Survey gives workplace flexibility a big thumbs-up
Three out of four Australian office-based workplaces have flexibility policies to some degree, and almost all professional and senior managerial employees believe such practices have a positive impact on productivity, according to a survey by Morgan McKinley, winner of the 2015 SEEK Annual Recruitment Awards (SARA) Medium Recruitment Agency of the Year award.
The 1000 responses to Morgan McKinley’s 2016 Flexible Work Practices Survey indicated that the most commonly available flexibility arrangements are: flexible start and finish times (79%), working from home (78%), time in lieu (40%), reduced hours (30%) and job sharing (15%). In the survey, which was spread across professional, middle/senior management and leadership/C-suite levels in a wide range of industry and service sectors, 76% of respondents said they had access to one or more of these options, with 54% working away from the office for between one and eight hours a week.
In the survey’s gender breakdown, 54.1% of respondents were female, 44.3% were male and 1.6% didn’t define their gender.
In the past, if individuals had to work remotely, delays and a decrease in productivity would often arise due to insufficient access to company resources. But with the digital revolution bringing in mobile technologies, employees today can access productivity-enhancing applications, such as emails and work systems, without being bound to the office or a specific geographic location. These devices are connecting companies, clients and employees like never before, leading to greater communication and collective engagement in the workforce.
The survey strongly supported working flexibly as the way of the future, with 97% of employees saying it had a positive impact on productivity. This can be attributed to factors such as reduced stress and increased job satisfaction as people are empowered to create a work-life blend that is right for them.
Companies should also be aware that 94% of employees felt that the option to work flexibly can help attract and retain talent. This finding is especially vital as organisations increasingly compete for niche talent on the global stage.
With such a large number of employees voicing the benefits of a flexible workforce, it is time for all companies in Australia to get on board. Australia can be viewed as ‘behind’ when compared to countries such as Sweden with its six-hour work day, France with its 35-hour week and legally enforceable ‘digital working time’ whereby employees should not be contacted by smartphone, email, etc, out of work hours, and the United Kingdom, which has introduced ‘flexi’ or ‘zero’ hour contracts where employees don’t have specified hours of work.
If Australia is to jump on board, it is vital that companies have and use adequate technologies and infrastructure that allow these arrangements to be put in place.
In the survey, seven out of 10 employees felt that their organisation's technology for working remotely was sufficiently sophisticated. This indicates that the move to flexibility may require more of a focus on training employers and employees in how to effectively and efficiently utilise the technology, how to communicate while working remotely and how to make sure the best technologies are chosen in the first instance.
Another area where companies in Australia still have work to do is in making people feel comfortable about working flexibly. 37% of respondents were concerned that it would limit their career progression, and 35% acknowledged that it is not the same for males and females, with males being at a disadvantage. Which is similar to findings from a recent SEEK study into perceptions of part-time work.
Flexibility has traditionally been an arrangement between an employer and an individual. However, a new team-based approach, where the team is empowered to consider what flexibility options would work to meet the needs of individuals and the team as a whole, is delivering some great results. New insights in this area have demonstrated that, even in some of the more challenging work environments (e.g. high-pressure, male-dominated industries such as construction), flexible work practices can be achieved and improve outcomes.
When we asked “Do you feel you have an increased workload when your colleagues are working flexibly?”, only 20% of employees said yes. The team-based approach has the potential to further reduce this figure and drive higher productivity as the whole team pulls together to make the model work.
The traditional way of working 9-5 is slowly becoming obsolete. If companies want to achieve increased employee satisfaction, attract the very best talent and improve productivity – and what company doesn’t? – then utilising the technology of the digital age and introducing flexibility is a must.