In our recent campaign, 'The Departure Bored', we highlighted the staggering proportion of Britain's trains that run late. While the issues with our country's railway network are significant, only about 10% of Brits commute by train. About two-thirds of us use a car or van to get to work, while a further 7% take the bus. Other commuters, meanwhile, mostly walk or cycle [PDF].
While there are plenty of ways we can make commuting easier, one of the easiest ways that employers can bring about immediate improvements is to offer flexible working. Here's why:
In the past, it made perfect sense for employees to start and finish work at exactly the same time. In the 19th and early 20th centuries especially, work was almost always repetitive and manual. People assembled things. They packed. They moved things from one place to another — all tasks that were easily quantifiable by their employers.
But then work started to change. The manufacturing sector became less important, and services took their crown. Jobs became much less hands-on, and much more varied. It became significantly more difficult for employers to measure outcomes at a glance—with managers often only able to judge their employees’ performance over longer periods of time.
Regardless, the eight-hour workday remains, with working from 9am until 5pm, or sometimes even 5:30pm, still very much the norm in the western world.
We think that needs to change.
The standard workday is broken
Of course, there are some jobs out there that, for the sake of practicality or in order to cater to specific demands, still fit well into the old 9–5 pattern. But for many of us office workers, it’s simply not necessary to start and end the day at precisely the same time as everyone else.
Think about it: if we all continue to follow the same inflexible workday...
- Everyone commutes at exactly the same time. Is there any wonder our roads are jammed in the mornings and it’s virtually impossible to get a seat on the bus or train if everyone is trying to move around at exactly the same time? Travel times can double during peak hours, with roads, buses and trains exponentially quieter during the remainder of the day.
- We start our day off on the wrong foot. The stress of travelling to work at the busiest time of the day almost guarantees that we arrive feeling stressed and grumpy, which is hardly conducive to doing our best work.
- We have to take time off to fit other stuff in. Ever tried to get a doctor’s or dentist’s appointment after 5pm? How about taking your cat to the vet before work? Usually, we have to use our annual leave to make appointments or take care of chores — hardly the rejuvenating leisure time that our holidays are meant to provide.
- We can easily slip into a life of ‘presenteeism’. Just because we’re at work doesn’t mean we’re actually working. And how many of us have put off starting a new task when we realise that there’s only half an hour left of our workday, instead simply filling the remaining minutes?
For employers, the benefits of a little flexibility are clear:
- Recruitment. We're based in York. York is hardly a tech hub (yet!), so it can be difficult to recruit for certain roles. But by offering flexible start and finish times or shift patterns, we suddenly become a much more attractive prospect for those considering applying to work for us—especially if they have a longer commute.
- Staff retention. A better work-life balance, more control over working patterns, and an easier commute are significant boosts for employees — don't be surprised if staff stick with you for longer.
- Productivity & engagement. Let night-owls start work later, and early birds arrive earlier — you'll get more out of them.
In short, a little flexibility can bring vast benefits to employees and employers alike.
Flexible working at RotaCloud
RotaCloud is an office-based small business with a home in York. In early 2019, we switched to a generous flexitime policy, with core hours of 10am-3pm — the only exception is our lovely, hardworking customer success team, who either work 8am-4pm, or 9am-5pm, to ensure that there's always someone to pick up the phone, while still getting some choice over when they work.
Thanks to the magic of remotely operated locks, key cards, and our very own clocking in terminal, RotaCloud employees are able to access the office any time from 7am until 7pm.
RotaCloud has experienced all of the benefits mentioned above. Because we're based in a relatively small city, easier commutes are particularly important — staff travel to York from Scarborough, Leeds, and even further afield. Avoiding the rush hour helps no end.
But even if your business isn't office-based, or can't offer quite as much flexitime as we can, giving staff even a little more choice over when and where they work has its benefits. Having some degree of control over the role of work in our lives is important for all of us — whether it's choosing to complete a task in a certain way, getting to opt for the early shift or the late shift, or even deciding to go self-employed.
Even in sectors that are traditionally inflexible, companies can use rota planning software to allow employees control over when and how they work. For example, managers can publish shifts and qualified employees can claim whichever shifts they want to work, and the rota gets updated automatically, for everyone.
Many of the drawbacks to flexible working can be eased or eliminated with technology and good management. So why not give flexibility a chance?