Recent research from The Work Foundation suggests that the traditional 9am to 5pm routine of office life is slowly dying in the face of flexible working, environmental responsibility, cultural diversity and technology.
This is hardly breakthrough news because we have been watching the demise of 9 till 5 working – or 9 while 5 as they say in Yorkshire – ever since mobile devices changed the dynamics of our working life and meant that people didn’t have to physically go to the office to be productive. People have been working from home for years but the perception in many cases is still that work from home is a by word for – easy day.
It may be for some but in most cases, working from home has distinct advantages – no travel time to/from the office, no distractions/disturbances, no-one wandering past your desk, stress free environment, better thinking time etc which should all contribute to boosting productivity. The business can also tick the environmental green box with the reduced mileage with employees not travelling to work.
People are also still driving hundreds of miles to physically attend meetings which could be avoided through better use of tele-conferencing, skype etc – travelling is a cost to the company and the travel time is unproductive.
The nature of our work also means that whilst 9 to 5 might suit us, it may not work for our other stakeholders. In international companies, factor in the time zone difference, whilst the supply chain and associated production lines might be working 24 hour shifts and our customer or client base might be more busy after 5pm – for instance Retailers on the High Street are open till late, the Hotel, Restaurant and Leisure sector comes alive in the evenings and Healthcare is round the clock.
Technology and mobile devices have played a major part in changing the way we think about 9 to 5 working but IT Departments can certainly not function if they stick to set hours. Major system upgrades take place at night when there is less IT traffic and when a website crashes or 24 hour Contact Centres go down, the business can’t wait because business continuity is critical to customer retention.
Legislation has also led to a culture of greater flexible working and this has been driven by demand based around changing demographics, a more diverse workforce and trends in society. However, to be clear, in most cases the legislation has increased the circumstances and situations where an employee may request flexible working arrangement but the employer can still refuse.
On the flip side, some readers would absolutely welcome the opportunity to do a 9-5 day because in some businesses there is a culture of long hours with people at their desks at 6.30am and staying late. In some parts of the country, the home to work commute dictates the hours people choose to work – people would rather leave early and do a journey in 40 minutes than hit peak traffic and have the same journey take twice as long. For some, no doubt it has more to do with the fact that car park spaces are allocated on a first come first served basis!
There isn’t always a direct correlation between the number of hours spent in the office and productivity – some will be as productive with a 9-5 culture as the person who sits there 12 hours a day. For the business, productivity and output matters but employee wellbeing is high on to-days’s Board agenda and all responsible businesses are now promoting a sensible work life balance.
Flexible working is undoubtedly the way of the future and all businesses are encouraged to look at their working practices, review flexible working arrangements, consider whether prescribed working hours are still appropriate for the business and develop strategies which enable all employees to benefit.
However, if we are going to embrace this change, strong leadership is vital with a consistency of approach among line management whilst also developing a culture of trust. Businesses also need to educate all employees and change attitudes ……when one person in the team gets up and leaves at 4pm, the perception with the others is that they’re leaving early. Has anyone stopped to ask if that person didn’t get home last night until 8pm because they were at an off site meeting?
Similarly, in businesses where there is a long hours culture, some people feel that it’s the “done thing” to sit there and not be the first to leave.
Anyone can download a few policies and procedures around flexible working but the real challenge lies with strong leadership in changing the perception and stigma of flexible working, empowering line management to exercise discretion and promoting a culture of trust. The modern leader will see that over time, productivity and well being will improve, hopefully leading to a better work life balance which in turn will make the workplace a better place and this will reduce attrition. Oh….and that’s a direct hit to the bottom line.