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Will flexi working ultimately replace the 9-5 desk job?

The right of employees to request flexible working patterns after 26 weeks of employment has been enshrined in law since 2014

This change extended the privilege previously accorded only to parents of children under the age of 17 (or 18 for disabled children) and some carers. After a slow start, the adoption of flexible working is beginning to gain popularity and many employers are starting to appreciate and embrace the benefits and challenges of a flexible workforce.

The huge advance in communication and networking technology has been the main catalyst for the change in attitude, with voice and video call applications such as Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts allowing staff to stay in touch and collaborate effectively without needing to sit within the same building.

In large global organisations, internal and external meetings where parties are located in different countries and possibly time zones are already commonly facilitated by the use of teleconferences; using the same technology for remote workers a natural progression.

Although both technological advances and the law are helping to clear the way for more and more employees to work remotely, there are still a number of barriers to total adoption across businesses of all sizes and in all sectors.

Security is often raised as the main concern when workers need to access company networks from remote locations, with IT departments facing an additional challenge if BYOD (bring you own device) is adopted within the organisation. Rigorous access control, security software and two-factor authentication are a few of the measures available to safeguard company information whilst still allowing a good level of flexibility.

Trust is another factor that can discourage organisations from fully supporting flexible working, with many employers still expressing concern that remote workers cannot be fully monitored during the working day. Although this requires a cultural shift from the top down within the organisation, employers should be aware that merely having people physically sitting in the office building does not necessarily make them more productive.

Ensuring that there is a good flow of communication between both parties and that regular catch-ups are scheduled, either face to face or remotely, will help to build trust and ensure that team members with different work patterns still feel part of the organisation.

From an employee point of view, more flexible working practices can have a huge positive impact on morale and productivity; for example, cutting out the daily commute removes the problem of transport delays and travel fatigue. Employees opting to start and finish the working day later may also benefit from cheaper off-peak travel fares and less crowded buses and trains.

Roads are generally less congested for those who travel into work by car outside the rush hour and reduction in stress and financial strain will no doubt result in a happier and more engaged workforce.

HR and recruitment staff can also benefit from allowing flexible working patterns, as they may be able to expand their search for talent to include those who live further away from the company’s location than would otherwise be viable.

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