City firms can fix the flexibility conundrum

WORKING culture in the UK has seen a notable change in recent years. No longer are we focused on a prescriptive work mentality, where 9-5 hours and a career for life are the norm. Instead, it’s now about making the “how”, “when”, and “where” factors of our job work for us, rather than the other way around.

The rise of flexible working in the last 10 years has been constant and significant. There have been a number of reasons influencing this shift, namely technology and changing attitudes to the workplace.

For Deloitte, we needed to take a pragmatic approach to flexible working, steering away from having overly rigid policies and procedures. Our broad flexible working programme offers both formal and informal arrangements. The firm supports different ways of working and all requests are considered within the context of a person’s individual needs, their client work and how it might affect colleagues.

Like many businesses, we have employees who work full and part-time across multiple locations. In 2012, for example, 600 worked part-time, while 250 took a career break. Although many are office-based, a good proportion of our nearly 14,000 UK staff will travel for projects or work from a client’s site. To give you an idea, close to 10,000 of Deloitte’s UK staff work in London; 40 per cent are on the move every day.

Making this work efficiently requires flexibility and an open mind. Everyone at Deloitte is given a laptop, but can choose from a range of mobile devices for use on the go. Across the UK firm, we are introducing a new unified communications platform that incorporates telephony, instant message, audio, video and web conferencing into one application. The key objective is to make sure people can always feel like a part of the Deloitte network, whether in the office, at home, abroad, or with a client. While this has involved a cultural shift internally, we are aware of the importance of allowing our employees to choose what works best for them.

For companies looking to offer their employees flexible working, there are practical matters that should be considered. From an employee’s point of view, can you still perform your job to the same ability as when you’re in the office? For instance, will you still be able to make meetings or take on additional responsibilities? Companies need to ask themselves whether their business can manage with people working remotely, or on reduced or flexible hours? Will it affect the services the business provides its customers or clients?

These are just some of the many questions that should be asked when considering flexible working arrangements. However, by having open and honest conversations, it can work. Traditional perceptions of the office have changed, particularly for new recruits joining the workforce for the first time. The office is no longer a place where you go Monday to Friday at a set desk for a specific timeframe. Striking a balance that works for both people and the business can ensure a more creative, innovative and productive environment for employers and employees alike.

Stevan Rolls is UK head of human resources at Deloitte.

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