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Increasing Productivity Through Flexible Working

Jul 21, 2008
Flexible working is increasingly being seen by businesses in the UK as a way of increasing productivity as well as improving work life balance for staff.

Research by BT indicates that flexible working can lead to a 15% increase in productivity. With the credit crunch, jittery consumers and mounting fuel costs putting businesses under intense pressure, ways of increasing productivity are in the spotlight.

Flexible working is leading to increasing productivity for a number of reasons.

Firstly, flexible working means that an employee teleworking from a home office can save time travelling to and from the office each day. At least some of the time saved on travel is usually spent actually working instead. And of course, if they are not going to the office, the employee can also save time getting dressed up and so on. Many people who work flexibly from home hit the computer as soon as they have fallen out of bed, still in their pyjamas!

Of course, avoiding a stressful commute also means that people start work when they are feeling fresh and this is likely to improve performance.

Secondly, flexible working allows people to work whenever they are at their personal peak. So if you are at your best early in the morning, you can grab that time to work, If you are at your best late in the evening, then that is when you can choose to work, increasing personal productivity.

Thirdly, flexible working staff tend to be more motivated and loyal to their employer. Most appreciate the opportunity to juggle work around their other commitments and interests and enjoy feeling trusted by their employer. This improved work life balance leads to a greater sense of motivation. Also, with flexible working, work is judged by your boss according to real outputs - regardless of how many hours have been spent 'working.' So employees are more likely to focus on delivering those real outputs. What's more, being clear about the exact outputs required from your work tends to lead to increased job satisfaction and motivation as well.

And, of course, in a peaceful home environment away from the buzz of the office, it is often easier for employees to focus on the job in hand, especially for tasks that demand sustained concentration.

Some employees continue to feel a sense of guilt that they are not in the office and there is a tendency to overcompensate by working even longer hours. This needs to be nipped in the bud as for some people this can lead to a real difficulty in 'switching off' and some may end up suffering from stress. In fact, contrary to what people may often think, the problem of staff not switching off is far more common than the problem of staff skiving.

Another big boost to productivity is that absenteeism rates are lower when flexible working is in place. This is because there are many days when an employee may be feeling a little under the weather or, for example, have a cold and feel unable to face the journey to work and a full day in the office. But they may still be perfectly able to work for at least part of the day from a home office or garden office, with a steaming mug of cocoa at their side.

Similarly, flexible working employees do not have to take time off when they have a domestic appointment, such as a visit from the plumber or a home delivery. Without flexible working, they may need to take a whole day off work. With flexible working, domestic appointments such as these need take only a few minutes out of their day, leaving the rest of the day for work, increasing productivity.

Staff retention rates are higher in businesses that have embraced flexible working practices and so is the proportion of women who return to work after maternity leave. So this reduces the need for the business to train up new staff, with losses in productivity in the meantime - quite apart from the thousands of pounds of costs involved in recruiting and training new staff.

But it is not just working at home that tends to lead to increasing productivity. Using technology to cut down on travel to business meetings is a great way of saving time as well as costs. There are many instances where a business could use video conferencing or a telephone conference call instead of a face-to-face meeting.

Using technology to work on the move is another huge boost to productivity. Using a WiFi hotspot or a BlackBerry to connect to the internet for email or to connect to the office Virtual Private Network means that downtime can be turned into productive time.

Through grasping the opportunities now presented by technology, work is increasingly what you do rather then where you go. And businesses can enjoy increasing productivity as a result.
About the Author
Julian Cowans is Project Manager of actnow flex, a project funded by the South West Regional Development Agency, Cornwall Enterprise, BT and other partners. actnow flex offers business benefits of flexible working including increasing productivity.
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