Until recently, flexible working was reserved for a limited number of careers, typically those involving short hours and unskilled work, such as cleaning or waiting on tables. Now, however, flexible working has entered the mainstream.
Flexible working can encompass a variety of options that provide employees with the opportunity to fit their work around their other commitments. This can include part-time work, remote work, job sharing or working irregular hours.
No more nine to five
The world of work is a very different compared to just a decade ago. Where once the bulk of employees would gather in the workplace at 9am and leave at 5pm, the demands of the 24/7 consumer culture and improvements in technology have made flexible working hours a necessity for many businesses.
This way of working resonates with the growing demand from employees to have more control over their time. No longer are they tied to the 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday. Now, working hours can include any time and any day.
In 2014, the UK government gave all employees the legal right to request flexible working. This seems to have encouraged the move to more alternative ways of working, with CIPD research showing 54% of employees now work flexibly.
Why do more people want to work flexibly?
As well as the familiar flexible workers, such as mums with young children, the flexible workforce now comprises other groups that have emerged in recent years. There are the so-called sandwich generation, who have young children and old parents to care for; there are people choosing to continue working into old age. But reduce their hours; there are the millennials seeking a better work/life balance from their jobs.
In many areas of work, the UK is facing a skills shortage. Technological advances allow employers to fill these skills gaps with workers working remotely from further afield than would previously have been possible.
The benefits of flexible working
Flexible working benefits employers and employees alike. For employees, the biggest benefit is gaining more choice over when and how they work. For employers, embracing flexible working makes it easier to attract and retain the talent they need to grow. It can also cut the cost of their overheads, especially when remote working is involved. In addition, with a workforce working non-traditional hours, employers can offer their customers the kind of 24/7 service they increasingly expect.
To fully exploit the benefits to both employer and employee, we will need workplace culture to become fully immersed in the flexible way of working. At present, some sectors and some businesses are faring better than others. However, by training managers to make the most of the opportunities that flexible working presents us all, and by creating flexible roles at all levels of an organisation, our working culture will finally break free from the strictures of the 9-to-5.