Flexible work the new normal during Fourth Industrial Revolution

upskilling

Offering flexible working arrangements is tipped to be a key part of the unfolding Fourth Industrial Revolution where emerging technologies are reshaping our industries and how we work.

Here at Hays we recently surveyed 1,253 professionals and 951 employers to test how well they are adapting to the way technology is changing the workplace, including attitudes to upskilling and flexible work.

A massive 89% of employers surveyed said flexible working options are very important or important when it comes to staff attraction and retention.

Of the professionals we surveyed, 33% said flexible working options were critical to their remaining in employment. A further 63% said they were ‘nice to have’. Just 4% said flexible work was not important to them.

A third of professionals identifying flexible work as critical to remaining employed is significant and we predict this figure will only grow as our cities become more congested and the proportion of younger workers increases.

Younger workers see flexible work as a given

Millennials (those born between the early 1980s to early 1990s) have shown us that being ambitious and hardworking but also valuing life away from work are not mutually exclusive.

Jane McNeill, Managing Director at Hays NSW & WA wrote recently in this blog how millennials are pursuing work-life integration rather than work-life balance.

“They’ve done this by pushing aside the idea of ‘balance’, where work sits on one side and life on the other and a tug-of-war between the two ensues, and are instead happy for the two to coexist – provided their employer allows them to utilise technology to work flexibly,” wrote Jane.

She noted that younger workers are also more willing to move from one work assignment or contract to another than previous generations and have higher levels of confidence when it comes to sharing and collaborating securely online.

Deloitte’s Millennial Survey of 2017 found the number of younger people able to work from locations other than their employer’s primary site increased more than 20% compared to its 2016 findings. A high 84% of respondents claimed to work in a job offering some degree of flexibility.

Flexibility was also found to have a positive influence on all areas of work for this generation including productivity, employee engagement, being accountable and loyalty.

Looking to the next generation of the workforce, Generation Z are currently aged in their early 20s. Technology is more native to them than any other generation and research shows flexibility and autonomy are key motivators for Zs – although they also want to learn from peers and leaders in real time.

Greater diversity of employees accessing flexible work

Flexible work arrangements are of increasing importance to a wider range of workers than ever before including employees:

  • living further from CBDs to access affordable housing
  • with ongoing caring responsibilities
  • ramping back up after parental leave
  • throttling back from full time work toward retirement
  • pursuing academic and skills achievement

No matter the age and career stage of the employee, the challenge for employers is how to give employees and managers alike the skills to support flexible work without sacrificing productivity and also constant skills building and learning.

Here are five things to consider about developing a flexible work culture.

1. Review the flexible work benefits you can support

Organisations large and small should review what benefits they are able to offer and criterion for each that can be shared with all employees. This could include remote working – either from home or an office different from where an employee’s manager is located – varying working hours and job sharing.

Being transparent about the considerations for both employer and employee in creating a flexible work arrangement will help keep business goals in sharp focus.

2. Remote work arrangement assessments

Having a transparent assessment system so any employee can apply to work remotely at least part of the time is important.

This could include considering the operational requirements of the job, the need to attend meetings in person, how those with direct reports would manage staff and the role of an individual’s performance history in making a decision to grant a flexible work request. Another consideration is whether the deliverables for a particular role suit a flexible work arrangement.

The organisation also needs to assess its own ability to support flexible working. This includes having a strong workplace culture but also the right software and hardware systems, online collaboration tools and meeting technology such as video conferencing.

3. Opportunity for SMEs to gain an advantage

According to our survey of employers, 23% believe SMEs have an innate ability to offer more flexible arrangements. Another 43% say smaller companies hold some additional advantage over larger companies in offering employees flexibility.

Smaller firms are seen as able to move faster in offering a flexible work arrangement to a new employee without seeking approval from multiple layers of management. In this context, flexible work could provide SMEs with a talent attraction advantage.

4. Helping managers focus on outcomes

Training people managers to oversee team members they cannot see in a consistent way is a must for supporting flexible work arrangements.

A manager’s attitude to flexible workers can depend on their own experience but often it’s more about their ability to organise work tasks so the quality and volume of work being completed is easy to see and assess.

5. Remote workers access to opportunity

Make sure everyone knows that you don’t have to be working the traditional 9-5 in the office to be eligible for advancement and upskilling.

Use internal communications to promote the training, skills development and learning that is available and also to showcase remote and flexible workers who are constant learners. Ensure all workers, including those operating remotely, are upskilled in the latest knowledge and learning required to do their job.

The emerging technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have made flexible working arrangements more accessible and transparent, and also more important to staff attraction and retention. How can your organisation take advantage?