Advances in technology have paved the way for flexible working, with such arrangements now epitomising the modern workplace – allowing employees to work from home and change their days of work or hours of work to best suit them.
Despite these developments, many New Zealand workplaces are reluctant to make the change, perhaps misunderstanding the benefits that come with embracing flexible working.
When done correctly, flexible working practices can benefit all parties involved. Flexible arrangements allow employees to have a much better work-life balance, and recognise that each employee has a different lifestyle and different priorities.
For example, these arrangements may make it easier for employees with families to drop off or pick up their children from school, or for employees to make cultural, sporting or volunteering commitments in the mornings or evenings.
Consequently, employees are given more control and freedom to work around their responsibilities and take the opportunity to do what is important to them. Employees may also schedule physical exercise into their day, which has a number of flow-on benefits that assist both the employee and the wider workplace. Physical activity can improve health, the mood, brain function and energy and reduce stress – resulting in potentially higher quality of work and a more positive work environment. There are other benefits that employees may enjoy as a result of working flexibly, such as reducing the amount of time spent commuting during peak-hour traffic, and providing an environment with fewer distractions.
While the benefits to employees are well known, firms who embrace flexible working will also be able to reap the benefits as a whole. Allowing employees to work flexibly means that the organisation will have employees at their peak. For example, if an employee prefers to work early because they are a morning person, the organisation may benefit from that employee being more productive in those hours – rather than being distracted or engaging in non-productive tasks from 3pm to 5pm. Being a flexible workplace also improves morale, engagement and retention, as employees are able to find the right fit for them individually and participate in opportunities that are important to them. Flexible working can also result in reduced absenteeism and sick leave usage, which leads to financial cost savings for the organisation.
Flexible working can also benefit clients due to an organisation’s increased responsiveness. By incorporating flexibility and being ready to adapt to changes to what is perceived as a “normal business day”, the business can be ready to meet the changing needs of clients in a digitised world. For example, clients may actually be busy during the traditional 8.30am-5pm working day, and would prefer to be contacted outside of those hours. Flexible working practices allow employees to be available beyond the traditional hours, which improves the service delivered to clients.
However, certain infrastructure has to be in place in order for flexible working arrangements to be successful. The conditions of the arrangement need to work for both the organisation and the employee, and must be supported by the right technology. For example, if flexible working arrangements consist of working from home for some period of time, then the employee will need to be able to access servers from their home. This can usually be achieved by using a work computer with a cellular connection to the server and the appropriate level of security. Further, from a professional services firm perspective, it is imperative to still be able to look after their clients’ needs, as client service should not be compromised. However, for a professional services firm, employees should also be treated as professional. They should be trusted and empowered to reach the level of output required – even if it isn’t achieved during the traditional working day.
Ultimately, whether an organisation will be able to implement flexible working practices will depend on the circumstances of each given situation. Some organisations may not realistically be able to grant such requests, for reasons such as negative impact on quality or performance, an inability to meet customer demand, a lack of work available, or the burden of additional costs. Nonetheless, every organisation should explore every opportunity to make flexible working a reality, as it can keep the employees, employer and clients all happy.
The comments in this article of a general nature and should not be relied on for specific cases. Taxpayers should seek specific advice.