The Future of Flexibility: How Technology Can Enable a Better Way of Working

In 2021, businesses must begin future-proofing their recruitment strategies to reflect the growing emphasis on flexible work

Research from Timewise in 2017 found that 87% of UK workers either already worked flexibly or wanted to in the future, a figure which shocked most HR professionals. With the gift of hindsight, however, it’s clear this was a sign of things to come.

By the end of 2019, more than a third of employees reported actively looking for a job with greater flexibility. And despite the astonishing rise in popularity of flexible working during the pandemic, UK workers still believe employers are failing to provide adequate flexibility.

For employers, this shift in attitudes is augmented by Brexit, leaving their recruitment strategies in need of a serious overhaul. And in this article, we’re going to look at the challenges leaders face when looking to increase their workforce’s flexibility and how technology can help them get it right. 

But first, we need to establish why flexibility is even an appealing prospect for employers.

Why flexibility matters

Flexibility, as we’ve seen, is extremely popular amongst UK employees, with a majority of workers looking for at least some form of flexibility in their work post-pandemic.

What’s often lost, however, is how much employers stand to gain. Flexibility is a great means of improving staff morale and retention; it can also facilitate a more dynamic response to staffing needs, allowing you to manage demand and increase the efficiency of your wage spend.

The diversity which flexible work enables can only benefit businesses. By insisting on rigid work arrangements, many – parents, carers and others – have had to choose between working or fulfilling their other responsibilities. 

Flexible work allows workers to better fit work around their needs, meaning businesses can ensure they get the best people for the job – not just the people whose lifestyle the job best fits.

So given these clear benefits, why have businesses lagged so far behind employees’ desire for flexibility?

Three challenges leaders face

1. Communication and agility

One major difficulty employers have traditionally faced is the technical capacity to manage and monitor a more flexible workforce: communication has been limited and responsiveness slow, and even a slight lag could cause cascading misunderstandings.

The key to successfully implementing flexible work is not just communication though: you also need to be able to adapt to staffing demands and make decisions at pace. In 2021, we predict casual talent pools will grow in prominence as more organisations struggle to satisfy their post-Brexit staffing needs, and this will require a far more agile approach.

2. Employee confidence

Many workers feel unable to be open with their employers: nearly half of workers report finding raising personal issues with their boss uncomfortable and a fifth are convinced they would be refused outright if they tried to negotiate a more flexible working arrangement.

Employers should also note that flexibility can create a sense of precarity for workers; leaders should be careful to manage the expectations of their workforce and not force ‘flexibility’ on those that would prefer stability.

3. Administrative complexity

Maintaining a flexible workforce requires new skills from leaders. For HR and management, attending to the various needs of flexible workers can be not just difficult but extremely time consuming; keeping track of preferences, availability and legal requirements creates a great deal of admin.

Information going missing or important tasks being overlooked can lead to serious problems, and many businesses have historically preferred to put limits on flexibility in an attempt simply to maintain order.

However, with technology this need no longer be the case.  

Five ways technology can create flexibility in your workforce

It’s easy to fall into Utopian thinking with technology: many a LinkedIn Guru will tell you how some web app is going to solve every conceivable challenge we face as a species. But in the case of flexible work, technology really is the answer.

Here are five ways technology can help:

1. Improved communication

Real time messaging allows workers to seamlessly communicate wherever they are without having to make any extra effort to be in ‘work mode’; technology facilitates the level of responsiveness and agility most organisations have historically lacked.

2. Increased visibility

By centralising staff and rota information, workplace and rota management apps allow leaders a far more effective overview of their staff. This enables better decision making and a clearer understanding of the current staffing situation – particularly for businesses with a large or primarily contingent workforce.

3. Easier shift planning

Rather than cooking up a spreadsheet and pinning it to a wall, shifts can be planned and shared more quickly with technology. They can also be updated in real time, avoiding misunderstandings and letting workers take greater control over their availability.  

4.   Automated admin

From managing documentation and leave requests to training and appraisals, HR functions can be simplified and often even automated. This not only improves efficiency and removes human-error – it frees up leaders’ time to focus on tasks better suited to their unique skill set.

5. Employee empowerment

Technology simplifies things not just for managers but workers, too. With everything they need to know about their work schedule in their pocket, workers are freed of the hassle of tracking admin, empowering them to truly enjoy their flexibility.

Rota helps people-driven organisations to build, manage & engage their entire workforce all in one place. Our leading technology brings your internal & external staffing processes together to ensure the very best outcomes for you and your teams using data driven insights. If you’re looking to learn more click here.


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