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Ziglinde de Jager - Flexibility: The Key to Increased Productivity

Benefits of flexible workspaces for SMEs

What was once considered a perk that only some employees could enjoy, has now become the greatest answer to time and retaining top talent in SMEs. In this article Ziglinde de Jager reviews the benefits, possibilities and impacts of flexible working options on SMEs at large. Gain some strategies to apply within your company.

Ziglinde de Jager | Freelance Writer

The normal working day is changing at a rapid pace as many professionals are leaving behind their usual routine of waking up at 6am, driving to work in rush hour traffic, already being tired by the time they arrive at the office and feeling distracted by all their chatting colleagues.

The 40-hour workweek is a thing of the past, since most employees now work for 47 hours per week, and more than 64% of managers expect their employees to be reachable out of the office on their personal time. In the meantime more than half of employees feel burnt out because of this. About 54% of employees reported that home, and not the office, is their location of choice to undertake job-related assignments. Only 19% of workers said they would want to go to the office during regular working hours to get their work done.

The balance of power in the job market is quickly shifting from companies to professionals, and if companies don’t pro-actively change their strategies, the loss of key professionals within their company will be great. For most companies, flexible work options are still a perk rather than a standard, yet nowadays technology causes the normal 9-5 routine to become less of a norm around the world.

SMEs are the ones most affected by the change in culture, and if they implement it into their strategy, the flexible office space and hours will benefit them in the following ways:

Saving money on office space

In an SME, the office or retail space is normally one of the biggest overheads, and given their size and ease in adaptability, the rising real estate prices, and technology as an integral part of a productive and flexible workforce, most SMEs know that they don’t need an office space to conduct business as usual. They will no longer have a physical location since technology can establish virtual locations, and the reduction of this cost will immediately improve their cash flow.

A more empowered and motivated workforce

Research found that employees who are able to work flexibly or from home are more productive than those who are in the office the whole day. They are less distracted, less stressed and also have an increased loyalty towards the company for trusting them with the freedom of working flexibly. Whenever employees are given the choice and trusted more when it comes to work hours and flexibility, they will also feel more empowered to stick to their own rules, and will focus more on completing tasks than filling a space.

Increased staff retention and reduced turnover

Finding and training employees can cost a small business a lot of time and effort, so allowing a loyal worker to work more flexible hours is an easy choice for any manager. Additionally, a business that retains workers over long periods of time are more likely to grow and be successful than one that has to regularly adjust to new employees. Around 82% of professionals said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options. And approximately 39% have turned down a promotion, have quit or have not taken a job due to a lack of flexible work options. These percentages were taken from a FlexJobs survey.

Attractiveness to potential employees

The sharing economy and freelance market space is expanding as many professionals find it better to work per project than full-time, because of the control they could have over their own time and lives. By 2020, about 40% of Americans will already be part of the gig economy, which opens up the space for employers to hire better talent, on-demand and at a lower cost. If SMEs want to compete for the best employees, they will have no choice but to adapt to a more flexible working style.

Reducing the high level of sickness and absenteeism

Sickness caused by stress is a reality in the world most employees live in. The fact that employees will have more time to rest because of less hours spent in traffic and more flexibility to run their errands during the day, will result in most employees being less inclined to take time off from work, since they can work around the demands of their personal life. Night owls, who prefer to burn the midnight oil from home and are most productive in those hours, will also benefit a whole lot from flexible working options.

It is a millennial world

For the generation that has just stepped into the workplace, a remote work environment and wearable technology is more the norm than the exception. They are creative, hardworking, optimistic and future-thinking and if managers try and put the round pegs that they are into the square holes of the past, the company would lose the key they hold to the future. They believe in results over structure, in personalisation, and they will continue to disrupt workspaces to fit their needs as they are rapidly jumping the ladders of leadership within companies.

Eco-friendly offices

The eco-friendly trend has come and stayed and quite frankly, all offices should embrace it. Flexible working will instantly result in workspaces being more eco-friendly as energy usage can be kept to a minimum, because teams are made up from flexible workers. This will immediately result in offices using less water and electricity, and will be better for the environment and employees altogether.

Is your company ready for this change?

Technology has completely changed the way we think about office space and working hours, but simply giving employees or employers the technology to work remotely is not enough. The employees need to feel confident with the technological devices they are given to be able to do their job, and business support will be vital when it comes to preparing employees to work productively and collaborate well with their team when they work more flexibly. Also, in any business, the focus should always be on meeting the customer’s needs, which of course differs within each company. As the boundaries between home and workspaces are slowly fading, so employers also need to let go of their old ideas of how an office space should look like.

The following are points employers should think about before making the choice between flexible or structured working hours:

Knowing what employees need

Have a conversation with your employees about the current way they work and what they feel would help them work more productively. This could be done through one-on-one conversations or through surveys. Employers will be surprised to see that most employees aren’t after extreme flexibility, and that they only want a little bit of give to help them co-ordinate their busy work and family life a little better.

Planning for change

Managers should look at other companies and how they have implemented a flexible workplace. They will learn how they made it a success and start making plans to outline the changes that might need to be done in order to create an office space and work hours that will be suitable for their company.

Renting out office spaces

No matter how flexible companies become, they will always need spaces to sit their staff down for a meeting. Fortunately, there is a growing trend and network of office spaces that could be rented out to work individually or to host group meetings that will offer companies the flexibility they desire.

Using technology well

Companies should make sure that employees can in fact carry on working efficiently and that their computers and mobile phones give them the ability to do so. There are many platforms and services like Cloud storage available, which creates the opportunity for employees to access work files wherever they are. Programmes like Skype or FaceTime can connect the employer and employee in seconds if technology is used well.

Communication is key

When it comes to flexible working and offices, a manager’s ability to communicate well is vital to the success of companies wanting their employees to work remotely. The biggest challenge for managers is to get a consistent message out to everyone. If companies are able to conduct strategies to improve communication and get all of their employees up to date with technology, flexible working would be a walk in the park.

Set up a trial

Flexible working will completely change the way that SMEs function, and when preparing for any great change, a trial period is vital. The idea of a permanent change might seem overwhelming for managers who are used to the old structures. Avoid confusion through a trial period. Employees will feel safe and will be able to adapt to changes, if it is found that productivity and morale have indeed increased. During the trial it is also important that managers really listen to what their employees are experiencing.

Consistency, consistency, consistency

Flexible time isn’t just a benefit that should be given to working moms - most employees would benefit from it. The importance is to manage it well. Managers should make sure that the correct boundaries are put in place so that employees feel they are being treated fairly and consistently when measuring their work-life to that of their co-workers.

Cultivating the flexibility

Teach team leaders how to work flexibly and how to lead a flexible team. This could be tricky at times. The old mind-set about employees not being present for a certain amount of hours per day, or the usage of technology, might be a hindrance at first, but with the right attitude the needed changes can be implemented without too much strain and effort. The truth is that flexible working will change the whole culture of a business and if the focus is truly on results, productivity and happy employees, SMEs would embrace flexibility with open arms, rather than simply ignoring it.