Out of sight, out of mind? How employers need to strengthen engagement with the flexible workforce

David Leithead 04.11.2019

Who wins from workplace flexibility? It is sought more than ever before by employees and interviewees. It used to be considered a ‘benefit’ but now it is just par for the course. Employees see it as a way to improve their work-life balance and to combat perennial problems like the dreaded commute. So far so good, but does it work for business? Our research shows that working hours are on the up despite, or perhaps because of, flexible working. So perhaps everyone is a winner. But surprisingly, both employers and employees see it as a cause of a disengaged workforce. So the key challenge now is to actively consider engagement to maximise the real benefit of this benefit.

Part 3 of 3: The importance of recognising your flexible workers 

Our extensive 2019 working hours and flexible working survey has revealed how, despite the increasing adoption of flexibility and the demand for a healthy work/life balance, 91% of white collar office professionals in the UK are working beyond their weekly contracted hours. Most do it because they feel pressured by their workload, yet they don’t feel more productive from working the extra hours and they don’t receive any compensation. Our comprehensive survey had 1,500 respondents and in this series of 3 articles, we examine the findings.

Working hours and flexibility: The curious case of workplace contradictions

What do the findings outlined in our previous two articles tell us? We saw in Part 2 that workplace flexibility, managed well, is an incredibly positive thing that should be rocket fuel for a company’s relationship with its employees, and in turn, for its results. 

Yet it seems there are some unexpected and potentially unwanted consequences of flexible working practices, and employers need to urgently consider how to limit these, or at least just consider them. Employees have increased access to flexible working and welcome it, yet they end up, as discussed in Part 1, working more hours every week - in some instances more than their office based peers - for no greater reward. And as our findings showed, both employers and employees worry that flexibility causes diminishing engagement. 

But flexibility is definitely not a trend; it’s not going away. It’s a massive part of modern business conversation. At least one half of the Houses of Parliament want to hardwire more flexibility into the workplace for all of us (they don’t seem to notice the irony) and such moves will multiply any difficulty we have now with the hidden fallouts, such as increased pressure and more stress on employees.

So, with many benefits to flexible working, what steps can companies take to ensure the remote workers remain an integral, productive, and valued part of the team?

How can an organisation ensure they keep their remote workers engaged?

When asked how they think organisations can better maintain an engaged but flexible workforce, our 1,500 respondents outlined how they believe embracing technology is the key

It’s not just about supplying employees with laptops and mobile devices, it’s also about deploying great tools for chat, video and virtual meetings, and integrating company systems, intranets or social platforms. Some organisations are leading by developing their own bespoke apps that allow employees to communicate and further increase the visibility of those not permanently based in the office, but this is a significant investment and one that has to be appropriately weighed up. Beyond the utilisation of various technologies, ensuring there is a strong level of consistent communication and arranging more team time when flexible workers are on site were highlighted as important contributors to maintaining engagement.

How to maintain an engaged but flexible workforce

Further to these suggestions, it is vital for employers to display their commitment to each employee’s career progression. People want to feel valued, they like being challenged and most constantly strive to improve their careers - offering them new and exciting opportunities within their individual roles can be enormously effective for employee engagement, as well as an important retention tool. The top performing businesses frequently place learning at the centre of their workforce and empower their teams to continuously develop.

Employers and employees both benefit from a flexible workforce

Being flexible as an employer allows employees to maintain that all important work-life balance and managed properly, can help to establish a more willing workforce, ultimately leading to an improvement in productivity. 

Businesses have come a long way in terms of offering flexible working, however they need to ensure they keep their workforce engaged by implementing strategies aimed at the employee, and also their management, as well as ensuring a culture shift is heading in the right direction. If organisations can see a clear improvement from the implementation of flexible working patterns, they should be promoted and adopted across the wider business. 

Over three quarters of our respondents believe flexible working is having a positive impact on their company’s performance and profitability which is a hugely persuasive statistic, music to the employer’s ears and plenty reason to invest time and energy in getting policies and processes spot on. 

About the survey respondents…

The majority of respondents work across Banking & Financial Services, Professional Services or Commerce & Industry. 48% were male, 51% female. Just under three quarters were permanently employed (74%), 21% were temporarily employed and the remainder were either self-employed or unemployed. 63% of respondents work in London, 37% outside London. The highest proportion of respondents were at mid-management level (39%), followed by operational/executive (25%) and senior management (18%) - the remainder consisted of entry level, C-Suite and those who didn’t want to disclose their seniority.

David Leithead's picture
Chief Operations Officer UK