers are good workers whether they're in an office, at home or at the beach. Conversely, if they're lazy workers, it doesn't matter where they are. The point is, employees prove they can handle these benefits by delivering results, and we find that, once they get a taste for flexible working, people don't want to go back to the old 9-5 office routine.

I can't remember a time when a flexible working request was turned down at SilkRoad. Of course, some roles have busy periods like sales deadlines, but our employees are realistic and plan their flexible working around these times for the benefit of everyone involved. Furthermore, because we give the power to our staff and don't waste time counting hours, a lot of time (and money) is saved on administrative red tape.

Right now, UK legislation does not allow for this level of flexible working. There are rules governing annual leave, how it is used and how it is carried year to year, but when the time comes - and it must - we believe this will be the way people work in the UK and all over the world.

There's no choice, really: with the global nature of today's workforce (the constant threat of brain drain) and today's communications technologies, companies must adopt a flexible approach. Otherwise the high calibre employees that they need will simply go elsewhere. We work this way at SilkRoad because we can; the rest of the world will follow because they have to.

Flip Filipowski (pictured) is CEO of Silkroad Technology