Whether you are raising a family, caring for a loved one, coping with an illness or simply in need of a better work-life balance, strides in digital technology and changes to organisational culture have seen an increase in employers offering remote and flexible options for their staff.
In the last few months, however, social distancing measures have triggered an unprecedented acceleration in the shift towards flexible working. In this short space of time, working from home has evolved from employee perk to business as usual.
While this may be a new transition for some, those who had previously implemented flexibility as the standard will know the benefits that it can bring. Of course, teething pains are an inevitable obstacle when transitioning from a long-established routine of office-based operations to a digitally dispersed team of remote workers.
The good news is that we are adapting fast: as you would expect, the decades that were spent building and refining our digital infrastructure are finally paying off. Sure, we may still forget to unmute ourselves in a meeting from time to time or forget to copy someone into an email – but we’re learning, we’re collaborating and we’re finding ways to make the new normal work for everyone.
The positive mental health benefits of flexible working
The stress synonymous with a busy working environment is no secret. Everyone can stand to benefit from time away from the office: unfortunately, many workers suffer from heightened anxiety and pressure from a lack of flexibility and poor work-life balance.
According to research from the Mental Health Foundation, 12.7% of all sick days in the UK can be attributed to mental illness, with one in seven workers experiencing a form of mental health condition. Finding ways to support staff through such challenges has become a priority for employers, and a growing body of research suggests that flexible working could be the key to alleviating some of the stress for employees.
Just one of many studies into the correlation between flexibility at work and mental health from Durham University found that flexible working arrangements that “increase worker control and choice” had a positive effect on a plethora of health outcomes – sleep quality, tiredness and alertness, blood pressure and mental health – as well as “secondary” outcomes, including a sense of community and social support within a workplace.
This in mind, it’s easy to see why the UK government have encouraged employers to offer flexibility for employees for this reason, the former health minister describing it as “crucial to wellbeing”.
The impact on productivity
For those of us with families, friends and relatives who depend on us, a flexible working arrangement can make all the difference. Rigid office-bound schedules that were once the only way to work can be loosened thanks to technology, allowing us to manage our time and meet demands in both our personal and professional lives.
Yet, in the UK, there still exists a widespread distrust of flexible working. Many leaders remain uncertain, worrying that productivity will immediately take a hit if employees are able to work outside of the office. However, this view is not supported by research. On the contrary, studies have consistently proven that flexible working actually boosts productivity. For example, a recent HSBC report into the technology sector found that 89% of respondents cited flexible working as a motivation to be more productive at work.
A further study conducted by Stanford University economics professor Nicholas Bloom found similar results. Having surveyed 16,000 employees at a Chinese firm over ten months, findings revealed that those allowed to work flexibly from home increased their productivity by 13%. What’s more, those who did work flexibly also reported higher work satisfaction and took less sick leave than their office-bound counterparts.
Flexibility: from employee perk to standard practice
It could be argued that it was the UK’s hesitance to offer flexible working that saw us lag behind other countries in productivity. In Germany, a nation that is famed for high productivity levels, a new law is set to be introduced to give workers the legal right to work from home.
Hubertus Heil, the Social Democrat labour minister, said employment legislation would be tabled this autumn making Germany and Finland the only countries in the world to have the right to home working enshrined in law.
“Everyone who wants to and whose job allows it should be able to work in a home office,” he told Bild am Sonntag. “We are learning in the pandemic how much work can be done from home.”
Here at 360 Law Group, we’re no strangers to flexibility. In fact, our entire business model is based on working from home. While we have a physical presence here in the UK and now in the US, our network comprises of a globally dispersed team of specialist lawyers. Since they are able to run their practice from home, they are able to disconnect and focus on delivering a high-quality service without having to deal with the company politics, hierarchy or day to day distractions.
We’ve spent the last five years building a technology-led infrastructure that supports frictionless remote working, and for that, we’re thankful. As well as enabling us to provide critical support for people and businesses across the world, we’re proud of the positive change our flexible model has had for our consultants’ personal lives and wellbeing.