Marketing is, by its nature, a flexible business, which, in turn, calls for flexible ways of working. Since July 2014 every employee has the statutory right to request flexible working after 26 weeks employment service. What many employers have not realised is that flexible working can bring substantial benefits to them as well as their employees. An RSA study (‘The Flex Factor’, 2013) revealed how employers who have embraced flexible working are benefiting in many different ways.
Four of the main areas for marketing-related functions are:
- Improved service level for internal and external clients through new levels of work-team agility, which can better meet the challenges of fluctuating and often unpredictable workloads.
- Enhanced creativity by providing staff with more time to reflect on their projects and allowing more mental space for inspiration, such as the generation of ideas for marketing campaigns.
- Improved productivity through allowing staff to work in locations that better suit the nature of their work, for example copywriting in the quieter environment of home or a library, sometimes out of normal office hours.
- Meeting deadlines by working longer hours which can later be taken as time off.
In general, flexible working arrangements allow organisations to become more agile and able to respond effectively to the changing needs of their customers and the markets in which they operate. They come in many flavours and normally involve granting greater autonomy to employees in terms of choosing where, when and how they work. However, the degree of autonomy needs to match the nature of the work. Many organisations opt for fixed core hours to ensure that activities involving teamwork and meetings continue as normal.
Flexible working arrangements allow organisations to become more agile and able to respond effectively to the changing needs of their customers and the markets in which they operate.
Time flexibility particularly benefits project-based tasks with varying workloads, and call-centre work, which requires service provision over longer hours. Location flexibility, on the other hand, enables people to choose the best environment to accommodate different working styles and types of work. Given a higher degree of autonomy, such workers tend to go into the office only for essential meetings and interaction with colleagues. Flexible workers find it easier to avoid unnecessary and time-wasting meetings.
In essence, flexible working often involves a trade-off between employee autonomy and management control. Achieving an optimal mix of working arrangements can be challenging – one size does not fit all. New management approaches are required, along with updated HR policies and staff communication systems. Clear ground rules and staff training are essential for successful implementation and avoidance of unnecessary disputes. It must also be ensured that staff on flexitime are contactable during the normal working day and sometimes outside hours.
Many companies are turning to the use of external resources to cope with workload peaks by supplementing their internal people resources with freelancers who are easy to engage through online marketplaces such as Blur and Elance.
The adoption of new flexible working arrangements should be seen not just as a matter of compliance with the new regulations, but also as an opportunity to create win-win workplace solutions that benefit employees and employers alike.
Professor Edward Truch is a professor in management science at Lancaster University Management School