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How to make flexible working possible as an SME
There are many misconceptions about the notion of flexible working, particularly amongst smaller businesses. Many people immediately think of flexible working as something for working mothers, or as reduced hours in the working week, however, this is not the case. Flexible working is simply a new way of thinking and a more dynamic approach to the way in which professionals deliver on their day-to-day responsibilities. In fact, many businesses choose to use the term dynamic working rather than flexible working for this very reason. Dynamic working is all about boosting productivity, supporting a healthy work-life balance amongst employees, and building a high trust, high performance working culture.
This way of working has emerged as a direct result of the shifting demands of the millennial generation in the workforce, and in order to compete for the best and brightest talent, companies must be able to offer the most competitive benefits package. The growing focus on mental health is another key driver behind the decision for many businesses to implement these policies.
Larger, more digitalised companies are leading the way in this new way of working, as they have both the capacity and finances to support these setups. We often advise our clients to consider introducing a flexible working policy where possible, to boost their overall recruitment process. Not only in terms of attracting and winning talent but to also help increase retention rates. For many SME businesses, this poses something of a challenge.
Why go dynamic as an SME?
The current market is highly competitive and candidate short, which means that top talent not only has endless opportunities to choose from but can also afford to be more selective when choosing where they want to work. From a hiring perspective, businesses are now under more pressure to sell themselves to professionals than ever before.
In many industries, finance particularly, large blue-chip organisations have a significant advantage when competing for top talent. But in an age where work-life balance is a top priority, and professionals are increasingly valuing company culture above other pull factors, SMEs can really set their business apart from the competition.
Overcoming the obstacles
For those businesses new to the idea or considering how such a programme might work, it is crucial to understand the challenges that you might be facing or should expect on the journey. What’s equally important is to find workaround solutions that can be implemented and work for your business’ unique needs.
Of course, coverage at key times of the finance month is a top concern. If everyone is working from home, shorter hours, or out of the office, how will the work get done? Similarly, making such a programme work for everyone, and getting the buy-in from more established/experienced members of the team might be a daunting and perhaps seemingly impossible task. Millennials are invested in this new way of working, but will it be beneficial for all members of your team? If your team has already requested a flexible or dynamic working arrangement, you may have experienced the guilt of turning down the request, or on the other hand, granting the request to some, and not to others.
As highlighted earlier, it is important to remember that dynamic working doesn’t mean less working hours. Make it work for your employees and ensure it will benefit the productivity of your team. The focus should be on the deliverables, not on the time spent sitting in the office.
Facilitate home access - the ability to work from home or a remote location can significantly improve productivity. Millennials in particular are often on their emails first thing in the morning or responding to queries well after 5:30. In fact, the ability to sign in during a commute can amount to a lot more getting done, well before the rest of the team has even signed in.
Establish flexibility champions - if your concern is making sure that dynamic is well received by everyone, flexibility champions might be the solution. These individuals should be from right across the business, to demonstrate how they make it work best for them. This might be an individual who takes a longer lunch break but comes in an hour early or a parent who comes in later so they can drop their kids off in the mornings, it might even be that when needed, your champions rush off early to make an earlier train but log back in once they get home.
Highlight great performance - this should happen for both employees in the office and working dynamically. However, if there is a noticeable improvement in an individual’s performance after adopting a dynamic working schedule, be sure that it is known across the company.
Agree on weekly deliverables with each individual - regardless of flexibility requirements - work from home, longer lunches, or later start times - every employee needs to know their KPIs and daily responsibilities to ensure that can perform their job. When dynamic working is introduced, this becomes increasingly important to ensure that they know what is expected of them.
Consider job sharing - where it is feasible, perhaps two employees would work better on a part-time basis sharing the responsibilities of a single role on a week to week basis? Job sharing is a workable solution if two colleagues or new starters are only able to work restricted hours during the week.
Implemening your dynamic solution
- To kick-start your dynamic working programme, be sure that you have done the following:
- Determine the challenges/risks to your business.
- Identify the individuals that might push back and get them involved early on.
- Agree at the board-level flexibility branding (e.g. ‘deliver with flexibility’).
- Set the objective and determine the benefits to your business.
- Allocate an investment fund e.g. for technology.
- Recruit flexibility champions and get their buy-in.
When building and determining how a dynamic set up would work for your business, it is important to consider the needs of your employees, current working hours and days, office capabilities, and the technology that you have available. Define what dynamic working means in your business. It is fundamental to the success of the programme to establish a clear process and ensure this is readily available to all employees. It should include the formal process for requesting dynamic working but should also touch on what it might mean in a more informal capacity.
In addition to agreeing on weekly deliverables for those allowed to utilise flexible working, clearly define the roles and responsibilities that employees, line managers, and the HR have in making flexible working a success. Track performance and celebrate the success storied across the business.
Watch a recording of on our demand webinar “Flexible Working: reduce costs and boost productivity in your SME” to learn more. Alternatively, get in touch with your local Michael Page office to discuss how we can help you find the right people to drive your business forward.