Why is flexible working not mainstream?

It’s 2018. You can control the lighting or heating in your home via voice or an app on your phone. You can talk to someone on the other side of the world, using just 280 characters, Skype or via a messenger app. You can organise your life via your phone. There’s no doubting that technology has changed the way we live and work and helped make us more efficient so why are we still outdated when it comes to office working?

Why is it that most companies prefer to have someone 9 to 5, sitting at their desk?

Office desk
Alesia Kazantceva

Yes, yes… of course there are some roles which would require regular hours at a desk in an office but there are so many others that do not – social media manager, copywriter, developer, customer service advisor, analyst to name a few. It makes so much more sense to offer employees flexible working for a number of reasons, which I’ll get on to in a bit.

According to recent research by The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), freelancers have grown by 46% since 2008. And I’m not surprised because at least once a week I hear of someone I know who is making the move to becoming a freelancer. Sometimes it’s because they’re being made redundant but most of the time it’s because they want the flexibility their current job doesn’t offer.

Becoming freelance is a big decision because there is a lot of responsibility that comes with it. Gone is the comfort of that regular paycheck at the end of every month and the pension that comes with it. Gone is paid sick leave and paid holidays. As a freelancer you need to be constantly looking ahead and building a pipeline of work. You will have peaks and troughs so you have to be resilient in the quiet times. You need to sort out your own taxes and pension and chase invoices. It’s tough. But it’s also incredibly fulfilling.

So why are so many choosing to go the freelance route? For me, it’s because most companies are so inflexible. As long as you work your hours, why can’t you set them? It would ease the rush hour congestion, for one, and make a lot of people’s journeys in to work more pleasant if more people worked 10 – 6, 10:30 – 6:30, 11 – 7 etc. And what about all those people who are ‘morning people’ or ‘night owls’? By pigeonholing them into a 9 to 5 role, you’re not getting the best of them.

Also, why is there the need to work every day in an office? Flexible working can just mean offering employees the opportunity to work one or two days a week from home. And that can make a huge difference, particularly for those who have a long commute to the office. It means offering them more quality time for themselves or to spend with their friends and family.

And can we talk about parents? Flexible working lets them work around their children, meaning that they can spend more time with them. I know many freelancers who are parents and they will spend time with their children and then go back to work at 9 pm at night. It works for them but then, they have that choice because they are their own boss.

Job sharing is another flexible working solution that is really underused. There are so many people who want the security of employment but only want to work 2 to 3 days a week but quality part-time roles are hard to find. Job sharing is what it says on the tin – a full-time job that is shared by two people (not necessarily equally in terms of hours). The benefits to job share roles is increased output, a wider range of skills that having two people offers as well as learning and development opportunities as they can skill each other up. There are many women who don’t want to return to work full time after having children so job share roles help retain talent, give them the opportunity to still work, contribute to society and feel fulfilled.

How can we encourage flexible working?

There are a few ways that we can encourage flexible working, one of which is to simply ask for it. Take a look at your company’s policies and see what it says about flexible working. They most likely offer it (because it’s the law) but not necessarily publicise or advocate it so if they do offer it, take them up on it. If  you’re concerned that they may say ‘no’, be prepared and come armed with reasons why it would benefit them (that’s key) as well as you.

Know your rights. Citizen’s Advice has loads of information about what flexible working is, who is eligible to apply for it and how to go about it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on flexible working – or lack of.

Why is flexible working not mainstream_
Sarah Dorweiler

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