Why flexible working isn't the silver bullet for small business success that you were hoping for

The flexible working debate is one that has been around for some time now, but only recently has it really taken off as a widespread option for businesses large and small to really consider offering.

Whether employers love it or hate it, research conducted by Love Energy Savings has revealed that the majority of people think of flexible working as a viable option. In a survey, more than 750 people were asked the question; ‘Should all companies offer their staff the option of working from home?’ and 58% of people were in favour.

Although having the ability to work from the comfort of our own home is certainly the most popular form of flexible working, the phrase also covers a number of other options, including starting or finishing later, working from different locations or working on your commute. As of June 30th 2014, all employees have the right to request flexible working from their employer as long as they have been employed for at least 26 weeks, so it’s a pressing issue that small businesses need to deal with right away.

If you’re an SME, then you’ll have a delicate balance to consider between keeping your employees happy and ensuring that they are as productive as possible. And as businesses come under more pressure to keep their staff happy and engaged, more are considering the possibility of introducing flexible working into their schedules. Still weighing up the options? Love Energy Savings, specialists in business energy comparison and in saving SMEs money, give you their pros and cons of flexible working.


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Pro - Happier employees

The work-life balance is becoming an increasingly important part of employee retention. Flexible working provides the perfect opportunity for professionals to get more of a balance within their lives. This is particularly true for those who are also juggling childcare or other commitments, and also shows that an employer truly cares about their staff. This kind of positive reputation can stand you in good stead when you come to find new talent to join your ranks.

Con - Not everything can be done remotely

Depending on the type of industry that you specialise in, flexible working can either be perfect for you or trickier to slot in. For example, if you work closely with the rest of your team or have a creative business that requires you to work collaboratively with colleagues, then flexible working can get in the way of that. Before signing off on anyone’s request for flexible working, other commitments such as business trips, and both internal and external client meetings will have to be considered.

Pro - Reduce your energy consumption

With the UK’s ambitious targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% (compared to 1990 levels) by the year 2050 and with rising energy prices, there is more pressure than ever on businesses to reduce their energy bills. Whether you’re just looking to cut down on your usage, or are working towards a completely carbon-neutral business, flexible working can help you on your way.

Simply by allowing your employees to work from home or away from the office for a day or two a week, you can drastically reduce the energy consumption in your office, from powering computers to keeping everyone cool/warm. Not only that, but the commuting part of your carbon footprint will also be slashed.

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Con - Extended energy use

If some of your employees are coming in earlier and staying later, perhaps if you have allowed for more convenient shift patterns, then it’s only logical that energy will be used for longer in your office, which means higher energy bills. Although you may not consider it, leaving the lights on well into the evening, having car park lights on and even powering the heating for a little longer can all add up in the end.

Pro - Productivity can be higher

Some people find that they thrive when they aren’t surrounded by people and the daily distractions of office life, and that’s when their productivity is highest. Others find that there are certain times of the day when they are able to focus more, such as early in the morning or late at night. Flexible working allows people to harness their energy and brainpower, working when they are at their best and giving you a higher quality of output often at a faster pace.

Con - Distractions can creep in

Roommates, partners, and children, each of these can be a distraction when working from home. And if you’re “workspace-hopping” in a cafe in town, the lure of the internet may be harder to resist outside of the office. Working away from the business environment and actually being productive requires a certain amount of discipline that not everyone has. However, if you can resist the urge to turn on the television, you could find your productivity levels go through the roof in a more comfortable environment.

Pro - Less stress

Working away from the office can have a hugely beneficial effect on a person’s stress levels. Just being in your own home gives you more control over your stress, even on a subconscious level. If you find that things do start to pile up, then it is far easier to walk away and take a break from home than it is in an office surrounded by colleagues. That way you are able to return to your desk with fresh eyes and a clear mind ready to pick the work right back up.

Con - It can be isolating

While working with others can be distracting, your colleagues can also provide some much needed company when you’re staring at a screen all day long. And although working from home can be calming and relaxing, it can also be incredibly isolating and lonely. Strong personal relationships can be forged in the office, and it’s incredible how much these can have an impact on your work. Not only that, but everyone needs someone to talk to every now and then, and never discount how much collaboration can improve your delivery. Sure, video-conferencing solutions and technological advancements such as Skype help to connect people in different locations, but creative sessions just aren’t the same when you’re not in the same room feeding off each other’s energy.

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There’s a lot to factor in if you’re considering allowing your employees the option of flexible working, whatever form that may take. Ultimately it can all depend on the type of business you are, the industry you work in and the way that you work as a team. Weigh up the pros and cons seriously before you make the final decision. Numerous studies have shown that home-based workers or those with flexible working options are more productive, happier and will often be less likely to quit their job. Only you can decide what will work for your business.

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