Flexible Working – is this the key to working and living smarter?

20 May 2019
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The term “work smarter not harder” is not new. It originated in the 1930s. Allen F Morgenstern, an industrial engineer, the creator of the work simplification programme, coined the term. The intent of the programme was to increase the ability of people to produce more with less effort.

Working smarter not harder is what most of us strive to do; working hard and being as productive as possible while adding more value with every unit of time.

Various sources cite the effective use of technology to enable efficiency for working smarter and being more productive.  This is certainly an enabler, but at the core of the issue we have people. People are unique individuals who could be juggling a variety of things such as family, hobbies, volunteering commitments, a disability etc. Therefore, the solution to working smarter should be considered from a ‘people’ angle, not technology.

What will enable a range of individuals, who are all different, to work smarter?

There are several enablers, but a key one for a people-centred approach is flexibility. Flexible ways of working are needed to support an individual contribute their valuable time in the most effective way, so they can achieve their best and produce their optimum output. Flexibility empowers people to manage their time in a more holistic way to create the right balance in their lives. Flexible options include working hours, working patterns, working locations etc.

Thinking about flexibility from a people angle encourages us to look at ‘working smarter’ from a holistic work-life balance perspective. Working smarter could be re-phrased as ‘living smarter’. Rather than just thinking about how to be more effective at work, thinking holistically to consider how to be more effective with all the available time in a day/week/month/year. This allows people to prioritise what is important to them and manage their lives accordingly.

“You can’t have everything you want, but you can have the things that really matter to you.” —Marissa Mayer, former president and CEO of Yahoo

People who are happier and less stressed in their lives will be more effective in the hours they are working. So being a flexible employer and working with your employees to understand their individual needs in the context of their unique lives is key. The right balance will be unique to the individual and is also likely to change over time depending on what is going on at work and in their personal lives.  Taking a people-centric approach requires good managers that understand and trust the individuals that work for them, have effective communication skills, an open mind and empathy.

Depending on the business and the role, there may be constraints you need to work within to find a solution that works for the employee and the business.  Some traditional managers may feel uncomfortable with offering flexible options, fearing an onslaught of applications and worrying they can’t manage their staff if they can’t see them. Or maybe some managers don’t see the appeal of flexible working themselves, so they assume it won’t appeal or work for others around them in the business. For these and other push-backs, it is worth reflecting on how good the communication and trust is between individual and manager. If an individual is putting forward a case for flexible working to a more traditional manager, consider the benefits from a company perspective too, and how you will measure your productivity in outputs rather than hours spent in the office.

It’s also worth being aware of the pitfalls in flexible working that need to be managed. With technology allowing us to be permanently connected coupled with flexible working blurring the boundaries of work and life, it’s possible to feel like you are always “on” and end up working smarter and harder which is unsustainable and risks burn-out. Managing this and setting boundaries can be tough, so monitoring, reflecting and adapting your approach as necessary is important.  Again, having a good relationship between manager and employee, and communicating both ways to work out how to avoid potential pitfalls is vital.

One thing is for sure, we are all going to be working further into old age than previous generations. Life is a marathon not a sprint. Finding ways of working that keep people happy and healthy for the long-term will benefit employers, society and the economy. Flexible options give people the control of their time to create the crucial space for fun and relaxation which will sustain them for this marathon of life and work we are in!

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” —Michael Altshuler, motivational speaker

Another certainty is that there is a war for talent out there. To attract and retain the best people, employers need to offer a compelling package including flexibility. This will enable individuals with diverse needs to succeed in that organisation leading to a more diverse talent pool in the business.

Flexibility is not preserved for women with young kids. It’s something that can benefit anyone; men and women of all ages, to help them to get the most out of their lives (one element of which is work). At Amey we understand the benefits of offering flexible working and encourage our people to consider how they can work most effectively.

There will always be trade-offs when striving for the optimal work-life balance, but only the individual can decide what their priorities are. Everyone’s priorities will be different and organisations need to support their employees as unique individuals to work and live smarter. To achieve this, flexibility is key.

Click here to find out more about a flexible career at Amey Consulting.

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