Portable IT equipment, the widespread availability of broadband internet and the explosion of cloud-based computing services mean it’s easier than ever to allow flexible working in your company.
Flexible working can include many types of working including homeworking, mobile working, hot-desking, part-time and flexi-time arrangements.
Mobile devices can allow your staff to work whilst out on the road, from the comfort of their own home, whilst visiting clients or working away from the office. They can also help you introduce hot-desking to your business - allowing staff to share a desk with other employees reducing the amount of office and desk space you need and lowering your overheads.
Homeworking is fast becoming one of the most common forms of flexible working. It is an attractive option for both employees and many employers. But, while homeworking and flexible working can certainly bring benefits to your business, you should think carefully before introducing them.
Flexible working pros and cons
Flexible working can bring a number of benefits to your business:
- Increased productivity. People who work from home are less susceptible to interruptions than those in the office and often find it easier to focus and be productive.
- Boosted motivation. Allowing home or flexible working arrangements demonstrates trust, reduces commuting hassles and helps staff balance work and other obligations.
- Cost savings. If working from home is the norm for a proportion of your workforce, your business may be able to occupy smaller premises.
There can be disadvantages to working from home too:
- Management is trickier. With less face-to-face contact, it can be harder to manage your team of people.
- Extra costs. Enabling flexible working can involve significant - and sometimes expensive - changes to your IT systems.
- Communication problems. It can be harder for a team to communicate successfully when they work from different locations.
One way to get round this is for employees to work flexibly or from home on a part-time basis. This solution gives staff time in the office for face-to-face catch ups whilst benefiting from the increased motivation and productivity offered by flexible working.
Is flexible or homeworking right for your company?
Often, the appropriateness of flexible working arrangements depend on the job itself. For instance, while telesales staff, writers and consultants may thrive when working from home or on the road, it is impossible for retail staff or factory employees to even consider homeworking.
As well as evaluating the job roles in your company, there are other key factors that will determine how appropriate flexible working is. Notably:
- Are your employees suited to it? Working flexibly from home or away from the office creates new challenges in motivation and self-discipline.
- Can your IT cope? Understand what new IT you might have to invest in before committing to a flexible or homeworking programme.
If you offer flexible working to one person in your business, you may set a precedent which others want to follow. You should therefore make sure that flexible working fits your company before you offer it to your staff.
Flexible working IT issues
Think carefully about how to introduce flexible working. Your employees will probably need access to new equipment to work effectively.
You remain responsible for their computer health and safety no matter where they work, so you will need to supply effective, ergonomic computer hardware. You may also be responsible for supplying office equipment.
Effective communications are important, so lay on a broadband internet connection if they will work from another location on a regular basis and mobile phone. Call forwarding may also make it easier for people to contact your staff while they are away from the office.
Keep an eye on security, especially if your employees require access to sensitive information like your customer database. A virtual private network allows you to create a secure 'tunnel' between your employee's computer and your company IT systems.
Managing flexible and homeworkers
Think about how you will manage people who work flexibly. It can be tricky to monitor their performance, so agree deadlines and meet face-to-face regularly. Employees who work flexibly or from home typically need better time management skills than their office-based colleagues, so think about extra training too.
In general, maintaining good communication is key to success. Technology can help a lot. Use collaboration tools, instant messaging, webcams and the good old telephone to ensure all your employees can stay in touch with the business.
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