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The flexible working debate

4th December 2017

In recent years, flexible work trends have been challenging the 9-5 office status quo. Staff are wanting to break out of traditional moulds, and this has influenced a range of areas from office design to business structures and recruitment. Yet, there is still debate around the long-term benefits of staff working flexibly outside the office. News of IBM bringing thousands of workers back into the office this year has given all businesses food for thought: does employee interaction and motivation really reduce outside the office, or are these simply assumptions? We explore both sides of the debate.

Working in a coffee shop

Why do so many of us want to work flexibly?

Flexible working is firmly on the agenda for employees. The UK's biggest flexible working survey, which polled 3,000 working adults, found that 87% either work flexibly or would like to do so - cutting back hours, rearranging hours to fit in with personal commitments or working from home.

The most common reasons for wanting to work flexibly are focussed around a rising need to balance work and life: reducing childcare hours, cutting down long commutes or moving to a more affordable housing area.

Industry leaders like Vodafone, Unilever and Rank Group have responded to this rising tide by rolling out employee schemes. New employees at Unilever can expect a pliable work environment as soon as they enter the building. Rather than being led to a desk or office, workers can choose where and when to work, within the suitable boundaries of their role and the style of the wider team.

Why do some remain sceptical?

On the other hand, the likes of Yahoo, IBM and Bank of America are telling employees to come back into the office. IBM is a particularly interesting example. In 2009, it was arguably ahead of its time, with 40% of its 386,000 employees in 173 countries working remotely. However, after many years of trial and error, it decided to bring thousands of workers back into the office full-time, in a bid to create small, agile teams to boost employee interaction and idea generation.

Visibility of output and levels of communication are often cited as pain points for managers considering flexible hours for employees. Just as many people are often ill-prepared for the isolation and uncertainty of self-employment, employees with flexible hours can struggle with a degree of loneliness and with maintaining motivation outside the office.

If you would like to know more, this useful resource sheds light on the variety of opinions and experiences associated with flexible work, both as an employer and employee.

Perceived pitfalls and benefits

From our extensive experience in the recruitment industry, we have built up an understanding of why employers and employees are divided on the issue:

Potential pitfalls

  • Professionals operate well as individuals but not necessarily as a collective, communicative team working toward the same goals
  • Building relationships and maintaining motivation can be a challenge without physical human contact
  • It's easier to walk over to a desk, rather than schedule a phone or video call
  • Out of sight, out of mind: there is a perception that employees aren't as productive when they are granted additional autonomy outside the office

Potential benefits

  • Studies show that happy employees are more productive - if an employer is able to offer hours that will make an employee feel comfortable, it makes sense to work to their preferences
  • Businesses which address the work/life balance often find it easier to attract and retain staff, reducing recruitment and training costs and building better relationships with their employees
  • Digital communication has made the world an open office - many professionals, particularly in tech roles, don't need a physical space to get on with their work
  • For commuters, working from home saves money and time, creating more opportunities for employees to improve productivity

Maximising the potential of flexible staffing solutions

To answer the question of whether flexible work is the answer to our hectic lifestyles is also to answer a fundamental conundrum for our age: how do we want to work?

Here at Grafton Banks, we pride ourselves on understanding the needs of clients and candidates to find lasting career matches in a competitive industry. Our extensive knowledge and experience in the finance sector enables us to match candidates to a role and business environment that suits them, to the long-term benefit of both parties.

We recognise that any style of working is only a success when employees are motivated and focused in a position which is right for them. We are living in an age that recognises the value of flexibility, which is reflected in the way we approach our candidate and client process.

For an in-depth and confidential consultation about jobs and careers in finance, please contact Nigel Jeyes on 01273 229499 or email

Should you wish to contact us out of hours please call 07714 765482.

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