The way we work is changing. The days of sitting at a desk for the standard 9-5 are slowly ebbing away. Once considered to be the most efficient way to measure the value of an employee's output, many jobs no longer require individuals to be office bound. Value is now increasingly being measured not in time spent at the office but in an individual's intellectual output, regardless of where it occurs. As a result business needs to re-consider existing attitudes to flexible working and use it to drive efficiency and growth, adapting to the demands of the modern workforce.
This is happening and businesses are becoming more accepting of flexible working, but too often it is only of benefit to a few rather than the many. Across the country, senior members of staff are being given the tools, permission and support to work where they want, when they went, but it is not extending to the entire company workforce.
Research by OnePoll amongst 2,000 UK office workers on this topic has found that 'digital discrimination' is commonplace in UK business with 59% of senior business leaders allowed to work from home once a month, compared to only 26% for admin staff and lower ranking professionals. It's often assumed that 'digital divides' occur between town and country, old and young or rich and poor. However, this research shows that a similar divide is beginning to develop in business - despite the fact that almost two-thirds of administrative and clerical workers could work from anywhere they have a phone and broadband connection, just a quarter of them are allowed to do so.
It could be said that senior team members are valued for their expertise and experience and so should be given more leeway to work how they see fit. This is a valid argument, but the result can be frustration and disenchantment from others within a business. The same research found that 22% of lower ranking professionals were jealous of these privileges and a further 16% were resentful of them. The negativity does not stop there either, with a lack of trust cited as a key factor for flexible working privileges not being extended by senior management to lower levels.
Businesses can reap huge gains in staff productivity, morale and loyalty from enabling more flexible and mobile working patterns among their entire workforce. The alternative, the emergence of digital discrimination, runs the risk of sowing feelings of unrest within the organisation and falling behind more progressive firms.
Ultimately, motivated and committed employees are the end game. Those with access to flexible working were more satisfied employees - 38% of lower management said that it made them feel more relaxed and trusted (34%). A workforce that is happier and more content is also likely to be more productive, care more about their work and deliver to a higher standard. At the same it can serve to improve talent retention, with employees appreciating the greater flexibility it gives them to work where they like, when they like.
A variety of societal and cultural factors are driving changes to our traditional 9-5 working practices and, as such, it's important for employers to lift restrictions and offer all office workers, where practical, the opportunity to benefit from flexible working practices. Choice is imperative, however. Some employees may prefer the social interaction and team environment that comes with working in an office, whilst others may be reticent to work from home in the fear that it may adversely affect their career in a tough economic environment and saturated job market.
Either way, by providing a choice, businesses can foster trust, loyalty, productivity and crucially, job satisfaction amongst staff.