Our recent research has revealed that much of the UK is falling behind employee expectations when it comes to providing flexible options. This could present itself as a challenge in a time where it is crucial for employers to understand how to attract and retain a younger pool of talent that represents the future of the workforce, as this generation of 18-27 year-old professionals are bringing very different expectations to the workplace.

The fact is that millennials will make up 50% of the workforce by 2020, and we know that the majority of millennials expect flexible working to be offered as a standard. It is therefore of paramount importance that businesses identify and address any tensions around flexible working soon, in order to meet these expectations. This will ensure that they are well positioned to attract and retain the right talent for the long-term future of their business.

One of the main causes of tension around flexible working are trusting that employees who are off-site are managing their own time and being productive. There is also the misconception that older, more senior employees and those with young children should be offered more flexible working options than their junior and/or single colleagues.

Millennials can often be wrongly perceived as a social-media-obsessed generation that prefers to work remotely from coffee shops, whilst on Instagram or Facebook, rather than working in a typical 9-5 job. The truth is that this generation of the workforce is simply bringing new life experiences and expectations into the workplace, just as the generations before them. Organisations would be wrong to dismiss these expectations and those that do risk being left behind in the battle for the best and brightest young professionals.

Approaches to flexible working

To ensure you are perceived as an appealing employer of choice to the future workforce, here is some advice on how to best meet these expectations:

1. Implement new talent strategies 

Organisations need talent strategies that account for a shifting employee demographic with differing expectations. From a professional development perspective, succession planning will help ensure millennial talent is retained and nurtured so future leadership positions are filled internally.

2. Get to grips with the ‘new-normal’

As flexibility continues to become a standard part of working life and the average day, we need to accept that flexible working is no longer a separate initiative or exclusive perk but instead, part of the ‘new-normal’ in which we live, work and operate. Indeed, certain industries and roles may not be able to change the time or location from which they operate, but if it is possible, let employees work earlier or later. The important point to remember is that this new-normal needs to work side by side with context: within both organisational and employee parameters.

3. Make easy-win operational changes

To attract the right talent, your business environment and company culture need to be new-normal friendly. Here’s how:

• Tools

Consider an open-plan office space or creating a hot-desking environment to encourage collaboration and creativity. Crucially, as a business, you could also reduce overhead costs. As the number of employees working from home or remotely increases, the amount of office space or number of desks you need typically decreases.

Digital tools like shared calendars, instant messaging or online project management tools also contribute to a collaborative environment – and appeal to digital-native generations who want to see employers embracing new technology.

• Technology

Your organisation’s IT offering has to be up to scratch if employees are going to be able to cash in on flexible working options. Are laptops and work phones available and are they able to be taken off-site? Can IT management ensure secure private networks access works remotely? You may even want or need to subsidise/cover the cost of work phones or Wi-Fi utility bills for those working from home.

• Skills

Employees need serious time management skills if they are to work from home successfully. Determining priorities, juggling workload and collaborating with people in different locations encourages employees to sharpen their organisational and interpersonal skills. Investing time and effort into improving soft skills such as time management and effective communication can prove a valuable boost to productivity and make the transition to a flexible working model much easier.

Integrating flexible working initiatives

The integration of any flexible working initiative needs to be well thought out, well communicated and upheld beyond the initial launch period. Here are some tips to ensure flexible working sticks:

1. Focus on productivity

The principle of dynamic working is to focus on the output and key deliverables of an individual rather than the number of hours they spend at work. In theory, if output levels are high and all responsibilities are taken care of, it shouldn’t matter where and when results are achieved. 

2. Consistent communication

The more a management or leadership team communicates any new or changing policies, the less staff will feel excluded or discriminated against. Look at your current system and see if an early finish once a month or the chance to work from home one day a week (for example) could empower staff – even if they don’t take it, availability is king.

3. Company-wide policies

If you introduce a flexible working policy, introduce it to employees at all levels (excluding those who are on probation, for example). Create a sense of community and an environment that promotes equality, and help your staff feel supported, accepted and acknowledged – regardless of their familial situation.

Our management advice centre has a wealth of attraction and retention advice on everything from creating a work from home policy to developing future leaders.

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