A little less conversation, a little more action
9am Monday. You’re at home. Fresh coffee made and laptop open. You’ve checked in with your team at the office. There’s a productive week to be had.
10.15am. Your overall wellbeing changes instantly. An email has caught your attention. Rebecca, the relatively new exec, is going to Barcelona with the company CEO on a business trip. “If anyone should be going then it should be me,” you muse. “I’ve worked harder than her.” “She’s only been at the company for five months.” You send a string of desperate emails to justify your existence. However, the decision has been made. And therein lies the argument; with more employers embracing flexible, remote and mobile working models, when and by what means do they initiate all the important discussions about the expectations and wellbeing of their transient teams?
We know the way we work is transforming. A recent survey of 1,800 UK workers by Deloitte and Timewise found that 78% of employers offered flexible working to at least some degree. However, 30% of employees felt that their status had ‘lowered’ in the office, and 25% found that they had received fewer opportunities than those actually based in the office.
So, should flexible workers be concerned that they are missing out on such opportunities simply because they are not physically visible within the day-to-day workings of business? Should they be punished for working at home? In a local café? Or wherever helps them do their job to the best of their ability.
Previous studies by the Harvard Business Review discovered that flexible workers were actually more effective than their peers based in the office. Perhaps they were working at another level, determined to prove that flexible working works. They work hard and more importantly they deliver results.
Another theory is gratitude for the opportunity to work flexibly. However, what happens when gratitude wains and flexible workers no longer view the way they work as a privilege? Instead it’s the new ‘norm’. As a result, they then behave no differently to office-based staff and produce similar results.
Striking the right balance
The key is communication. 2020 signals the dawn of another decade of workplace change and it is predicted that half the UK workforce will be working remotely to at least some degree in their careers ahead. Employers can start adapting to these new working styles by introducing a flexible working policy which focusses on outputs and outcomes rather than being present in the office and actual hours worked. Workers need clarity about what is expected of them both in work and out of hours.
If an employee is working from home (or anywhere for that matter) then a simple email to your line manager is recommended at the start of the morning to lay out to-do-lists, anything you might need assistance or guidance with, any calls you might have planned. Then, touch base again at the end of the day with an update on your progress. This way, there is no room for confusion or missed deadlines, both ends of the working relationship are kept informed, and the potential stress of mistrust or lowering of status, as mentioned before, is avoided entirely.
A lot can be said about the influence a well-designed office has on the well-being of those that occupy it. Freelancers and flexible workers rightly feel a sense of belonging when they know there’s a physical workplace for them to use as a base, somewhere they can commute to knowing they’re going to see some friendly faces. When it comes to the workplace design, the goal should be to create a purpose-driven environment because lest we forget, culture and teamwork are sacred. Therefore, modern workplaces should be designed to focus on improving employee engagement and productivity through optimising collaboration, focus and efficiency based on the shifting needs of the workforce. This can be done via dedicated collaborative zones, social spaces, concentrative areas, team ‘neighbourhoods’ and tailored touches to make everyone feel at home, like they belong to a pack. This approach also helps to convey a sense of brand which, in turn, can help to drive a culture that embodies an organisation’s values and essence
As a result of the technology at our fingertips, communication at work couldn’t be simpler. Slack, Trello, Zoom, GoTo Meeting and other screen sharing software have all heightened productivity and altered the way we work. Flexible working can also be designed to accommodate different lifestyles. Adopting the concept makes sense; but it will always depend on your company’s policy. The healthiest relationships, we find, are when employers and employees both recognise the boundaries between work and play, but fundamentally – they both remember there is life outside of the office.
Of course, when employees are at work, you want the best from them in terms of productivity and efficiency. However, it is also important to remember that employees do have their own lives outside the business. From doctors’ appointments and childcare through to groups, schemes and hobbies that employees may be involved with in their own time, it is so important to try to accommodate these needs, when appropriate.
But what is ‘employee wellbeing’?
We have come a long way in changing our attitudes towards mental health and wellbeing in the workplace by generally allowing more people to work flexibly and creating more support programmes.
However, wellbeing is difficult to define and sometimes difficult to ‘get right’. Even the Oxford English Dictionary definition is vague, noting that wellbeing is the ‘state of being comfortable, healthy or happy’. In the workplace I’m sure you can understand that this is sometimes even more difficult to achieve, especially when you have a challenging customer or tight deadline. As business owners and managers, however, it’s vital to support staff in every way possible in order for them to work to the best of their ability.
Being a manager isn’t just about managing workloads and to do lists. After all, if you take care of your employees, they will take care of you (and the wider business). Spend some time really thinking about how your colleagues work, what they get up to on a daily basis and the obstacles they may come up against. And remember, there are external factors that can impact wellbeing – always bear this in mind and be receptive to suggestion.
We fundamentally live on the premise that happy employees are productive employees whether they are based in the office or not. If an individual feels supported at work and knows they are surrounded by an environment of care and open communication, they will undoubtedly feel more comfortable in their daily life, both at work and at home. We encourage any business owners to not only adapt to the changing patterns of employees, but to also actively welcome and embrace them. Flexible working isn’t going to go away. Take an interest in your staff – both those in the office and those working remotely – and remember to ask them how their hobby is progressing, or the class they are taking is helping them develop.
Ultimately, the more engaged and supported your staff are, the happier and more productive they will be. Flexible and alternative working styles are undoubtedly becoming one of the key areas of interest when attracting top talent into the workplace of today. So, the question now is no longer ‘can or should we support flexible working’, and instead shifting to ‘how can we best support flexible working’.
Paul Skelton, Sales Director, Active Workplace Solutions