Flexible Working And Personalisation In Professions

We can personalise almost everything in our lives… So why not our jobs?

Learning how to get the most out of your employees is the key to building a successful business. Without the right workers with the right skills and the right attitudes, a company is doomed to fail. For a surprisingly long time, work has been structured around prescribed, objective rules. People are largely expected to work certain hours in a certain building while wearing certain clothes. This system may have complemented a world of work where you had to be in a particular environment to carry out tasks, but this is certainly not the case today. Through digital channels, it’s possible to work from anywhere, at any time. Just as it revolutionised customer expectations, personalisation is set to disrupt employment too.

Productive workforce, productive company

From healthcare to retail, digitisation has benefitted organisations and individuals in countless ways. What it has also done, however, is facilitate the spread of a social and economic epidemic: the online office. If you’re a freelancer, digital work channels are great news. But, if you’re confined to an office for five days a week, the additional task of replying to emails on the way home could easily breed resentment and fatigue. All work and no play makes us all incredibly dull. It also makes us less socially engaged, less connected with our peers and less likely to fully immerse ourselves in our leisure time. In fact, a recent study by the University of the West of England found that half of commuters check work emails when travelling to and from work. How far is remote work changing the nature of employment and the amount of work people are expected to do?

For Tony Latter, CEO and co founder of The Happiness Index, encouraging employees to work outside of the office is a powerful way to show workers that they are trusted and valued. If employees don’t feel that they are being listened to, their productivity will suffer. It was partly due to this realisation that The Happiness Index was created. The company’s aim is to find a better way to engage staff in the feedback process and give individuals a voice to improve their own employee experiences.

“We gather information in two ways,” says Latter. “The first is regular short, sharp surveys and the second is an approach we call Always On. We do this using various methods such as emails, text and voice. Until now feedback has always been on the company’s terms. Always On is about giving people the opportunity to provide feedback whenever they want and about whatever they want. This creates a two way conversation and shows the company is listening.”

Focus on output, not hours

According to Latter, the nine to five concept was originally created in the 1860s and measured time rather than output. Now, employers have come to realise that hours don’t always equate to productivity – what one person can do in one day, another might do in a few hours. As well as this, the traditional family with one breadwinner and one person at home raising the kids is no longer the status quo. In modern families, breadwinners probably also raise the family, which is another reason why flexible working is so important.

“The issue of answering work emails on the train and ‘always being on’ is more complex than just saying people are overworked,” Latter says. “Whilst this clearly doesn’t favour everyone, working on the train can be helpful and many people use this time to enhance their working and personal lives. I appreciate remote working doesn’t apply to all jobs, but for those who can work remotely, this should be something employers consider as the benefits are clear for businesses.”

The importance of individualisation

Aside from active survey responses and ‘Always On’ data, employers may also have access to biological metrics about their workers. These insights, as shown by bioanalytics company Humanyze, can be turned into productivity. Humanyze’s approach may be seen as a little extreme, but it emphasises an important point. All employees are different, and they work in different ways. Understanding how to get the best out of a workforce does not mean setting universal targets, but looking at workers on an individual level.

“Who wouldn’t respond better to being given an element of freedom over when and how they work?” says Latter. “Basing expectations for employees on a company wide scale is ineffective and lazy. Plus, it won’t empower people to want to improve and help the business achieve its goals. Companies should take the time to treat people as individuals, look at their circumstances and work with the employee to find the right solution for them.”

Part of solving the problem could be accounting for out of office hours in contracts. If a job requires a heavy commitment to email communications during evenings and weekends, then arguably this should be reflected in the wage. It should not be an unspoken clause that employees put in unpaid hours simply because technology allows it. That said, in Latter’s view the ability to work remotely is a positive development in terms of employee engagement and productivity. However, in order for it to work well, employers need to trust their workers.

“If companies can’t trust their employees to deliver their work without being in the office Monday to Friday, nine to five then in my opinion they have the wrong employee,” he notes. “We have all worked with people who go to work and look to take shortcuts and deliver the bare minimum. However, in my experience when you offer people more flexibility the people with the right attitudes and behaviours get better and the less productive workers are found out.”

Ultimately, happier workers are better workers, and better workers lead to better productivity. While flexibility does have its downsides, the benefit of having more control over when, how, and where you work is largely a good thing. The catch, as Latter says, is that businesses need to trust their employees, and understand them on a personal, individual level. Checking emails or completing tasks outside of regular working hours is all well and good… As long as employees feel that their commitment is recognised and valued.

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