How flexible is your company? Morgan Lovell takes a look at the office of the past and the benefits of flexible working.

The ongoing presenteeism

The video conferencing service provider UCi2i conducted a recent survey in the UK, which found that companies are losing out by not providing flexible work arrangements for their staff. The survey highlighted the benefits of flexible working for not only the individual but, more surprisingly, for the business.

It found that, on average, employees put in 24 days of extra working hours annually by working from home. That's a staggering amount of potential extra output which too many businesses are not taking advantage of.

Why are so many more productive when working from home? Some clear answers to this question were that peace and quiet helped many to focus, not travelling naturally gave them extra time and they were more content thanks to a better work/life balance.

Incredibly, 94% of people claim to work better from home despite not having the appropriate technology. Disappointingly though, the study also found that those who remained in the office believed that one in four home workers were cheating the system and 84% of those surveyed said they were uncomfortable with their colleagues not working alongside them.

So why are office environments failing to support staff in their daily functions? What can be done to increase happiness and productivity within the office arena?

Open plan office - villain or good guy?

The chief culprit appears to be the open plan office. First coming to prominence in the 1950s, the open plan office was embraced as the future for workplace environments and companies jumped at the opportunity to tear down walls and squeeze ever-increasing numbers of staff into ever decreasing space. The heightened levels of disruption and increased stress levels were the consequences of this drastic change, but is it all bad? Well, the answer is no – the problem is not the open plan set-out, but rather the lack of alternative options. Flexible working is the solution to this problem.

The increased interaction and better communication fostered within the open plan office is an outcome to be encouraged, but what seems to have been overlooked in the adoption of the open work space is an individual’s requirement to concentrate, think through a situation without distraction and produce an output in a timely fashion.

This would be far better undertaken away from loud telephone conversations, casual drop-by interjections and equipment noise, meaning it would surely be much better to provide small rooms or semi-enclosed areas that give users privacy and focus. This doesn't, however, mean turning back the clock and resurrecting the practice of constructing multiple offices, as furniture manufacturers have been quick to create their own solutions that vary from the high backed sofa to fully integrated pods with their own air handling, mood lighting and on occasion even doors.

The workspace of today can and should be all things to all people. It's important to note that today's office has to cater for 4 generations of users who have very different requirements from their place of work. Older generations are more susceptible to differences in temperature, light levels and noise whereas the young, tech-savvy worker, at the other end of the spectrum, has the ability to work in an altogether busier environment.

Sleep time

According to Alison from Sleepstation, flexible working can actually make sure that people are getting beneficial sleep throughout the week. "It's actually a myth that you can train your body to wake up earlier in the mornings and 'become an early bird' - in fact only 20% of the population fit into this category, as most of us will sleep and wake up later. Rigid early work can mean that employees are at risk of being chronically sleep deprived, which not only makes them less productive but can have serious implications on their health."

Variety is the spice of life

The best way to create an agile workplace is to provide multiple and varied environments based around a main, open plan working zone. Within easy access of this desk-based activity area should be a series of alternative spaces, ranging from informal meeting lounges to project areas and more structured concentration pods, either as pieces of furniture or constructed shells. The varied range of work zones has to be carefully balanced with the placement of acoustic baffling in the shape of fabric panels, and in some cases, sound masking via noise generating speakers. However, all of this is worthless without a robust Wi-Fi system to allow the workforce to roam the office freely.

If businesses wish to reap the benefit of the additional hours worked by homeworkers, as highlighted in the UCi2i survey, they should be investing in technology that allows staff to access files, and colleagues, from any device, anywhere, any time. More importantly, businesses should invest in the re-education of middle management who need to understand that unseen does not mean unproductive