DOES FLEXIBLE WORKING HELP OR HINDER CAREER PROGRESSION?

While new technological advancements continue to change the way we live our lives, the expectations we have on society constantly evolve, none more so than the way we work.

We are in the midst of a digital transformation and as result the social and economic landscape is continually changing. As part of this workplace evolution, we’ve seen the rapid growth of the gig economy; a surge in the opening of major co-working spaces; the number of start-ups reaching record levels and an increased desire for remote or flexible employment.

In addition to these innovations, our mental health and well-being has never been so valued and as a result, I believe the quest to find the perfect balance between a career and personal life is being sought after more than ever.

Organisations are already taking notice of these changes and we are seeing an increasing number of companies adapt new strategies to help meet the demands of their employees. For instance, Microsoft recently unveiled that it tested out a four-day work week in its offices in Japan for the entire month of August, without decreasing pay.

The trial project, called Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019, was unsurprisingly met with an overwhelming positive response by the workers. What is particularly interesting is that productivity among the 2,300 employees rose by 40%.

What we can take away from this project is that happier employees became more efficient, and the company as a whole benefited. However, despite the large number of participants, it is important to remember that this took place over just one month and in one company. The long-term impacts of a four-day week are still relatively unknown and until further companies take that leap of faith, it is uncertain if this strategy will become a permanent fixture in the workplace.

A major trend emerging in recent years is the desire to work remotely or have the ability to work via a flexible schedule, choosing when, where and how to work on any particular day.

Although this concept was initially restricted to specific roles and industries, companies from a wide range of sectors are now more accepting, allowing employees to enjoy more freedom than ever before.

According to recent research compiled by Instant Office, flexible workspace now amounts to more than 85 million square feet of the UK office market.

With an increasing number of people opting to work from home or shared co-working spaces, there is a lot more pressure being put on the employer to introduce flexible working within their business model.

But at what cost?

As well as all the advantages that comes with digitalisation, there is unfortunately an element of risk. Cyber-attacks and data breeches are on the rise, and the exposure of companies only widens when assets are scattered in different locations.

The security measures implemented within an office will be much more robust than those at home or on a public wi-fi network. As a result, remote or flexible workers are not only more likely to become victims of cyber-attacks, but the companies they are working for are also in danger.

I believe this is where trust becomes such an integral part of this process. Not only trusting the employee to carry out day-to-day activities at an efficient rate, but to also have the confidence to know that they will protect themselves and the employer from any potential threats.

This can be achieved through a thorough communication strategy that keeps both parties constantly up-to-date and aware of any critical changes. With that being said, we have to question if the responsibility still falls on the employer to ensure staff have the correct security systems in place to help them work remotely.

Although the changing trends of the way we work show no signs of slowing down, I believe it will be sometime before we see the workplace become completely flexible. There are too many variables to determine why or when companies should implement flexible working into their model.

Does the size of the company play a role? Does it depend on the nature of the work or industry they are in? Does flexible work offer the solution for a perfect work-life balance?

Digitalisation is changing the workplace, but to what extent is still unknown.