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Navigating the way

to a new flexible working

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There is no doubt Covid accelerated an inevitable shift in work-life balance and as reports on ‘quiet quitting’ have shown, candidates are no longer willing to simply settle. Add to this the current gloomy climate of a looming recession and very real cost of living crisis, it’s understandable that candidates want to put themselves firmly in the driving seat of their future. Demands that previously may have been interpreted as nice-to-haves are fast becoming
must-haves and employers need
to keep-up.

The concept of hybrid working has been around for a while now - the blend of in-office, remote and on-the-go working - and according to 2023 Future of Work trend reports, we won’t stop hearing about ‘hybrid’ anytime soon. This year looks set to be a candidate’s market again and they want to feel empowered to create the balance of where and how they work in order to benefit their well-being, finances and productivity. 

 

A customised work life

Perhaps, though, we need to start looking at things from a wider perspective. Remote and flexible working was thrust upon us during the many stages of the pandemic and it proved to the sceptics that businesses can still function without everyone being together in the office 5 days a week. But this way of work is no longer just about how many days staff are in the office. It is about employees customising their work life in every respect, including when they do the work and whether they are permanent or contract. Rigid 9-5 working hours may become a thing of the past as companies are expected to place their trust in their employees that the work will be done and the hours will be put in. Having the flexibility to choose hours that suit them individually is becoming an important consideration for candidates when choosing companies to work for. If deadlines are met, does it matter when and where the work got done?

 

Another upward trend is the shift in preference from permanent to contract work - both from the perspective of employers and employees. According to the recent Sonovate Future World of Work Report 2023, 67% of companies are experiencing a growing proportion of contractors in their workforce, with 35% of companies reporting that “increasing numbers of their existing permanent staff are asking to move to temporary or contract positions”. 

 

The design world has always been involved in a dance between permanent and contract staff based on the fact that the work is project-led; with the size and scope of the project determining how many temporary hires need to be made. But with the rise in expectation to customise work lives, will design studios need to start implementing strategic changes across their businesses as a whole to keep staff motivated and loyal?

 

In short, yes. But it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it might sound.

 

How to make this new version of flexible work a success

An important consideration when designing a flexible work offering is to look at things from the individual’s perspective and not just from the company’s perspective. A bottom-up approach rather than top-down.
 

  • Clear communication and expectations 

    • If flexible working within these new expanded parameters is going to work for your company, the first step to success is to ensure you set clear expectations for all employees. For example, there must be clarity around when and what hours people are expected to be in. If you want teams to be in the office at the same time in order to have face-to-face time, brainstorming and collaboration sessions, this must be non-negotiable and individuals must respect this whilst having their own needs met.

    • Good communication in general must be a priority to ensure employees stay motivated and feel included. Make time for individuals to share their opinion and ask questions to avoid knowledge gaps and disconnect between colleagues. 

    • Gather feedback from employees to understand what’s working and what’s not. This new era of flexible working needs to be a group effort for it to succeed so instead of assuming or guessing how employees are experiencing the set-up, be sure to have a feedback process in place. 
       

  • Company culture 

    • Think about how to invest in company culture and find opportunities to be creative. Coffee breaks and after work beers aren’t the be-all and end-all so what other ways can you build rapport between in-office and remote workers that doesn’t involve being in the same place?

    • Company culture feeds down from the top so as well as ensuring employees can have some fun injected into their work lives, it is just as important to ensure that managers and leaders provide a positive company culture experience. This includes being visible, supportive and empathetic in order for success. 
       

  • Technology

    • To make communication and work processes as smooth as possible, you need to make sure that employees are provided with the right technology and tools. Employees should be able to switch between different work environments effortlessly.

    • Technology should facilitate processes of collaboration, idea sharing and communication to replicate how those moments are played out in the office and allow employees to access these experiences from anywhere.

Benefits for employers

While it seems candidates will still be largely calling the shots this year, there are some benefits that this new world of work will present for employers too.

 

A better work-life balance for employees can result in better productivity, better relationships at home and at work, and more capacity for creativity. Giving employees the opportunity to customise their work lives can also lead to reduced absenteeism and improved retention due to them feeling more satisfied at work.

 

Employers are now able to recruit from a vastly expanded talent pool since it is no longer about who lives within reach of the physical office or who is looking for full-time permanent work. If people no longer need to leave their homes to expand their career this opens up access for employers to find and use the best talent, whether that be returning parents who need flexible hours to work around childcare, people living abroad or freelance workers. 

 

Moreover, with fewer people in the office at any one time, employers can start to think of innovative ways to repurpose unused office space. For example, having a dedicated collaboration space can help to make those days that teams are in the office together even more productive.

 

In Summary 

Flexible working is set to become even more personal with candidates expecting to customise their work life. It will play a key role in both the attraction and retention of employees so companies need to get their ducks in a row and set processes up to support this new way of work. 

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