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Flexible Working Arrangements & Workforce Productivity

Posted on Sep 30, 2016

 

I was having a chat with one of my Associate Directors as we celebrated the end of the quarter on the golf course last week when the topic of flexible working arrangements popped up. He was mentioning how he feels more connected with both his lifestyle, family AND his job since joining ALRA.

FYI – This is not meant to be a massive plug for ALRA, but balance is something that is very close to the ALRA heart.

It really got me thinking about how important I believe flexible arrangements are to the workplace both currently and in the future. I’m aware that like all things, the idea won’t suit everyone – but this is why I rate it.

 

A Bit of Background…

 

Myself and a few of my team members, came from a previous Recruitment firm that ascribed to a very traditional approach. Hours were 8.30am – 5.30pm (or later on many occasions) and one did not leave their desk except for client meetings (even sometimes for lunch) between those hours.

Combined with a few other factors, it was a very nose to the grindstone approach and the result was a high staff turnover and burnout rates.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are a LOT of firms that have strict hours and a low staff turnover rate where staff are extremely happy – it just didn’t work for us.

So I started ALRA with the idea of providing myself and my staff with flexibility. For us this means:

 

  • Can work from home or the office (or the beach or golf course etc).
  • Start and finish when you want (within reason) provided you get the job done.
  • Reasonable KPIs.

 

And yes, it’s not without it’s problems – working from home is a learned skill. There can be an initial teething period where staff have to learn to channel their focus and not be distracted by their surroundings. But I found, that once past this, productivity rises. I’ll explain why I think this is below.

 

Why I believe it works…

 

People are Different (duh right?)

It’s long been established that there’s no cookie cutter approach to people management and I believe that flexible arrangements support those different working personalities. Think about it – we all know that person whose brain seems to function best at night or early in the morning and knowing this about your staff, can help you get the best out of them.

 

Limited Time = Higher Productivity

There will always be those staff that underperform and try to skate through – this ideal does not work for everyone. I have found however that when my staff KNOW that they have limited time to get something done, they tend to achieve twice as much in a shorter period of time than if they had been working for several days.

That short burst pressure in my opinion, forces the brain to focus and be more productive. Some of the best target months we have had, have resulted from what I would consider to be incredibly interrupted working arrangements.

 

Offers Opportunity

Whilst the gender gap in Australia is steadily closing, there is still a lag between women and men in the workforce in both salary and position. Women typically dominate the part time market (particularly once they’ve had kids) and often struggle to find full time employment that supports their family structure.

Allowing staff to work their hours around their lifestyle could act as a foil to this. People might disagree with me, and that’s fine – I only speak from my own experience. One of my staff members is in this boat, works full time (from home) and still supports her young bub. She would say that sometimes it’s “one hell of a challenge” but has enjoyed being able to be fully utilised in the workforce again without feeling like she’s taken 10 steps backwards in her career.

 

The International Market

The business place is increasingly interconnected with international markets and for many, working traditional 9-5 hours is entirely impractical. If you were to work with both the Australian market and the UK market for example, it might suit you better to work from 1pm and finish later in the day.

 

De-Stresses the Brain

Stress in my world is a killer to productivity. I believe highly stressed out employees don’t make good decisions. So offering flexibility rather than rigidity allows staff (hopefully) to be less stressed in their working lives.

Personally, if they’re having “one of those days” I would rather a staff member take the day off to regroup and come back fresh the next day than try to do work that might be far from their best.

 

Market Observations

Speaking day in, day out to other companies I’m seeing that we’re not the only ones moving towards this trend. There are many companies from many different industries taking on many of these ideas.

 

Drawbacks…

It is also however, not for everyone. There are industries where this wouldn’t work at all (can you imagine the mining industry with people trying to work remotely across all disciplines?). And that’s fine. There are also people that work best knowing that in those set hours, they are there to do their job and then go home.

There are staff members that need a much firmer guiding hand and need the stability of working hours and person to person managerial support.

It also can be costly for many companies to adopt highly flexible working arrangements – you need to put all kinds of systems and equipment in place that allow staff to work remotely.

 

At the end of the day?

If it continues to create the sort of productivity we’ve enjoyed, then I will continue to follow this trend. Lifestyle and balance sits at the core of our business and I’ve found that flexible working arrangements fully supports this ideal. But like anything else in life, take what works for you and leave the rest 🙂