What’s the issue?
Who knew that in 2022 we would still be discussing the merits of flexible working —  a whole year after a global pandemic forced the majority of us to work remotely. A year in which 78% of home workers believed the option to work remotely had improved their work/life balance according to research from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and saw many companies make vast profits. Fast-forward to today and across sectors we’re seeing polarization in workforce behaviour, from Telsa Founder Elon Musk stating that all employees who don’t return to their pre-pandemic working would be fired to Air BnB’s introducing their ‘work from anywhere’ policy. Similarly in the property and construction world, the polarization between those that do offer flexible or agile working compared to those that won’t are seeing a negative effect on the latter. The concern now is that talented property professionals won’t go near companies who aren’t prepared to re-consider traditional methods of working and provide options.

If the above wasn’t enough, the energy crisis has added to the flexible-working argument with Government officials suggesting that employees should come to the office in order to not be left in the dark and cold (metaphorically and in real-time). For those toasty in the office, the rewards of being present don’t just extend to basic warmth in the winter but apparently promotions too. Choosing between being frozen out of your job or freezing at home seems a very out-of-touch response to the trials the public and employees have already faced in the last two years.

What do employees want?
The argument is clear; not everyone wants to work the same and people should be able to afford to keep warm in their own homes.

If the role allows an employee to provide the same if not better levels of output regardless of the environment in which they work, then the option of flexible working should exist. There will always, particularly within the housebuilding and property sector, be roles that cannot logistically provide employees with remote working but that doesn’t mean other workarounds can’t be found. For example, does paperwork need to be done in the office or can it be completed at the employee’s home? Small changes that provide people with the opportunity to have autonomy over their diaries create big wins for companies willing to trust them.

With the talent pool continuing to decrease, somewhat caused by external factors such as Brexit, the Ukraine-Russia War, and inflation increases, businesses need to take a good look at the easy wins they could make to attract and retain talent. Options include hybrid working with employees having set days in the office; agile working which focuses on impact meaning an employee would need to be flexible around the demands of any unexpected tasks; to flexible working which allows the employee to choose where they work each day to fully remote working. There are, as with all things, pros and cons to each option on the list but as we are all unique those pros and cons will not weigh the same for each employee.

Microsoft’s global 2021 Work Trend Index reported that within the UK, 71% of workers wanted flexible working to stay post-pandemic, with 37% looking to move and continue working remotely. Over a year on and national statistics continue to paint the same narrative; employees want to work flexibly so why are some businesses still not listening?

How do we fix it?
The commercial real estate space has provided employers with the chance to offer employees access to communal working spaces and bridge the gap between office and at-home work. Not everyone wants to work from home every day of the week (indirect to their heating bills), which is why it is flexible and not fully remote working that employees are pushing for.

Trial periods or flexible working benefits that are only activated when certain promotions are achieved are also both great options for businesses wishing to slowly introduce the concept and see if it works for them. Chances are new employees may need mentoring or onboarding training that can’t be done from home right away, which is why flexible working could be offered as a benefit at a later date. If you did choose to use this method, make sure your guidelines around it are air-tight and inclusive. Similarly, trial periods need to be monitored rigorously with both quantitative and qualitative data collected in order to provide a fair result.

With so many options on the table, employees can fix the problem by working towards this new age of employment. Flexible working has been proved on a global scale across industries to work and that fact is going to make it impossible for us as a population to go backward. Moving with the times means you’ll attract new and upcoming talent to your business helping you to set the trends rather than follow them. On the energy front, the cap on household energy bills is a good start but let’s not use a basic human right as an attractive benefit to working in the office.