Paul Lawton discusses how to manage staff schedules and holiday calendars to relieve pressure on employees this half term.
October half term can be a difficult time to manage staff schedules and holiday calendars for small business owners. It doesn’t matter whether you have a workforce of five or 50, there’s a risk of being left with staff shortages and increased pressure on employees trying to balance work with looking after the kids.
In addition, these challenges have been compounded by the right to request flexible working, legislation for which came into force just over a year ago on the June 30th 2014, giving those with caring responsibilities the right to apply to work flexibly as long as they’ve been working for their employer for at least 26 weeks.
However, while business owners might have expected to see a flood of applications coming their way, we found that just over half (54 per cent) are actually aware of the right to request the legislation, and only a fifth (23 per cent) have taken advantage of the option.
Reasons vary, but significantly almost four in ten workers say their employers don’t offer any tools or technology to facilitate working outside of the office. Not ideal for times such as this October half term. So, it’s worth thinking about how you and your employees can implement flexible or smarter working practices.
But what do I mean by smarter working? Simply put, it means making the best use of technology and connectivity to be productive, no matter where you are.
A few years ago, research conducted by IBM found that 67 per cent of employees who had the option of working flexibly felt they had an improved work-life balance. Businesses offering remote working also benefitted from a 20 per cent jump in workplace productivity and a 20 per cent decrease in costs.
These results reflect our own experience. Shortly before the London Olympics in 2012 we conducted the UK’s largest flexible working pilot, shutting our head office and asking the entire workforce based there (around 2,500 people) to work somewhere else for the day. Our employees saved 2,000 hours of travel time, with the majority spending this extra time with their loved ones.
The pilot showed that flexible working can not only improve staff morale but also make a genuine impact on our bottom line by improving workplace productivity. Over a third of staff said that they were more productive than usual, while 88 per cent said their productivity was just as good.
Affordable technology already exists to allow businesses of all sizes to become companies that work smarter. Changes as simple as choosing laptops or tablets instead of desktops for your employees are a good place to start. Similarly, installing cloud-based software such as Microsoft Office 365 or Box onto these devices mean staff can work wherever they are.
It’s also important to make sure your employees are connected as possible whether it’s through a secure broadband connection or a fast 4G mobile service. The benefits of mobile working mean that employees can respond to emails at the school gate and host hassle-free conference calls.
Small businesses are often more agile than larger ones so implementing smarter working policies early can keep costs down and employee satisfaction high. Happy staff provide great benefits to any business, including a higher rate of staff retention and a reduction in absenteeism.
However, it’s also important to foster an environment where smarter working is accepted, and this needs to be led from the top. Over the last few years, smarter working has become a common practice for us, and it really has been driven by a significant change in our culture. For those looking to replicate this, key tips to introducing flexible working in a workplace include:
– Training: Provide adequate training for managers and team leaders to ensure the arrangements are managed and implemented in the right way, being realistic for what work can be done flexibly, as well as when and how it can be done.
– Trial periods for staff: Trial certain segments of the company to test and then rule out any problems.
– Identify senior role models working flexibly to ensure the process is working smoothly.
– Allocate mentors to share similar experiences and provide support and guidance.
– Conduct regular reviews on staff undertaking the flexible working programme and amend where needed.
This October half term is the perfect time to trial out some smarter working initiatives in your own business. Instead of struggling through the week with a depleted team, seize the opportunity to test run your staffing plans before Christmas 2015.
Paul Lawton is general manager of SMB at O2 Business.
Further reading on work-life balance