Why flexible working doesn’t have to be a business no-no

Stephen Holt discusses how employers can support flexible working cost-effectively by rolling out a benefits package.

Today’s office workers want the freedom to work from wherever and whenever they want. In our recent survey that we conducted with over 1,000 employees into the future of benefits, we found that 45 per cent considered flexible working to be an essential benefit and 46 per cent said they would like to have flexible working as part of a benefits package in the near future. Over 300 job seekers surveyed by FlexJobs also admitted they would be willing to take a pay cut in exchange for the freedom to work more flexibly.

It may come as no surprise that the benefits most in demand for the future are those relating to work/life balance. There is however, a conflict between the growing desire for more flexible working arrangements and the current reality for many employees in the UK. Our research found that typically, the smaller the business you work for, the less likely you are to receive any work-related benefits. Whether this is down to the perceived costs associated with providing employees with benefits or simply not realising the part they play in keeping employees happy in their jobs, we’re not sure, but small businesses shouldn’t be put off as it’s possible to offer staff flexible working as a benefit with little or no cost to the business.

The power of BYOD

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is becoming an increasingly common way for businesses to enable flexible working in the workplace. According to a survey conducted by Tech Pro, 75 per cent of companies surveyed permit or are planning to allow BYOD within their business. Allowing employees to use their preferred technology in the workplace, BYOD also offers the potential for employees to work more flexibly as a result of having the technology needed to enable it. However, some organisations are struggling with the realities of rolling out a BYOD programme due to concerns from their IT departments about the security of company data on the devices.

And it’s not just IT departments that have their concerns, some employers are put off by the initial high capital outlay required to pay for a range of new devices that meet the needs and the expectations of a tech savvy work force.

However, there is an alternative. A salary sacrifice scheme offers employees a way of getting their hands on the technology they need to make flexible working become a reality. Salary sacrifice schemes such as TechScheme are completely free to implement, and all administration is taken care of by the provider. Schemes such as this work by employees paying in instalments for the device from their salary before it enters their bank accounts, generating savings of up to 12 per cent in national insurance contributions (NIC), as the item is paid for prior to those deductions. This allows for even the smallest of businesses to offer their employees the benefits needed for flexible working. And to top it off employees are given the opportunity to choose from a wide range of the latest tech devices from the world’s leading manufacturers, with the option to spread the costs out into easy manageable chunks.

To work flexibly gadgets such as smartphones and laptops came in at the top of the list of essential tools. The functionality offered by these hi-tech gadgets allows employees to access secure business related apps, such as file sharing, collaboration tools, and even business process software like timesheets. With nearly a quarter of respondents we surveyed stating that having remote access to company systems was essential in helping them work more productively and efficiently, these devices allow employees to stay connected while working either on the move or at home; as well as providing the convenience and portability to assist flexible working. And, the best bit? They can all be offered to employees for little or no expense to the business.

An improvement in productivity

The benefit of providing employees with the technology to allow for greater work flexibility are well documented. According to Vodafone 83 per cent of employers who have adopted flexible working had witnessed a clear improvement in the productivity of their employees. And this benefit clearly supports employees too who get to spend less time travelling to and from the office, making it time that can be spent more effectively for work and contributing significantly to their work/life balance ambitions.

And it’s not just well-being and productivity benefits that are derived from flexible working. According to our survey, 54 per cent of small businesses said that they rely mostly on costly financial rewards like high salaries and bonuses to attract and retain talent. However, 50 per cent of the small business employees that we surveyed claimed that they would turn down a job if the benefits package wasn’t what they wanted. This suggests that many small businesses need to consider alternative or wider more flexible benefit options that employees really want instead of opting for expensive alternatives.

Not every organisation will have the budget to offer an extensive benefits portfolio, however it’s clear that employers need to align their benefits strategies to meet the needs of their employees. Innovative benefit schemes, such as salary sacrifice schemes, offer an answer to the challenge of providing the technology needed to support flexible working without costing the earth. Taking the time to understand the benefits your staff really want can go a long way towards bolstering an engaged and happy workforce. Cost doesn’t have to be a barrier.

Stephen Holt is commercial director at Grass Roots.

Further reading on flexible working

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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Flexible Working

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