By Phil Perry, Head of UK & Ireland at Zoom
In September, the Government announced plans to give UK workers the right to request flexible working from day one of a new job. The proposed legislation feeds into people’s growing desire to maintain control over their own working patterns, which many have come to rely on throughout the pandemic. The consensus is overwhelming, with government figures showing that 87 percent of employees want to continue working flexibly, rising to 92 percent for young people. Additionally, Zoom’s research demonstrates that nearly two thirds of UK workers intend to perform business activities using both virtual tools and traditional, in-person meetings. The key takeaway here is that not many are willing to fully give up either approach. This significant number of professionals looking to balance in-person and remote working demonstrates the direction of travel for our professional culture, and the value in both approaches.
The physical office space is important for professional development, collaboration and a healthy balanced lifestyle. Having no choice but to work from home has been difficult for many, and it is right to acknowledge that the office can counterbalance that. The office also allows young professionals to develop networking skills, a range of contacts, and face-to-face communication skills, which can be difficult to maintain using video conferencing alone.
But the demand for flexible working is still very present in the expectations of the modern workforce. And while individual benefits for employees are evident, there are also numerous ways that flexible working can also give employers a competitive edge in the new world of work.
Physical and mental wellbeing in the workplace
There are numerous studies highlighting that flexible working offers mental health benefits. Research conducted by Zoom found that nearly 70 percent of workers in the UK agree that virtual and remote activities improve their mental and emotional health. Additional flexibility helps because it allows employees to suitably address two of the most stressful aspects of working culture: work-life balance and the daily commute. Giving workers the opportunity to take ownership of central aspects of their lives naturally allows them to recalibrate and find a more appropriate balance, reducing the feelings of stress and being overwhelmed.
Flexible working also helps those grappling with mental health challenges. Forcing those individuals to come into the office during moments of struggle may exacerbate their situation further and have an adverse effect upon their performance at work. Offering workers the freedom to select their working hours means they can tailor their schedule to fit their needs, whilst still meeting working commitments. The freedom to maintain their mental health and grapple with stressful life events on their own terms can help employees feel productive and happy at work.
A study from Durham University found that flexible working can also provide an array of positive health outcomes, such as higher sleep quality, reduced fatigue, increased awareness, and improved blood pressure. Benefits can also include an increased sense of community and social support within the workplace. Consequently, flexible working feeds into company culture, which is often vital to management agendas.
Nurturing company loyalty
The pandemic has proven that most work can be performed just as effectively at home. Because of this experience, employees are increasingly prepared to challenge outdated assumptions and practices. Demanding that staff return to the office when they have proven their ability to work flexibly has even pushed some workers into leaving their role, in what has been termed the ‘Great Resignation’. This trend looks set to continue, with one study showing that nearly a third of respondents have recently sought new employment because flexible working was not offered at their organisation.
Such a shift in priorities demonstrates that flexible working is now a central requirement for employees. It was fully legitimised throughout the pandemic, and is not just a nice bonus perk. Employers should understand that incorporating flexibility into their business is beneficial because loyal workers are the most valuable kind in the long term. Giving employees increased autonomy and control within the workplace is also a tangible display of trust, which will also have a positive impact on loyalty.
Balance is still central, however, and for many, interacting with co-workers and the social side of work were the aspects of the office missed most during the pandemic. People enjoy meeting and communicating with co-workers in person, as well as having access to the resources and physical spaces that support their careers. Employees come to work to collaborate and socialise with one another. Both in-person and remote approaches feed into accomplishing the same objective: increasing company loyalty and productivity.
Loyalty has a direct impact on productivity. Offering individuals ownership of how, where and when they work, will lead to employees being far more likely to want to contribute and excel professionally. Productivity also increases as businesses formally invest in human assets, such as establishing structures and mechanisms which allow for flexible working. The University of Pennsylvania found that a 10 percent investment aimed at directly improving capital increased productivity by 3.9 percent, whereas a 10 percent investment into human assets increased productivity by 8.5 percent. This indicates a substantial long-term increase in profit margins after supplementing and enabling the workforce.
Staff retention and loyalty means that employees can add more value. Many organisations prioritise capital assets to lock in short-term financial wins. But they need to invest in their staff. The long-term financial benefits of employee investment will lead to increased productivity, loyalty and general employee happiness and retention.
Remote working has kept global economies afloat throughout the pandemic because it works. Flexible working takes the best of traditional working patterns and full remote working. When done correctly, it is a win-win for all involved. Increased autonomy over how, where and when employees work boosts physical and mental wellbeing, and nurtures and cultivates a sense of loyalty. This can then have a significant impact on productivity levels, increasing quality of performance and overall revenue streams. When implemented correctly, flexible working can take businesses to the next level, helping them remain competitive and relevant in a world that demands both in order to excel.