June 30th, 2016

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It’s been over a year since we last covered the topic of flexible working and after attending a Future of Work conference recently, I came away with some new perspectives and insights to add to the conversation.

I love flexible working – at Humankind flexibility is a huge part of our culture and vision, and helps us work efficiently, attract a high performing team, and deliver awesome results for our clients. If it’s a choice employees are consciously making because it fits in with their lifestyle, personality and current time in their career/life – great. With rapid advances in technology and tools that enable us to work in multiple locations and stay connected with colleagues, it’s inevitable this way of working will grow, whether we like it or not. However not all of society wants, or is prepared for a lifestyle like this and for the majority, this is still the case.

As business owners and managers, I believe it’s our job to be aware that not everyone is able, or wants to work in this way.

Recently we have seen a number of successful companies like Uber and AirBnb use the sharing economy business model. This means the core structure of their business uses independent contractors over employees – giving the drivers or house hostess’ large amounts of freedom and the employer much less responsibility such as paying taxes, holiday pay and sick leave. While this might be a great option for some people, Uber and AirBnB take next to no responsibility and ownership of their workers while they watch their profits grow by the minute. This poses an important question for any business owner – Is this morally right?

Looking to the future of flexible workplaces, I think we have two challenges:

  1. Flexible working arrangements are not for everyone – there are many employees who need full time and permanent work, providing stable and certain income and no stress around individual tax obligations.
  2. Not everyone has the skills to quickly adapt to a flexible working environment – many employees have only experienced working environments where they have been micro-managed and given very little autonomy. These employees will need support with skills such as planning and time management to ensure they are adequately prepared.

I am still hugely passionate about this modern business practise. These new ways of working afforded to us largely by technological advances are awesome for the likes of tech start-ups and forward thinking innovative companies that place value on a creative environment. But it isn’t a one size fits all, and it will be interesting to see how these practices impact other industries that don’t naturally fit into this category in the future.

As an employer in New Zealand, I feel a responsibility to take a wider look at the changing work environment, and acknowledge that these trends are not desired or easy for everyone. At the end of the day, flexible workplaces are hugely reliant on a high trust environment, and the buy in of the staff it impacts – we should be asking not only ‘will flexible work styles add value to my business?’ but ‘will my team value working flexibly?’

What do you think about flexibility in the workplace? Is it something for the masses or just a portion of society? Let us know below we would love to hear your thoughts.

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