A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about flexible working for lawyers, and with the debate of four-day weeks coming to the fold, it seemed only right to look at flexible working for other areas of the professional services sector. Reflecting on the research, there are several pioneering firms going out on a limb and making a success of flexible working whilst others are playing catch-up, possibly caused by the change in regulation that was introduced in 2014, and advances in collaborative technologies. Either way, there appears to be a drive coming from new workers, fresh out of university, with an expectation to engage with flexible working policies. But what is the case as a whole for workers within the professional services sector?
Where are we with flexible working?
Flexible working demands are staggering. 70% of workers say that this way of working makes jobs more attractive, 58% of people believe they would feel more motivated working outside the office and 40% of people would choose flexible working over a pay rise. Some businesses, notably ones that aren’t so heavily reliant on legacy systems to run their day-to-day operations, are able to allow for flexible working.
And it seems businesses are on the path towards to offering better flexible working options. There were more remote workers last year than ever before, and more than 50% of workers now work outside their main office at least two and a half days a week. Regus, who released the report, suggest technology on-the-go and millennial's are two reasons for the growth of flexible working. Whilst we are far more accommodating as a nation to these options than before, we still have a way to go.
According to a study conducted, Scandinavian countries do the work-life balance best. Not only does this include flexible working, downtime and other factors impact the balance. Denmark sits at number 1 in comparison to the UK sitting at number 13 within the work life balance pecking order, showing that we still have some way to go.
A further report found that 72% of accountants wanted to work remotely or from home, second only to the technology sector, where three in four people wanted this way of working. Finance followed at 64%. Depending on which area of professional services, there appears to be more expectation in some sub-sectors in comparison to others. In comparison, public sector workers sat at 35% for their desire to work from home. So, could there be an inherent understanding over expectation when considering practicalities of remote working? If so, this could be a particularly hard barrier to break should they find a need to change.
Is the four-day working week possible?
The topic of the four-day working week has been hitting the headlines hard over the past week. It’s believed that working one day less can help boost our productivity by replacing some of the work that has been done by humans in the past using robotics and automation in the form of artificial intelligence (AI). But will it really come to fruition?
The Trade Union Congress believe it’s possible for all to benefit from a four-day working week this century with the help from this kind of technology. According to the latest statistics, it could help to boost the UK economy by £200bn through the next decade.
There was a trial conducted in New Zealand into the four-day working week and they found some encouraging results. They discovered there was an increased level of team work and work engagement whilst reducing stress overall. However, by introducing a four-day working week, it appeared that additional stress was placed on certain employees, with one team having to break the terms of the trial to keep up with the workload. As much as the four-day working week sounds appealing, would we adapt to the change or would it apply too much pressure? Despite the impact on stress for the few, it has been considered an “unmitigated success”.
Who’s introducing new ways of working?
PricewaterhouseCooper announced a new flexible working scheme in their recent press release. The “Flexible Talent Network” scheme is one of the first of its kind where the need for best talent outweighs the traditional company demands of 9-5, Monday to Friday.
Currently PwC have three separate recruitment drives. The general FTN programme covers hiring on a full-time, part-time, term-time or reduced hours basis. They have two other recruitment drives; the busy season programme for auditing, and a back to business scheme.
Their Chief People Officer, commented on the programme: “People assume that to work at a big firm they need to follow traditional working patterns - we want to make it clear that this isn’t the case. In order to recruit the best people, we recognise that we need to offer greater flexibility, different working options and a route back in for those looking to restart their careers.”
PwC aren’t alone in introducing new ways of working. Deloitte announced a four days per week internship programme, lasting 25-weeks, introducing people back into the workplace after a two year or more break.
How is technology helping?
Reflecting on the Regus report, technology is vital for flexible working. The ability to integrate staff no matter where they are located is already happening. Softphone/deskphone integration like MiCollab, Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, video conferencing software and SharePoint are all examples of how technology can help businesses stay always-on. What is even more significant to productivity is integrating these technologies. Enabling strong and innovative technologies that are not only on-boarded but used in tandem should provide an equal experience to face to face communications. It’s only going to get better as technology continues to advance through the fourth industrial revolution.
Olive’s research revealed several areas of innovation that are changing the workplace of the future including embedded APIs and AI. With the workforce constantly adapting and moving forward, it is indicative that flexible working will change from a demand to the expected. Where technology is increasing how flexible we can be, it is only fitting that the way we work will continue to adapt and change with it.
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