‘Do they offer Flexible Working?’

November 8, 2015

‘Do they offer flexible working?’ is a question, which has become standard practice here at Harvey Nash HR when discussing new roles with our candidates.

Flexibility has become the buzzword of the decade – you see it almost everywhere, it’s been analysed to death, and frankly, we’re bored of being told that it’s both a revolution in the world of work and a disaster in the making. It’s true that traditionally, attitudes towards flexible workers have not been particularly favourable. There’s definitely a prevailing stereotype that instantly conjures up the appearance of a pyjama-wearing, toast-muncher who lolls on the sofa with one eye on Jeremy Kyle. However, with the ubiquity of wireless connectivity, is the sun setting on the traditional office?

We are now more connected than ever, entrenched in a time where technology is so deeply ingrained into our everyday lives – it’s almost unthinkable to reminisce on a time where people held what looked like house bricks to their ears, careful not to skewer any colleagues with the mighty protruding aerial. In 2015, mobile connectivity, multiple devices and a network of super-fast broadband have turned us into a sedulous culture that struggles to switch off. And as businesses around the world continue to integrate these innovative ideas into the working environment, the need for permanent desk space is wavering.

Many companies have been working at this transition over many years; there has been much study and focus on the impact of flexible work arrangements on the employee, the business itself, and on family life. Organisations across the globe are finally coming to terms with the fact that they are no longer a company made up of middle-aged men with stay-at-home wives, instead, they have a diverse population with all kinds of situations and needs. Others are discovering the changing needs of an aging workforce as more and more suggest subtle transitions to retirement. Further, as the global economy evolves both employees and customers in different time zones demand support, further prompting a need for new ways of working. And finally, there’s the millennials (yes that dirty word again) who can’t fathom a future of the archaic 9-5.

There are some ‘forward-thinking’ organisations that are willing to embrace the pyjama lifestyle. Creators of the ‘Results-Only Work Environment’ (ROWE) are claiming increased productivity, reduced absence and higher levels of engagement. By making employees aware of the company’s goals and expectations, and then letting their workers achieve those goals with the hours and locations they choose, ROWE companies claim to give their staff the freedom and balance they are looking for, without sacrificing performance or results.

So profits won’t fall, the company won’t collapse and the world won’t end? It seems not. In fact, currently across the UK, there are about 8 million part-time workers and 4 million people who work full-time roles flexibly. Flexibility is becoming an increasingly high priority for all job seekers – not just those with parenting or caring responsibilities.

Whether we like it or not, the way we work has changed; 9-5 is disintegrating into an intangible time frame – and the commute to the office looks more like a walk down stairs into the dining room (or to the nearest provider of a skinny caramel latte). We are embarking on a life where checking our emails before breakfast is balanced with getting home in time to help with homework, and where a dull Sunday collating monthly figures is compensated by a dash to the beer garden on a sunny August afternoon. Flexible working is about talent; attracting it, engaging it, and keeping it.

Pippa Hawker
Associate Consultant
Harvey Nash HR