Not Just for New Parents: Flexible Working Should Be a Right for All of Us

Nick Clegg's support for flexible working for parents is welcome and overdue but, arguably, his plans don't go far enough.

Nick Clegg's support for flexible working for parents is welcome and overdue but, arguably, his plans don't go far enough. His intention to provide more options for how women and men work after becoming parents addresses one sort of flexibility, but this is just touching the edges of what we need to do to flex out workforces. The granting of these rights should be regarded, appropriately enough, as baby steps, and not as the final result.

Indeed, the world of work has, in the past few years, changed completely. The old days of 'presentee-ism', the nine-to-five working day and the same desk, phone and chair are quickly becoming relics of a bygone age. The macro economy, environmental mandates, the congestion on our roads and transport systems, demands for work-life balance and the need for companies to get closer to customers and partners are all factors that are driving new working patterns.

Today, we need to be at our most productive wherever we are. That might be at a customer's office, with a partner, on a manufacturing site, in transit, in 'third spaces' such as coffee shops and drop-in offices, or at home. And this fluidity of location has enormous advantages. With this newfound flexibility we can take the weight off our roads and public transport networks at peak times, work more collaboratively, get closer to peers and buyers, save on commute time and the cost of office facilities, and make decisions faster.

The results of working flexibly are proven. The Edinger Consulting Group, a strong proponent of flexible working, found that its staff are more committed to their work, make better use of their time and better use of technology tools when able to work remotely because they have to make an effort to make contact with each other, so are more concentrated in their attention to each person. Other studies, such as a Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization report in April 2012, suggest remote working can make people more effective in creative tasks especially, and can lead to higher job satisfaction. On the environmental side, the load is taken off travelling at peak times and carbon emissions are fewer and the environmental burden is reduced.

The success of London 2012 shows flexible working really works. The games brought thousands more people into the capital, yet did not grind to a halt because businesses allowed staff to stagger their commute times and work the hours they wanted. Not only did this reduce commuter pain and cut journey times, the elongated working day enabled people to work when they were most productive while also allowing businesses to be seen as 'more available' to clients and customers. This approach is reflective of the modern business world: the working day is no longer circumscribed but built on trade-offs and peaks and troughs in demand. The parents that take their children to school can make up their time by working later; 'work' becomes something you do and not some where you go.

This flexible approach has become easier with the evolution of the technology landscape. The last few years alone have provided us with fast wireless broadband access, mobile device proliferation in the shape of smartphones and tablets, the rise of apps, Skype, social networks and cloud computing. These tools are not an end in themselves but they provide a way for workers to access services, discover information, store work, process enquiries, update records and much more, regardless of physical location. It's now time for us to embrace these services, and use them to our advantage - for the benefits of us as individuals wishing to work in the way we like best, and for the benefits of our employers and the business they run.

All of this is not to say that the new ways of working are for everybody and there remain many jobs that require people to be at a given spot at a given time. But for the rest of us, we must fight the sense that because many of us have worked one way for many years that is the way forward. Flexibility is a boon and a competitive weapon. Let's use it.


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