Back when working life relied on landlines and desktop computers, employees needed to come into a physical office space to get work done. Today ever-advancing technology and connectivity means people are empowered to work wherever and whenever they want. The capabilities required for flexible working have been around for a while, but old-school office-based working methods remain the standard. What’s lacking is a culture change, one that makes flexible working acceptable and encourages staff to take advantage of it.

Balance is key. Too many companies are unsure of how to implement flexible working and have concerns about maintaining an efficient and productive work ethic among staff. On the other side of the coin employees are feeling the pressure to continually perform and work long hours, not a healthy approach.

‘Presenteeism’, when people come into work when they are ill or stay at their desks longer than required, has more than tripled since 2010, according to recent research, with 86% of over 1,000 respondents to the 2018 survey, saying they had observed presenteeism in their organisation over the last 12 months, compared with 72% in 2016 and just 26% in 2010. The research also found that more than two-thirds of respondents (69%) reported that ‘leaveism’ – such as people using annual leave to work instead – is also a growing problem within the work place.

Flexible working is frequently discussed, but the issues around uptake are not being properly addressed. Businesses need to acknowledge the benefits that flexibility and modern working practices can provide, not just for employee productivity rates, but also for improving companies as a whole.

Dealt with correctly, flexitime can reduce costs to your business. Flexible working arrangements are inexpensive to implement and in fact lead to a reduction in certain types of pay outs or costs, such as sick leave. But less selfishly and in fact more importantly, flexible working schemes help to improve staff retention rates, alongside increasing employee satisfaction levels. In practice this means recruitment costs are also kept to a minimum as staff turnover is low. All positive, but negative perceptions and the classic stereotype of the ‘flexible’ worker can be hard to escape. Employees can quickly be made to feel like a part timer. Outdated attitudes like that are stalling progress.

Employers have a duty to support working parents. They shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for leaving early if they’re getting the job done. Often commuting from outside London means you miss important family time. It’s about getting the balance right between home life and working hours. Obviously, work is a commitment, and this must be respected, but flexible arrangements, for example allowing parents to work different hours that fit better around family life, should be common practice by now.

Individuals all work differently, but the continued resistance to allowing employees to work from home is misguided. In many cases having your own space, no distractions and a change of scenery can help to improve efficiency levels by allowing time to clear your head and do some thinking, away from the buzz of the office.

Time management is vital in any workplace. Thinking at your own speed without added pressure is more constructive than simply being chained to your desk and trying to churn out work within a restricted time frame. An office is simply not the right environment for everyone. Alongside this, rising rent prices and extortionate travel costs mean the traditional office model is becoming increasingly impractical, particularly in London. These challenges need to be tackled head on.

There is ample opportunity for real innovation here, via the creation of team-wide flexible working plans. They can be personal to your team members and suitable for specific roles. Coupling this with a smart recruitment policy that ensures you’re recruiting the right people, ones that are able to benefit from this approach, is a great way to future-proof any organisation. People that avoid working properly just because they aren’t in the office are few and far between, but at the same time these methods won’t be right for everyone all the time. Having the right staff is important.

This isn’t about catering for the workshy, it’s about modernising working environments for employees today. To maximise outcomes for a business, the give and take of employer / employee relationship needs to be equalised. Employers should be asking their staff what they want from the workplace (within reason!) with a view to creating a culture that works well for everyone. There are new models emerging here, and organisations that lead the way will benefit commercially as a result.

Classic nine to five days don’t make sense anymore. It’s time for a change and a much-needed shake up of the traditional office model. Employers should be focusing on new, flexible approaches that generate positive working environments. Adaptations are required, by both employers and employees, but once we crack adoption issues everyone will benefit. Taking a flexible approach is long overdue.

Richard Barrett

Richard Barrett


Richard Barrett, Managing Director and Founding Partner at Initials.