A couple of months back I wrote about the growth in employment levels in the rural areas of Bath and North East Somerset, which were outstripping those in urban areas. One of the reasons for that was people being keen to avoid the trials and tribulations of dealing with traffic jams, finding places to park, being stressed and late for meetings.
That led me on to thinking about other ways that working practices were changing, and the most obvious of those were flexi-hours and working from home.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had the chance to talk to a variety of business people about this topic and there seems to be a general consensus that it’s going to become ever more prevalent in the future. That raises a number of questions, such as will it have an impact on how much work space we need in cities, what will it mean managerially and how will businesses cope when employees demand flexible working in jobs where it’s just not practicable?
It’s a classic case of opportunities and challenges. Some of the people I’ve spoken to say there are many benefits from flexible working, often meaning staff only come into the office two or three days a week, which of course means a business doesn’t need premises which will cope with 100% of the workforce. There are regular stories of productivity improvements and a greater level of contentedness among staff.
On the other hand there are concerns for those people who prefer the regular discipline of going into the office to work, sometimes because the home environment is not conducive to being able to concentrate on the job in hand. Some people express worries that a lack of face to face contact can damage team working and then there is the obvious problem of a job that requires you to be present, such as working in a factory or a shop.
I’ve also heard that it’s not just business that’s grappling with this issue. University students are also keen to embrace a more flexible lifestyle and are keen to receive their teaching in different ways than simply attending a lecture or seminar. Some would rather information was available online so they can consume it at a time of their choosing.
It seems clear that flexible working is here to stay. It’s up to everyone in business to give real thought into how best it can be applied in the interests of staff, the company and our broader local economy.