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Flex for the Best
Laurie Padua, director of technology and operations consulting, Alexander Mann Solutions on how tech can take the workplace anywhere.
The Global RecruiterTo review the original article click here 28th Nov 2017
According to research from Lancaster University’s Work Foundation, this year will mark a flexible working ‘tipping point’, with more than half of all employers offering colleagues greater choice of where and how to work. However, while talent professionals, both within consultancies and in-house teams, are increasingly assisting clients to promote employer value propositions which are centred around flexibility, the discipline isn’t necessarily practicing what it preaches when it comes to managing its own talent.
Flexible working is a broad term used to encompass situations where employees have control over where, when, and for how long they engage in work related tasks. Flexible working arrangements may include flexitime, homeworking, compressed hours or job sharing and a recent report from the CIPD, Working anywhere: A winning formula for good work?, concluded that flexible working will be the norm for around 70 per cent of organisations by 2020. The capabilities of technology, corporate culture and the expectations of the millennial generation are rapidly changing demands, and organisations which do not already offer their people the option to work in a non-typical way must consider becoming less prescriptive around location or hours if they do not want to risk losing their best talent to employers which do. Here at Alexander Mann Solutions we are proud to offer flexible options for colleagues, and the clients we work with report that flexible working can result in increased productivity and improved employee well-being, as well as enhanced talent attraction and retention. Benefits I’m sure any talent leader would welcome.
Within talent circles it is a well-known fact that jobseeker behaviour is changing – and progressive consultancies and hiring managers are embracing mobile to enhance candidate experience. Gone are the days when recruitment professionals had to be within striking distance of a landline, fax machine and a rolodex to operate. Today the rise of the cloud coupled with a prevalence of available software systems means that time and location are not the barriers they once were.
Mobile technology is already revolutionising recruitment processes from a candidate perspective, with jobseekers now able to not only apply for roles via their handset, but also undergo assessments and be interviewed via video link on the same device. Consequently, those doing the hiring now also inadvertently have the potential to reap the same benefits around flexibility as the jobseekers the technology is designed to assist. But are talent leaders embracing the opportunities that this change this is creating?
The Global Recruiter research
Recent research from The Global Recruiter shows a high percentage of recruitment businesses are operating through cloud hosting, with many able to access their technology from outside the office. Just over half of firms surveyed are currently using a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution, of those which are not, a further 12 per cent are considering doing so in the near future. Around three quarters of respondents are using cloud-hosted software (77 per cent). However under half operate BYOD (39 per cent) and only 54 per cent allow access to systems from devices outside of the office. So it seems that while a significant number of recruiters, in theory, have the potential to work remotely, many are still not proactively provided support to bring the opportunity to fruition.
Historically, there has been a hesitancy for some managers to loosen the reins and trust their teams to manage their own workloads remotely. This is often through a misplaced belief that allowing employees to work flexibly correlates to an erosion of direction, control and, ultimately, output. This may be particularly true within high pressured environments, where ‘success’ is often measured by call volume or overtime hours.
However, Acas’s research paper, Flexibility in the Workplace: Implications of flexible work arrangements for individuals, teams and organisations, recognises that, although a number of managers admitted that they did not particularly ‘like’ flexible working, the majority could see ‘hidden benefits’, namely the potential for improved organisational performance. This, the report concludes, may be attributed to benefits such as employees working at their peak hours of productivity, or via a social exchange mechanism where employees who have been treated favourably feel obliged to respond in kind through extra-role behaviours or increased commitment.
Indeed, a myriad of research has demonstrated solid benefits associated with flexible working, including an increase in productivity (Shepard, Clifton & Kruse, 1996) and profit-sales growth and organisational performance (Perry-Smith & Blum, 2000). In fact, Gibson et al. (2002) summarised a number of organisational case studies where location flexibility had increased productivity by 15 per cent to 37 per cent with errors decreasing by 60 per cent. Figures which, I’m sure you’ll agree, are hard to ignore.
Managing the benefits
In light of this evidence, flexible working is certainly something that talent companies should be engaging with further, however the benefits and efficiencies which can be achieved are intrinsically linked to the way in which systems are managed. For example, cloud-based systems allow reams of data to be effectively shared and collated across an entire organisation. Effective automation, around sourcing, for example, can free-up three to five hours of a recruiter’s day, enabling hirers to achieve true productivity. Anecdotal evidence suggests that employees who have been allowed to work flexibly tend to demonstrate greater commitment and a willingness to ‘give back’ to the organisation.
Recruitment consultants are, generally speaking, hardwired to consistently achieve high levels of output. By allowing tech to do the heavy lifting around process based tasks, consultants can be offered the freedom to spend more time doing what they do best – consulting.
It is also important to note that while technology ultimately facilitates flexible working initiatives, success relies on effective employee engagement strategies. Companies must ensure they have the organisational structure to manage remote workers effectively so that they do not become demotivated or disengaged. Companies should set flexible working policies at the beginning of the employment contract and review practices regularly with employees to ensure mutual understanding and satisfaction, and to foster wider organisational support. These individuals are just as valuable as those based in the office and it’s the responsibility of employers to ensure they feel like they are part of the business, even if they aren’t physically in the office. There needs to be a cultural shift.
The CIPD recently reported that almost half (42 per cent) of those who work remotely feel it helps them to stay in control of their workload and over a third (37 per cent) believe they are more productive when working from home. Looking forward, as flexible working increases, it is vital that employers be better equipped to manage remote staff to ensure that employees enjoy these benefits without feeling pressurised, side-lined or disengaged.
Access to great talent is a perpetual challenge within the talent discipline – and offering flexible working options is one way to get ahead of the competition to both boost employer brand perception amongst potential recruits and aid the retention of existing staff. According to research from the Association of Professional Staffing Companies and Deloitte, churn amongst recruiters continues to hamper productivity. The 2016 Recruitment Index reported that 24 per cent of respondents indicated staff had left within 12 months of joining, compared to 18 per cent in 2015. Challenges around talent are also evident elsewhere, with 61 per cent of recruitment leaders citing increasing headcount as their main challenge for the year ahead and almost half (42 per cent) concerned about the retention of existing talent. When asked about factors important to growth, nearly all respondents outlined staff training and access to new recruiters (95 per cent and 94 per cent respectively).
Consider the long-term
Any business is only as good as its talent, and long-term strategic workforce plans must reflect this shift in tide. Millennials, for example, no longer necessarily expect to be in a job for life, which has been the case for a few decades now. So in order to retain this talent long-term, we must be particularly proactive in how we engage them.
While the rise of flexible working, facilitated by mobile technology, is enabling us to offer millennial workers the flexibility that many in this generation crave to aid retention, this must be managed effectively. The CIPD recently published data in its Employee Outlook Spring 2017 report which found that one in three respondents (33 per cent) felt they could not switch off in their personal time while almost one in five (18 per cent) said remote working makes them feel ‘under surveillance’. Employers must ensure those who work non-traditionally continue to be engaged or the proven benefits of flexible working no longer apply.
Flexible working is on the cutting edge of benefits, and its value is now widely recognised as a powerful attraction and retention tool. Offering an element of choice around hours or location, or other schemes such as annualised hours or ‘term time’ hours, is now becoming the norm within business. The talent acquisition and management arena must get ahead of the curve and embrace not only the online infrastructure necessary to facilitate a flexible working culture, but also the mind-set to capitalise on this technology, if it is to attract the calibre of talent for itself as it does for its clients.Go to Alexander Mann Solutions LIVE