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The year the workers revolt: Why flexibility is vital for businesses in 2018

While businesses can’t alleviate all the stresses of employees outside of work, they can reduce the need for travel to a central office.

By James Nunns

Although summer may seem like a long way off, commuters are likely to soon start dreading the inevitable delays summer brings to the UK transport systems.

From sweltering train carriages and delays because of the ‘wrong type’ of sunshine, to melting roads, the past few years have highlighted some of the extremes commuters can face. So how can businesses keep their single most valuable resource – their employees – happy, productive, and loyal?

The most recent UK census showed more workers are living further away from work, and commuting more than 10km a day. Combining the pressures of arranging childcare and spending time with family and friends alongside the chaos of commuting, undoubtedly leaves some employees wondering why they need to travel into an almost-empty office over the summer or Christmas periods. While businesses can’t alleviate all the stresses of employees outside of work, they can reduce the need for travel to a central office.

 

Countering commute chaos

Christmas tends to highlight the extremes of commuting, as Network Rail and the Highways Agency take advantage of lower volumes of travel. The Christmas period in 2017 saw 27 sets of roadworks in place as well as the closure of four major London stations, with diversions and cancellations on at least eight other train lines. Commuting woes, however, aren’t limited to Christmas; such feelings can also manifest at those times of the year when offices tend to be emptier and transport works take place more frequently, such as Bank Holidays and over the summer.

In fact, research has shown a 20 minute increase in commute is as bad for employee satisfaction as a 19% pay cut. With two bank holidays on the horizon, and summer not far behind, businesses need to act now for the sake of their employees. Given commuting is a year-round issue for staff, businesses should not only allow, but actively support and encourage flexible working practices that can result in more engaged, productive and happier employees.

 

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We are beginning to see generational changes in the workforce, with staff increasingly expecting employers to offer flexible working, without fixed ties to a single location and timetable. Staff who find a workplace is too constrictive, or offers limited options, are likely to join the January exodus and start looking for alternative employment. Businesses that cannot get a grip on flexibility increase their risk of losing staff as well as becoming unable to attract and retain fresh blood.

Practicing providing the flexibility for employees to work from where and when they want over the festive period, is the first step to helping implement a strategy to support flexible working year-round. Indeed, any business that wants to maximise the productivity of their workforce and ensure it doesn’t fall behind the competition should be able to give its workers all of the tools they need to work flexibly – without losing control of communications, or having to invest heavily in completely new technology. This will also aid in opening up communication and collaboration with colleagues in different locations, whether they are in a head office, a home office, or a third office.

 

Gaining from globalisation

Flexibility isn’t only being driven by a younger workforce, but also by today’s expectation, and need, to become a global business serving all corners of the world. The majority of businesses now operate in an interconnected, global environment, with customers, partners and suppliers spread around the world. Seeking out new markets and opportunities involves crossing borders to a much greater degree than previously possible. The trend to flexibility will be vital to support businesses’ international expansion and growth.

For many businesses, globalisation will mean necessary changes to working practices – particularly where clients or partners work across different religious and regional calendars. Employees will be required to work more flexibly; perhaps on bank holidays, or when customers or partners are still in the office, and to take meetings earlier or later to cover time zones. With working patterns changing rapidly, insisting on employees travelling to a central office will become a sore point – instead, organisations must foster and facilitate flexible working practices to succeed in a global market.

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