It’s Time to Get Flexible, Or Get Left Behind!

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The demand for more flexible working arrangements is on the rise, and slowly but surely what was once considered a luxury for some is now becoming commonplace. For those in the jobs market, flexibility of both working time and location has become a compelling part of any organisation’s attractiveness. Going forward, employers may have to embrace flexible working arrangements in order to entice the best talent or else face being left behind.

It is now possible to draw linkages between such flexibility and competitive advantage, whereby creating an environment that attracts the best talent is becoming increasingly important. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown that 14 million workers in the UK, nearly half of the country’s workforce, want to work flexibly so that their jobs can better fit the demands of modern life. A survey in 2014 by Forbes even indicated that 43% of workers would choose greater flexibility over a pay rise.

However, flexibility is not just key to attracting the right people, but it may become vital to sustaining an organisation’s most basic operating capacity.

As our global population grows and our towns and cities swell, we are going to have become somewhat more creative in how we organise our workforce. The traditional 9-to-5 is becoming unsustainable. Soon we may not have the infrastructure to support the global mass migration that the dreaded daily commute has become. The collective rush to our places of work translates into traffic gridlock, overcrowded public transport, increased carbon emission, and let’s not forget to mention a highly stressed workforce.

When thinking about productivity and efficiency, we have been boxed in by the philosophy of scientific management, which promotes greater control, defined processes, and a “one best way” approach. Meanwhile, many of us have failed to recognise the growing necessity for loosening constraints and allowing for more flexibility of working time and location. While recent UK governments has taken positive steps to promote flexibility through legislation and their own employment policies, the onus is now on more private sector companies to take up the mantle.

For example, it’s worth taking a leaf from Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB). In 1967, this German manufacture became the original proponent of flexible working hours while seeking to overcome a range of issues. Increasingly, employees were arriving late and leaving shifts early, and the levels of morale and productivity were low.

Following extensive research, it was discovered that the root of many of these problems was that many of the 3,000 workers were trying to arrive to the same place at the same time. The company’s solution was to put in place what they called “gliding time”, now referred to as flexitime or flexible working hours. This allowed workers to start and finish work at differing times, thereby correspondingly flattening the peaks of traffic entering and exiting the facility. The results were dramatic, and since then countless firms have followed suit.

MBB successfully demonstrated what can be achieved at a micro level when one factory takes the initiative to free up their employees. Imagine what the effects could be if a city the size of London, for example, was capable of achieving the kind of natural equilibrium that is brought about by removing the constraints of the rigid 9-5 day or the fixed shift.

The Future is Flexible

Flexible working arrangements are enabling many organisations to achieve a much greater level of workforce inclusion. By alleviating the burden on many social groups such as parents of school children, while simultaneously broadening the scope of working time and place for any employee, the employer now has a modern way to tackle a modern issue. With both the employee and working environment demanding this type of adaptability, it’s time to get flexible, or get left behind.