In the modern world of work, there are very few organisations that are still blind to the significant operational benefits that flexible working options can provide − and the few holdouts that remain are likely to be forced to evolve or die in the coming years.
Put simply, there's no way for a business to thrive as a forward-thinking operation without offering options such as homeworking provisions, teleconferencing and flexible hours. Companies that offer these capabilities are so much more agile, efficient and harmonious than their more strictly centralised rivals that flexible working has quickly become a necessity, rather than a nicety.
Nevertheless, it can't be denied that a transition to a more flexible employment model creates a few challenges for managers and business leaders, especially when it comes to maintaining a strong corporate culture among a geographically diverse workforce. Finding the right solutions to these issues will be instrumental in ensuring your organisation remains at the forefront of a competitive field.
Of all the potential responses to the challenges of adopting flexible working, the worst would be to simply ignore the issue altogether. The benefits of the flexible workplace are too well-established at this stage, with further evidence emerging all the time.
For example, a recent survey from the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) indicated that more than half of UK workers feel that both the structure and culture of their workplaces are holding them back from doing their job more effectively, with 74 per cent saying they would like more freedom at work.
Not only can rigid structures, siloed working models and complex hierarchies serve to stunt creativity and impede collaboration, but they can also potentially lead to discriminatory working practices. Numerous studies have shown that women often see their career progression stunted by a lack of flexible working arrangements − an issue that no company can afford to be lax about, given the increasing scrutiny on gender pay gaps. Similarly, working fathers and those with caring responsibilities require extra consideration to help them balance their professional and personal commitments.
The case for flexible working has therefore already been made − but many bosses will still be wondering how they can retain a robust team ethic, shared values and open communication among workers who may not necessarily see each other in the same office any more.
Fortunately, the same advances in modern technology that have made homeworking an increasingly viable option are also helping to ensure that these employees do not feel disconnected from the broader organisational structure. Instant messaging, teleconferencing software, advanced collaboration tools and simple email newsletters are among the tools that can all be used to keep non-office-based staff in the loop as to what is happening with their colleagues, or to ensure they continue to be involved in staff meetings and training sessions.
The emergence of e-learning technology has also been a significant boon in this respect, as this allows workers to continue their professional development at their own pace, without having to physically attend on-site seminars. By embracing the full range of enterprise software solutions available, it's now easier than ever for managers to make sure all of their staff are taking part in a full range of work-related activities, without even having to be in the same country.
By making full use of the resources available to them, organisations will be able to realise all of the potential benefits that flexible working can provide, while still maintaining the kind of rapport between colleagues that can turn talented individuals into a fully-functioning team.
The modern flexible business will be inclusive, offering tailored work solutions and arrangements according to the needs of individual staff members; in doing so, they will bolster retention and broaden their pool of talented applicants to include people of all backgrounds. At the same time, it's possible that a broader shift to remote working may offer direct financial savings, as it reduces the organisation's reliance on large-scale rented office premises in city-centre locations.
Indeed, these trends may result in the idea of a centralised office becoming a thing of the past in the near future, with more and more companies moving towards a more fluidly-structured global team of employees connected by online tools. Managers who are willing to see this paradigm shift as an opportunity will be best-positioned to see their companies emerge as the leaders of their respective fields.