Yahoo! has banned telecommuters and wants everyone to work in the office. Is this the start of a new trend, a continuation of an old one or something else entirely? How are other employers approaching flextime issues? Lewis Silkin considers the issues and what the future may hold for flexible working.
Many believe that when and where we work will matter less in years to come. Over the last decade, there has been an increasing shift away from office-based working to more flexible work arrangements in those industries which can support such a move. Flexible working hours, often combined with working remotely, are commonplace. This has allowed employees more control over where, how and when they work, and how they choose to balance work, family and outside interests. Those who support this progression say that in turn, and contrary to the belief of some sceptics, employees will be more engaged and productive.
But does Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to get Yahoo! telecommuters back from home into the office signal the beginnings of a backlash against this flextime trend? Or just teething problems as the world of work grapples with the inherent difficulties in managing and motivating a remote workforce, particularly in difficult economic times?
Flexible working: request denied?
The move towards a more flexible way of working has been influenced by a number of different factors. Technological advances have been a major contributor. Widespread availability of broadband has given more employees the ability to access employer IT systems remotely and effectively. Working outside of the office has become a practical reality.
The introduction of the right for parents and carers to request flexible working has increased awareness, and forced employers who had not previously considered it to give it careful thought.
Flexitime in flexible jobs
Many commentators on the future of work agree that this trend is set to continue into 2020 and beyond. Technology will advance further and make working remotely possible for an increasing number of job roles. Developments in the employment law arena also support moves towards a more flexible workforce. The statutory “right to request” to work flexibly will be extended to everyone in 2014 and whilst there is nothing stopping anyone from making a request at present, a wider statutory right may prompt more employees (and employers) to look at the options.
The move to a shared parental leave system rather than separate maternity and paternity leave systems may mean more men consider flexible working options. Furthermore, 2020 will see the first of the post-millenials, who have grown up with their virtual and physical worlds fully integrated, entering the workforce. They are predicted to have quite different expectations as to how their work-life should look.
Remote work challenges
Does the Yahoo! decision – and the support this has generated from other businesses and commentators (notably, Alexandra Shulman of British Vogue) – sound a warning bell? There are additional challenges which come with managing a remote workforce. Being present in an office can facilitate interaction with colleagues, casual conversations and impromptu meetings. Decisions are made more quickly and creativity can flourish. Technology has not quite found a way to replicate face-to-face contact and the immediacy which accompanies it. Working in isolation can lead to being left out of those encounters and out of the loop – both on day-to-day matters and when it comes to bigger issues such as career progression and promotion. In some cases, those working remotely might become disengaged and demotivated, and productivity and commitment may suffer as a result.
Some might say that productivity and commitment concerns have been obvious all along. However, there is no doubt that technological advances will facilitate opportunities for ever greater working flexibility in the future. As the employment relationship evolves and the shape of the employment “deal” continues to be subject to increasing pressures, employers need to be ready to adapt and consider how best to make a more remote and flexible workforce “workable” for the future.
By Abi Frederick, Lewis Silkin
How has remote or flexible working affected your workplace? What are the challenges with motivating teams that can be both geographically and temporally disparate? Share your thoughts about flexible working using the comments section below.
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