There’s no denying that as a working population we are experiencing the throes of a revolution – and a flexible one at that. The concept of flexible working is one that is rapidly emerging, resulting in the adaptation of the traditional workspace as we knew it.
Rapidly advancing technologies are making it easier than ever for professionals to work remotely, on the move and reduce the need for a business to run its operations entirely under one roof 9-5, seven days a week.
The number of employers offering work-from-home options increased from just 13% in 2006 to 59% in 2011, according to the CBI/Harvey Nash Employment Trends Survey 2011. Indeed, its most recent survey in 2012 also spoke of the flexibility of the UK’s labour market, believing its freedom has made the country a good location for sizeable international projects.
Flexible working has psychological, financial and business benefits and these all result in heightened productivity and efficiency. Finding the right work-life balance is something we all strive for and can be one of the biggest challenges any entrepreneur faces when starting a business. Flexible working hours, whether that means working alternative hours or at different locations, may help to strike this balance.
One of the many reasons entrepreneurs start their own business is because they feel stressed and restricted by conventional working hours, particularly if they have young family commitments. The ability to work outside the office and keep your fingers on the pulse is a positive for both employees and employers.
Small-business owners concerned about the bottom line are also welcoming flexible working because it is proven to be good for businesses, too.
The Department for Work and Pensions produced a report on the effects of flexible working on employees and employers and it found a marked reduction in costs as a result of fewer people missing work or leaving their positions. Similarly, 58% of small-business owners recorded notable increases in productivity within their workforce.
Flexible working has made business increasingly global. Firms can entertain the idea of spreading their net further than ever before by travelling overseas for client pitches and meetings without the fear of taking their eye off the ball back at headquarters, with email, apps and the cloud improving connectivity in ways we could never have imagined just a couple of decades ago.
The growth of business hubs and fewer business owners demanding central office locations, combined with the continued use of smartphone and tablet devices means professionals can increasingly take responsibility for finding their own work-life balance.
Guest blog supplied by Generator, one of Europe’s fastest-growing hostel accommodation chains, with eight locations across the continent.
Flexible working isn’t right for all businesses. Call centres, for example, can only function with a traditional workplace structure in place. For creative and consultancy-based disciplines, however, you can match and even exceed productivity by giving your staff greater flexibility. In our quest to be a better employer – and get the most out of our staff – we’ve learned a few lessons we wanted to share.
Teams that perform knowledge-based roles can work pretty much anywhere they can get reception and plug in a laptop. For that reason, we have a developer who works 300 miles away and barely steps foot inside our Stockport-based offices. Similarly, I’m only in the office two days a week, spending the remaining three beavering away from my home. All the work gets done, though, no matter where we are located.
However, we need our distribution staff to work in our warehouse to set hours, it’s the only way to meet delivery deadlines. Flexible working for this function is just not an option.
If you’re adopting a more flexible hours/location approach, you’ll need to revise your line management model, and the solution for this is to replace a hierarchical structure with a flat one.
This means instead of employees measuring their progress by their peers, they measure their own achievements against KPIs (key performance indicators) you’ve agreed with them.
There are three reasons for having a flat structure. Firstly, it’s purely practical. If your employees are working out of the office, they no longer have peers constantly within sight to use as benchmarks. Secondly, they become more concerned with their own development than their colleagues' – reducing time spent on office politics, increasing time spent on development. Thirdly, you are both very clear on what you expect from them.
Thanks to today’s technology, you and your team can be virtually in the same room, even though you’re physically miles apart. Meaning there are lots of ways combine the benefits of working from home with those of being in an office.
For example, I work at home for three out of five working days each week. But Google Hangout allows me to virtually work side by side with colleagues who also work at home. We turn the camera off (as we have no interest in being in our own reality show!), but keep the sound on so we can talk through issues in real time, update each other on projects and ensure we have a healthy amount of banter to keep us sane.
We’d also recommend ensuring you’re in constant communication with your team, even if you’re working remotely. Each morning our senior team ‘meets’ for a 20-minute call so we can discuss the previous day’s activity and agree plans for the day ahead. It ensures we’re all working in sync.
Finally, we’re huge fans of Google Suite. It’s a fantastic tool with a series of apps that allow you to collaborate on one project at the same time and save files to a cloud. Meaning there’s no need for a hard drive, jobs can be are completed much faster and gone are the days of 23 versions of the same document.
We all know that a project’s success is due to the productive hours put in – rather than the minutes clocked up with bums on seats. Just because someone appears to be at work does not always mean they are!
But we know from talking to some of our ‘old-skool’ contacts, it can be hard to trust that staff are working when they’re ‘working from home’. So we’re huge advocates of KPIs. They enable you to set targets and measure progress, leaving you to trust your employees to get on with their work. If they’re hitting the numbers, the work’s being done – and it doesn’t matter if they’re working from midday until 6am or from their second home in Spain.
Replacing a traditional workplace structure with something more fluid has delivered two key benefits to our business. Firstly, our time has increased. We no longer have to deal with the endless ‘can I leave early?’ questions, which zap time that can be better used.
Secondly – and most importantly – staff are happier, more relaxed and able to achieve a better work-life balance. By trusting them, they respond with greater productivity, resulting in a win-win for everyone.
Blog supplied by Sean Blanks, marketing director of Cartridge Save Ltd (“the UK’s largest reseller of ink and toner”).
Teams are the building blocks of many new businesses and keeping your team working effectively will reap many benefits. So how can you help your team to get the most out of working together?
A good working atmosphere makes a huge difference to a team’s productivity. The key to the difference between high-performing and low-performing teams is the ratio of positive to negative comments. Interestingly, this doesn’t need to be balanced; it needs to be weighted in favour of positive comments, at least by a ratio of 3:1.
Forget weaknesses – play to strengths. This will reap greater benefit in terms of performance improvement. This is because when we are using our strengths work feels effortless, we are energised and confident, we are engaged and probably experience moments of flow. Feeling like this we are more able to be generous and patient with others, so the benefits flow onward.
Teams are often made up of people with different skills and areas of expertise that tend to see the world and the priorities for action within it differently. This can lead to a great awareness of difference, which can come to be seen as insurmountable. A productive way to overcome this is through sharing of personal stories about their moments of pride at work. In this way, they are expressing their values and sense of purpose in an engaging, passionate and easy-to-hear form. The listener will undoubtedly find that the story resonates with them, creating an emotional connection at the same time as they begin to see the person in a different light.
Groups can get stuck in repeating dynamic patterns. When this happens, listening declines, because everyone believes they’ve heard it all before, and so does the possibility of anything new happening. To break the patterns we need to ask questions that require people to think before they speak. This brings information into the common domain that hasn’t been heard before.
When teams suffer a crisis of motivation or morale it is often associated with a lack of hope. In ‘hopeless’ situations we need to engender hopefulness. Appreciative, positive questioning can help people imagine future scenarios based on what is possible. As people project themselves into optimistic futures clearly connected to the present, they begin to experience some hopefulness. By using the techniques described above it's possible to get a team moving again or move a working team from good to great.
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It’s hardly the greatest time to be a young British adult, trying to make your way in the cruel new world in which we find ourselves.
Punitive fees and budget-busting living costs mean a university education is set to once again become the preserve of society’s wealthier members. With households under immense pressure, many parents (even those who would be considered fully paid-up members of the middle classes), simply can’t find the money to pay for their sons and daughters to go to university.
Hard luck. Welcome to the real world, you might say. Why not go and get a job like the rest of us? Well, things aren’t that easy. As reported by the Mail Online in late January, according to a study by the Work Foundation, youth unemployment in the UK has increased at a faster rate than any country in the G8 since the start of the recession five years ago.
Indeed, out of the countries that make up the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), only Spain and Greece have higher rates of youth unemployment than the UK (currently standing at about 1m). Youth unemployment here in the UK among 15 to 24 year olds increased by a staggering 35 per cent between 2008 and 2011, compared to an average of 15 per cent in the G8 countries (ie Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, UK and USA). The politicians should hang their heads in shame for failing young people so badly, you might say.
According to the Work Foundation report, during the same period youth unemployment decreased in Germany, Russia and Japan, which, said the report’s authors, suggests that youth unemployment problems in the UK couldn’t be attributed entirely to the recession, other factors have clearly played a part.
One of the report’s author, Lizzie Crowley, said: “'The government should focus on those policies that have been shown to work, cherry-picking the best responses from other countries and adapting them to the needs of the UK labour market.”
Many experts see apprenticeships as a useful weapon in the fight against endemic youth unemployment in the UK and elsewhere. The Work Foundation report recommended that the government should do more to encourage larger businesses in particular to sign up to an apprenticeship agreement.
Another report published recently by the Centre for Economics and Business Research claimed that 3.8m people will complete an apprenticeship in the next decade, contributing £3.4bn to the UK economy a year in productivity gains by 2022.
Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable, said: "This research confirms the economic importance of apprenticeships and sends a clear message that they deliver for employers, individuals and the economy. I want to see more small and medium-sized businesses reap the benefits of apprenticeships, which is why we have introduced a £1,500 incentive for SMEs who take on a young person.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said apprentices were “vital to Great British business”. He continued: “They are at the heart of our drive to provide employers with people who have the skills needed for their businesses to prosper and compete, often in a global market.”
This week, National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) 2013 is taking place. According to the National Apprenticeship Service, which organises NAW: “Apprenticeships deliver real returns, helping [you] to improve productivity and be more competitive. Training apprentices can also be more cost-effective than hiring skilled staff, leading to lower overall training and recruitment costs.
"Apprenticeships deliver skills designed around your business needs, providing the skilled workers you need for the future. They also help you develop the specialist skills you need to keep pace with the latest technology and working practices in your sector.”
Although many employers choose to pay more, the National Minimum Wage for apprentices is £2.65 per hour, making them an affordable option for many firms. There are even grants available to some employers. Maybe it’s time your business joined the fight against youth unemployment and took on an apprentice. Looks like the politicians need all the help they can get.
Research recently carried out by Avery Rewards suggests that millions of British workers haven’t had a thank you from their boss in over a year. More than half of the 2,000 workers we spoke to feel they don’t receive proper credit for their hard work. And, remarkably, one-in-four have NEVER had a thank you from their boss.
Our research suggests that just under half (47%) felt they were actually paid a fair wage for their efforts, but their superiors fail to manage them properly or show enough appreciation.
Most people put a lot of effort into the work they do each day and take a lot of pride in what they do, but it seems many don’t receive the thanks they’d like. There’s always a difference between what you’re expected to do and going the extra mile. And a simple thank you at the right moment can really have an impact on workplace morale.
In this tough economic climate, workers are being squeezed more than ever before to ensure they perform, so it’s important they feel that their efforts are appreciated.
The lack of a simple ‘thank-you’ means six-in-ten employees do not feel they are appreciated by their boss, with a third having stopped expecting any form of appreciation. Four-in-ten people say a thank you from the boss is usually rare, if it occurs at all, while a quarter of those who receive a show of gratitude aren’t always convinced it’s sincere.
When it comes to signs of appreciation, a bit more honesty, flexibility with working hours and the odd cup of tea are some of the biggest factors workers say can really make the difference. Simply having your birthday remembered, or the occasional team building exercise also build up to feeling appreciated.
Interestingly, more than half of workers in our study also felt their boss favoured certain employees.
Inevitably, when feeling underappreciated, employees’ first reaction was to start caring less about their work and put in a lot less effort. One-third will become disillusioned if they don’t receive the proper thanks, and a further fifth will start updating their CV.
But one-in-four hardy employees will put maximum effort into their work regardless of how happy they are and the credit they receive.
Overall, just a third of people find their job rewarding, and one-in-four people have to treat themselves at least once a week just to cheer themselves up from work.
Sometimes it’s easy to feel a little taken for granted and in those times it’s important to keep a level head and focus on rewarding ourselves when we deserve it and need to unwind outside of work.
1 Compliments about their work
2 A Christmas bonus
3 Greater working hours flexibility
4 More honesty from those they work for
5 Being made a cup of tea once in a while
6 More appreciation of how hard it is balancing work and family commitments
7 More understanding when they have appointments
8 Colleagues remembering birthdays
9 Teambuilding exercises
10 More work socials
Blog written by Gregg Corbett of Avery Awards