If you look around any town centre, shopping mall, or in fact, any location where young people can be found en masse, there will almost certainly be a common image. That is of young people, the future workforce, with their heads down, scrolling or tapping away on their phone, often whilst with their friends. The simple fact of the matter is that this is modern communication. WhatsApp, Snapchat, YouTube and Instagram (don’t for one second try to add Facebook to this list – ask anyone born post 1999 and they’re unlikely to admit to using such a platform) have replaced the simple art of conversation.
Now, imagine trying to put these people into a work environment in 10 years’ time when communication via smart phones (or whatever technology we are onto in 2028) is all they’ve ever known. The days of small talk by the water cooler may be over!
So what impact will this have on how businesses evolve as employers?
Well, we are already seeing a culture shift to offer more flexible working in terms of when and where contractual hours are worked.
Of course, some jobs such as those in manufacturing or hospitality lend themselves less to such flexibility, but what if working patterns can be adapted to accommodate the work / life balance, but aren’t? The simple answer is that the employer concerned will find it increasingly more difficult to attract and retain talent.
Look at the types of role that are emerging; there was a time when trying to see a GP would mean a phone call the second the surgery opened in the hope of getting an appointment within the next month. Now, a scheme is being rolled out that allows some patients to undertake medical appointments with their GP via Skype or Facetime at a time that suits in a move that could suggest that the days of the traditional GP surgery are numbered.
Similarly, if you’re a web developer who has all the kit, is there really a need to commute to an office and work 9-5? Why not work at home at a time that suits you if productivity doesn’t suffer. Forward-thinking employers are increasingly focusing on the output rather than the input and questioning whether working 8 hours a day in the office actually equates to good performance?
The argument for flexible working
If we consider the gripes that employees have with attending a fixed place of work each day and how these often manifest themselves, the arguments appear compelling. To begin with, many find their commute stressful and unpleasant. The average Brit has a 49-minute commute each way every day. This doesn’t exactly lend itself employees arriving at the office relaxed, motivated and ready for what the working day has in store. Similarly, a commute home that is beset by delays can be stressful and have a negative impact on an employee’s home life. Then there is the financials to consider – employees spend an average of £160 per month on commuting. That’s nearly £2,000 per year. Dispense with this outgoing and you would effectively be awarding across-the-board pay rises and could benefit from the related positives such as increased morale, motivation, engagement and loyalty.
Many home workers make the point that working in a calm, relaxed environment gets more out of them that being sat in a busy office full of distractions. In fact, research from Stanford University shows that such workers are 13% more productive.
So far so good for home working, but what about its impact on absenteeism? Again, this is positive. Data indicates that UK office workers took an average of 4.3 days off sick last year as opposed to just 1.8 days for those that worked from home. This could be because a better work / life balance is more likely to ensure that workers do not fall ill in the first place.
For employers, there are other benefits too. Consider what rent you currently pay for office space. What if this figure could be massively reduced? This could be achieved by downsizing the office and having hot desks available on a rota basis. Or you could consider renting an office on a daily rate basis to ensure all employees are fully connected to the company and their colleagues.
Is home working a no-brainer?
Well, possibly not. There are some possible cons to consider. Employers need to be able to trust that their employees are using their working time effectively. This can be easily monitored, but may require investment in additional reporting tools. Home working can also give rise to jealousy within the workplace amongst those whose roles simply cannot be undertaken remotely. This can obviously impact on team morale. Furthermore, employees working from home may struggle to divide their work life and home life, finding it difficult to ever completely log-off and “go home”. Finally, many people would argue that interaction with colleagues is one of the best parts of their role – so if everyone is working individually, where will the team spirit come from?
So, although remote working appears to be here to stay, it undoubtedly presents challenges to businesses that need to be thought through, planned for and continually reviewed. However, these challenges need to be tackled head-on by employers if they are to avoid being perceived as being out of step and not moving with the times as far as the place and time that employees perform their role is concerned.
If you have any queries on this topic, please do not hesitate to contact one of our HR Consultants on 01942 727200 for assistance.