The benefits of flexible and remote working

Charlotte Evans of the Charity Learning Consortium has spoken to numerous people about the challenges they face at work. She shares what she has learnt about the benefits of flexible working, for employers and employees, with some practical hints and tips to think about. 

There’s been a huge shift in the way we work. Office buildings are vacant while our bedrooms have been converted into make-do work areas. Despite the challenges, we’ve proved that home working can be really successful. 

Flexible working isn’t new, but it’s certainly more popular than it’s ever been before. As the producer of the Charity Learning Consortium’s Clear Lessons video learning library, I interview a lot of people. I’ve been hearing a lot about the benefits of offering employees a more flexible way to work. Here are a few of the issues that come up time and again, with some hints and tips to tackle them. 

What do your workers really want?
Making assumptions about what your staff need or want can be detrimental to their mental health, job satisfaction and their efficiency. Individual home and health situations vary tremendously and can impact whether employees would significantly benefit from flexible and remote working. Don’t assume that no one wants or needs flexible working just because they’re not openly asking for it. 

Tip: Listen 
Have a means to listen and gather feedback from your workforce, whether that’s through surveys, a suggestion box or one to ones.

Single parent families
Single parent families can really benefit from flexible and remote working. For example, they may need to pick children up from school before the end of the typical nine to five working day. Allowing single parents to work flexibly means child care might not be such a pressing issue for them. And here may be additional pressures for single parent families as they may have less support. Choosing the hours that suit them best, whilst still working the number of hours they are contracted to, could really help. One approach that can work well is to allow ‘core hours’ within your organisations’ working day. This ensures people are all working at the same core time between 11am and 3pm (for example) but can choose to work earlier or later to suit themselves. 

Tip: Review
What do people say about your organisation on social media and websites like Glassdoor or Indeed? Is it positive or negative, and would more flexible working change people’s views and make recruitment easier? If people can see that you offer a more flexible approach they are more likely to want to work for you.

It’s not just about childcare
You don’t have to have children to benefit from flexible and remote working. DINKYs (dual income no kids yet) might also benefit from timetabling their days a little differently. There are so many types of family structure and every one has different schedules, patterns and needs. The idealised ‘cereal box family’ is not everyone’s reality, and the old fashioned nine to five way of working just doesn’t fit anymore. Flexibility and remote working can make life that little bit easier for everyone. 

Tip: Evaluate
Measure levels of staff satisfaction, engagement and productivity before and after launching flexible working. Happy staff are more productive! If you’re facing resistance to flexible working from senior managers, who prefer a more old fashioned approach, then statistics can help you win them over.  

Disabilities
I’ve spoken to people with various health conditions who’ve told me how flexible working can ease their daily stress. One individual told me about their nightmare struggle getting to work in a wheelchair in the 9am rush. To avoid packed public transport, and to simply allow more time to travel, they left the house much earlier than they needed to get to work on time. There are more than 14 million disabled people in the UK, which is an often untapped pool of talent. Offering the choice of flexible and remote working can help employers attract and retain this talent, while enabling people that face practical challenges to overcome some of their issues.

Tip: Respect 
Respect the privacy of your workforce. If they don’t want to give reasons why flexible working would help them, don’t press them to answer. 

Mental health
Having choices over your working day can affect both efficiency and overall happiness.

One challenge for people who suffer from often hidden mental health issues is the unpredictability of good and bad days. Going to work might seem manageable one day, but impossible the next. One person I spoke with – who suffers with numerous mental health issues – said they are not productive before 11am, as it takes a while to get into a positive mindset. Flexible working means you’re getting the best from everyone, when they’re at their most efficient, positive and productive – whether they are ‘owls’ or ‘larks’. 

Tip: Be open minded
Don’t judge or assume stereotypes. It’s easy to make assumptions, or tap into your unconscious bias, particularly if you haven’t experienced some of the challenges that your employees might face. Whatever they are going through is challenging for them. Keep asking your staff and volunteers how you can make their life easier and be mindful that one size never fits all. A way of working that suits some people won’t suit others. 

Invisible illnesses
Invisible illness refers to illnesses or disabilities that cannot be seen. This includes physical illnesses that have symptoms that can’t be seen by others, such as chronic fatigue and ME. One person I spoke to told me about her poor experience at work as her endometriosis wasn’t accepted or believed. She was labelled as hysterical and over-reacting when she asked to take the day off or move her schedule around. She pointed out how easy it is to make assumptions with an invisible illness – if others can’t see it, they often don’t believe it. Giving people the freedom and choice to work flexibly can avoid people with invisible illnesses feeling different or difficult.

Tip: Trust
No-one should have to justify their needs. Trust that people want to do their best work. Give them the freedom and opportunity to choose how and when they do that. As an employer, you’ll reap the rewards. 

Giving people the opportunity of flexible and remote working is beneficial in so many ways, offering equality, fairness and choice. Slip back into a more traditional, pre-pandemic way of working and you risk losing talent. Just be mindful of catering to people’s different needs and wants. It’s been estimated that we spend 30% of our lives at work, that’s a huge commitment that people make. It’s up to employers to give people the support they need to ensure that all those working years are happy ones.

 

Sarah Burrell

About Charlotte Evans

Charlotte Evans works for the Charity Learning Consortium as a Marketing Executive and as the Clear Lessons Product Manager. She has gained much experience in business, starting with her two degrees: One in Business Management with European study from the University of Exeter and an undergraduate diploma in International Business. She entered the world of learning and development as a Digital Learning Developer before starting her role at the Consortium as a Project Coordinator. She is highly communicative and very approachable.

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