What does flexible working mean to Aussie SMEs?

Wednesday July 8, 2020

There’s no denying it! COVID-19 has forced most Australian businesses to review the way they operate and these changes are likely to hang around for months (or possibly years) to come. So it begs the question, has the coronavirus paved the way for a more permanent approach to flexible working?

Defining flexibility

Flexible working is not limited to allowing employees to work from home. It’s much wider than that. Flexible working includes things like:

  • Allowing employees to work longer hours some days to compress their work week into fewer days
  • Rostering employees onto split shifts or 9 day fortnights
  • Giving employees the freedom to chose which days they come to the office and which days they work from home
  • Offering flexibility around start and finish times (within agreed limits)
  • Allowing employees to have shorter work weeks providing they achieve the same outputs
  • Allowing part-time roles or access to study leave

There’s growing evidence flexibility increases profits

While there are many examples where flexible working isn’t possible, there are many more industries that could accommodate a more flexible approach. All it takes is a little creative thinking and a different perspective on what happens during working hours.

Realistically, no-one works every minute they are at work. It’s simply not possible to continuously concentrate for that amount of time. That means a typical workday is broken up into social time, online browsing, taking breaks and other non-work activities.

When it comes to flexible working arrangements, several options have been popular for a while. Working from home, working part-time and the option to vary start and finish times are common. But there are a growing group of businesses who are offering staff a 4 day work week and the results may surprise you.

In New Zealand, a medium-sized business allowed its staff to work a 4 day week providing they maintained the same productivity levels. Management asked staff to work out how they could make it happen and one of the first things they introduced was the removal of a weekly 2 hour meeting. Instead, staff opted for a 20 minute meeting every fortnight. It worked!

Staff found new and more efficient ways to communicate with each other. Plus, they placed more value on their time and simply found more efficient ways to do their work. The business remains open every day but staff have a fixed day off each week. This rotating roster provides continuity of service to their customers and assists with their COVIDSafe requirements.

A small technology business located in Melbourne had a similar trial. They made the business decision to work Mondays and Tuesdays + Thursdays and Fridays. The business is completely closed every Wednesday and the new approach is working well.

Staff retention, productivity, engagement and happiness have soared. Sick leave has plummeted. Profits have grown by 30-40% in 12 months.

COVID-19 has shown us what’s possible

The COVID-19 shutdowns have shown us what work could look like with many employees flourishing and businesses developing new ways to operate – often with some cost effective outcomes.

With the free childcare ending in mid-July and some schools closing due to coronavirus infections within their community, flexible working arrangements are still required. But now, employers have the opportunity to be more deliberate in developing management strategies and policies to support a flexible workplace.

If you would like to explore the benefits of offering flexible working options for your business, contact us.


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