Last week, measures encouraging flexible working came into effect. Realistically, this doesn’t mean you’ll be firing out emails while bungee jumping off the wing of a plane – unless you’re Richard Branson. And if you are Richard Branson, you're probably doing that already. And in space. But bosses now need to be ready to deal with many more employees asking for flexible working hours. And if you’re that employee, you need to know your rights.
A survey by LogMeIn, a technology company, cited in The Financial Times found that 56 per cent of workers were considering a request for flexible working. In comparison, only 27 per cent of employers expected staff to request different hours. A poll by Glassdoor, a careers website, found that staff were equally uninformed: 17 per cent of staff planned an application but 73 per cent were unaware of the change.
Employees now have a right to request to work from home, part-time or in shifts from their employers. It’s worth noting that employers still have no obligation to grant this. Employees retain the right to refuse the request, as long as they consider it in a “reasonable manner”. Nevertheless, this is a move which could shake up working habits. And it is important to remember that granting flexible hours is a permanent change with no right for return.
Working from home, part-time or in shifts is soon going to be seen as simply part of modern office life. And although admittedly employers will not be legally compelled to grant flexible working, it does represent a sea change in attitudes. Measures like these are undoubtedly important for parents and carers whose lifestyles demand flexibility. They are also important for the rest of us. It’s recognition that work has to fit around different home circumstances. It is a sign that life at work and at home will become further intertwined. It is also a natural progression from the accepted idea that flexible working benefits business. A 2013 study by the Institute of Leadership and Management found that 82 per cent of managers believe flexible working benefits their business, citing improvements in productivity.
As flexible working becomes more ingrained in our conception of work, technology will become ever more important. Our office will become the cloud, while the only thing we’ll be tied to is our remote desktop. Broadband and video conferencing will become ever more necessary for communication. Office space will still remain vital - but no longer as a place simply to store documents or to house rows and rows of workers. It’ll be a place to enhance the wellbeing of employees and foster creativity, collaboration and innovation. Going to the office will also become an option rather than a requirement. Get ready to see more standing desks, benches, brainstorming areas and outdoor spaces.
But working from home brings its own difficulties. It’s tough ever to switch off if work and home life become confused and this can lead to an unhappy and unproductive staff. That’s why spaces dedicated to working are still important. (But perhaps not those that make you feel stifled, stagnant or like yet another drone.) And that’s why we have to get more imaginative when it comes to working environments. Coworking is not just for creative freelancers and one-man-business-bands but for those who up till now had relatively conventional working habits. Someone who until recently had a nine-to-five office job may find themselves working from a co-working space once a week so they can avoid the traffic, get out of the office, meet other businesses and work in a stimulating and energising environment.
Stagnation doesn’t breed innovation; working with a like-minded and varied workforce does. If your staff get out more perhaps they’ll start bringing back some great ideas.
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