Can flexible working deliver work/life balance?

Employers might hate the term work/life balance but increasingly, prospective employees are demanding flexible hours, home working or web commuting as part of their package.

The 2010 Australian Work and Life Index found Australians are unhappy with their work/life balance, and would willingly sacrifice three hours of pay a week if it meant they could arrive later, go home earlier or work nine days a fortnight.

Researchers from the University of South Australia’s Centre for Work and Life commented that people who work longer hours report lower productivity and higher absenteeism. A recent study by Citrix also found that 81 percent of small business owners say flexible hours are vital to business success.

But how do you transition to flexible working seamlessly? Managing director of WIT Technologies Sean McColl says businesses need to be aware of potential pitfalls. “Employers have to be sure they can trust their workforce to do the job, plus there are the inevitable effects on company culture, as well as the investment in the technology and training required to implement it effectively.”

But it’s worth it, according to McColl. “Get it right and the benefits can be seen for employers and employees such as increased productivity, decrease in absenteeism and increase in retention, cut in office overheads and improvement in general employee wellbeing.”

If you set it up right, flexible working can give businesses an edge in a tough economic climate, he says. And in extreme situations like the recent flooding in Queensland, your business could avoid millions of dollars in lost productivity if your staff is set up to work from home.

When considering flexible working, McColl says the most important consideration is technology.

  • Is all you current hardware and software capable of enabling effective remote productivity?
  • How many employees do you want to be able to access the system remotely?
  • What will you need remote access for? E.g. email, files, software programs
  • What level of security do you require?

McColl said 90 percent of Australian businesses still use Microsoft software. “With its range of small business server products there are options for remote access into email and files. But workplaces that need employees to access applications will need to look at Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Services (RDS).”

You need an appropriate technology set-up to enable flexible working scenarios including hot-desking and working from home, McColl added.

  • I think it is a bit of a broad generalisation to say “Employers might hate the term work/life balance” – At we certainly don’t consider work life balance a dirty word .

    We encourage flexible hours, study leave, working remotely for some roles – bit hard for example for packing staff to work remotely 🙂 – and we even have sick leave if your pet is ill! A lot of our (male and female) staff use these arrangments to fit in with family commitments (dropping the kids of at school etc), but others use it to pursue other interests – maybe not surprisingly, in our business, a lot of those “other interests” revolve around animal/pet based activities.

    There is a big pool of fabulous people out there who have the commitment to work flexible hours or other “work life balance” initiatives, and the employers who are willing to embrace them will be rewarded, not just financially. With a bit of good will all round, it really isn’t that hard to manage.