Wildgoose's Flexible Working survey suggests that UK businesses need to offer high levels of flexible working to hold onto their staff who are looking to better balance work and life. In addition, creating flexible working spaces is also a pivotal imperative to maintain loyalty and productivity. Dave Howell reports.

Flexible, agile working is now vital to ensure your business continues to operate profitably. Flexible working means developing not only flexible working practices but also the working spaces your staff will use. The growth of co-working spaces is a clear trend impacting how all businesses — no matter their size — are organising their workforces and their office space.

The Modern Workplace report from Condeco concluded: “Employers are concerned about the increasing cost of workspaces, as well as the need to provide a variety of workspaces for employees and have sufficient space for everyone. These challenges are part of the reason why many companies are interested in adapting the physical workspace, both to make it more cost-effective and more employee-friendly”.

Integrating flexible working with in-office and remote office space is a crucial driver all businesses are feeling. This is particularly acute as small businesses, in particular, embrace more digitisation and their workforce’s demands for flexible working.

Says Murray Hibbert, Client Relations Director at Habit Action, an office and design-build company: “Flexible working is a must and an expectation. Today’s workforce should be able to come into the office and move around different areas, according to their needs, with access to connectivity and technology necessary to fulfil different tasks during the day. This vision should all be scientifically designed using data to help ensure all needs are met”.

However, a wholesale move to more flexible working in agile spaces might not be ideal for everyone. Craig Penfold, Chief Customer Officer of RealVNC, explained: "The HR department may struggle to run ‘business as usual’ because it is harder to maintain a clear line of communication with employees that work remotely. If remote working is not deployed properly, a number of issues can occur for the HR team, in everything from formal line management processes to keeping up the morale of traditional office culture. For example, if there is no formal office space to be able to conduct meetings such as appraisals, it becomes more difficult for HR to align this”.

Finding a seat

According to research from Brickendon, UK office workers waste, on average, almost two weeks’ worth of output a year finding somewhere to sit. Flexible working spaces, coupled with an adaptable approach to working hours and locations, is clearly how your business can adapt to today’s working environments.

Croner-i spoke with Lloyd Coldrick, Managing Director of Cobus — a workspace design specialist — and began by asking

Is the traditional “office” as we understand it dead?

“Gone are the days of the traditional 9-to-5 job, as more employees stay connected to their work around the clock through digital technology such as smartphones and tablets,” Coldrick responded. “Having the resources to work 24/7 has blurred the boundaries between life in and outside the office, increasing the risk of exhaustion — or ‘burn out’ — through overworking.”

“Therefore, it is fundamental employees have a workspace environment that safeguards their health and wellbeing. This has led to a shift away from more traditional office spaces and paved the way for collaborative working environments.”

How important is it to offer flexible working to employees, but also flexible working spaces?

“Research from the Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2016/01/manage-your-emotional-culture) found that shared workspaces were shown to reduce stress and depression while increasing employees' overall mood.

“It’s no secret that we often get stressed at work, but a shared environment helps to cultivate meaningful relationships. This comfort will, in turn, lead to higher productivity and quality of work, all while protecting and promoting employee wellbeing. A flexible workspace can also boost motivation, as working with like-minded people in a fast-paced environment can inspire the emotional drive to succeed.

“A thriving collaborative environment, however, brings with it a team who are all striving towards common goals and objectives, while developing friendships and camaraderie along the way. Steve Jobs once said, "Ideas don't happen in the boardroom; they happen in corridors,” which is very true. Collaboration comes more naturally in a workplace where there are no barriers, and the frequent sharing of ideas significantly boosts productivity.”

What are the challenges of creating flexible working spaces that support the flexible working patterns many workers are now adopting?

“With millennials predicted to make up half of the workforce by next year, businesses need to recognise and acknowledge the changing demands of the modern workforce.

“Just because people are unable to be physically in an office doesn't mean they can't work. Businesses are beginning to recognise this and are offering more support to those on maternity and paternity leave, and those who are unable to make it into the office due to injury or long-term illness. Flexible working and flexible workspaces break down the barriers of having to be ‘at work’ to work.

“An effective, flexible workspace will not only empower individual entrepreneurs and organisations to work productively and comfortably but also provide them with the freedom and opportunity to collaborate with others. The result is a great networking and positive discussing of ideas, building a valuable sense of community and strong support for all users of the space.”

Businesses continue to digitise. How is technology supporting the development of flexible working and the spaces where employees work?

“Using software that allows staff to interact and co-work on projects and tasks while being in two different locations helps to support the growth of flexible workspaces. Social media is also a key part in encouraging interaction. Quite simply, as pioneering technological advances find their way into the mainstream market, the development of flexible workspaces will continue to thrive.”

Is offering flexible working, including the ability to work remotely now essential if businesses are to attract and hold onto highly skilled employees?

“Innovation is an integral part of all successful business strategies and companies will always be looking out for new, game-changing ways to gain an advantage over competitors, while improving the bottom line. In this hyper-competitive workplace environment, attracting and retaining top talent is a key driver of success, so we can only expect to see an influx of flexible workspaces that incorporate cutting-edge products and best practice innovations that help boost employee morale and wellness, which in turn increases retention.”

How do you see flexible working developing in the future?

“We’ve come a long way from the boxed-up cubicle-style workspaces that were commonplace in the 1980s and shifted towards spaces that value groups over individuals. A thriving collaborative environment brings with it people who are all striving towards common goals and objectives, while nurturing wellbeing and enhancing productivity.

“The fact is, flexible workspaces have never played a more integral role in the success of a business than they do today. With each passing year, new technologies are integrated and new trends adopted. The continually changing landscape only allows for more exciting opportunities to be tried and tested. If anything, flexible working is forecast to increase exponentially as we enter 2020 and beyond.

“Ultimately, we're gaining a deeper understanding into how we can merge varying designs to create a space that is aesthetically pleasing, health-promoting, planet-saving and profit-boosting, all while having a degree of flexibility to ensure an inclusive space for all.”

Dynamic working spaces

Flexible working and the spaces that are used will continue to develop. Creating a working environment that embraces how people want to work will lead to higher productivity and a workforce that has positive wellbeing.

Lizzie Benton, Culture Consultant at Liberty Mind, said: “Within the work environment itself space should be flexible so that people can find the right place for the type of work they're doing. Rather than just desks and chairs, there should be a mix of spaces that can promote productivity and health. Stand up desks, collaborative open spaces and places that are purely for quiet and focus. If you want the best work from people, you have to give them the best environment. You wouldn't expect world-class athletes to perform their best in poor environments, so we shouldn't expect the same from our employees.”

Alex Hirst, Founder and CEO at The Hoxby Collective also concludes:

“Businesses that can offer super-agile and inclusive workforce solutions reap manifold benefits. Research continues to prove that flexible workers are talented and highly motivated, often more productive than their ‘traditional’ counterparts. By engaging freelancers who can work remotely, businesses can quickly respond or scale up to global demands and attract talent from a much higher pool.”

Your business must be agile and dynamic to thrive in its marketplace. One vital component of this success is how your staff can work. The spaces they work within are no longer confined to a well-defined office. Work is now conducted remotely in a range of areas that meet specific needs. Integrating flexible working practices with these different spaces will become even more critical over the next five years, as your company continues to digitise. The human element, though, is still at the core of your business. Don't forget to look after this resource.

Last reviewed 25 September 2019