Why flexible working should be the future for all businesses
Are work offices and set schedules a thing of the past? Jada Balster discusses the benefits of working flexible working hours and why it creates trust within a team.
Since when have office chairs, desks, and fluorescent lights been the vital ingredients in creativity? I would say never. But if you looked back at how most creative businesses, studios and agencies have operated for years, you’d be forgiven for thinking that being in an office was the only way work could ever get done. You’d assume that great ideas could only ever take flight if they were imagined at a desk, where the only concession to personality was a potted plant and a handful of family photos.
I’ve been lucky. Early in my career, I thought this was also the way, but I vividly remember, when I started my second job, my boss decided to give me a laptop rather than a desktop computer and suddenly that perspective changed. The cables that tied me to the office were cut and a new world opened up, one in which I could get my job done wherever I really needed to be and whoever I needed to be with.
I’ve learned as my career progressed into managing teams that encouraging flexible working breeds a fierce loyalty. If you have a strong team around you, and you enable them to work in the way that works best for their life, that’s where the magic happens. You are repaid in higher productivity and commitment by colleagues who appreciate that you trust them to do a great job without being anchored to a desk.
Getting the job done wherever you are
The MP Helen Whateley got to the heart of the matter in July when she said in Parliament: “It doesn’t make a difference where or when a piece of work was done, as long as it was done.”
Helen has introduced a bill to make flexible working the default legal position for all employees. Will the new PM give Helen’s bill the Government’s backing? Who knows? But she has done us all a service by underlining that flexible working is not just a benefit for working mums like me, but anyone looking for a better work life balance.
For example, if you work in a global business, you want to be able to collaborate with colleagues on the other side of the world without adding extra hours to your working day at antisocial times. That’s not just a question of parenting; it’s about everyone’s need to switch off from work periodically. Sometimes, being able to flex when the working day starts and ends is common sense that has a pay-off in health, wellbeing as well as real productivity.
One of the first people to applaud Helen for raising the issue was the journalist Anna Whitehouse, creator of the Mother Pukka blog. Anna’s Flex campaign has been running since 2015 and she has done a great job of showcasing the many and varied types of people who can benefit from a more flexible approach to work; from people with disabilities, to working parents and carers.
I’m sure we’ve all seen colleagues decide to go freelance to try to get that better balance between home and office. But here’s the thing: why should great people need to leave traditional employment to achieve a healthy balance?
Championing flexibilty among your team
Our research over five years with marketers and creatives reveals an optimistic streak about the future of work — with nearly one-in-three people (31%) expecting to be able to log in to a virtual office within about five years. I think it’s time for that optimism to translate into advocacy.
Marketers have the opportunity to champion flexible working for everyone in their business. And the best way to persuade employers is to show that it works and that it’s not a compromise; it’s a smart business strategy.
Flexible working opens opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, who face different lifestyle challenges, to pursue fulfilling careers. And that diversity brings different perspectives, ideas, and thinking with it … and there’s good evidence that a diverse team is a more successful team.
Maintaining camraderie and building trust
Let’s take a step back to that moment when my old boss made the laptop-not-desktop decision. It highlights the role technology has to play in making flexible working possible. As standard, my team uses Zoom, Slack and, of course, Workfront: two communication tools and an enterprise work management solution to keep track of how our work is progressing. It’s a combination that gives us all the connectivity and visibility we need to be able to work flexibly, in the tools we know - and gives us confidence that we’re not losing touch with each other or what needs to be done.
Coming back to Helen Whateley’s point, does it really matter if I don’t know precisely where my team is if I can see on desktop, laptop, or mobile that the projects they’re working on are flying? I don't doubt that if there’s an obstacle in the way of progress, a blocker to be overcome, that they’ll shout for whatever help they need to get the job done before the deadline.
It’s also important we don’t undervalue or lose human connections. As we’re not sat next to each other for eight hours a day, those two communication tools help to maintain team morale, a sense of camaraderie, and let the small talk that comes with friendly collaboration happen. When we need them to be, they’re the virtual water coolers that let us catch-up and trade stories before getting on with work. It doesn’t feel that someone is half a world away when you can connect like that.
It's what we all ultimately want
Let's be honest, flexible working goes to the heart of what we all want, but often find it hard to say in the workplace. We all want successful careers, but we all want to be successful human beings too — successful partners, parents, siblings, sons, daughters and friends. And the companies that are getting it right are the ones that really understand this. They know it’s what you think, what you do, and when it gets done, that matters more than where you are.
And those companies are the ones that you'll find turning to technology to help make flexible working a practical option.
So, right now, as I write these lines, it’s early on a Saturday morning, and I’m at home nursing a cup of coffee at my keyboard. Everyone else is asleep, and by the time they wake, the job will be done, and I can get on with the real task for the weekend … having fun with my family. Everyone wins.