Employers must strike ‘careful balance’ when it comes to flexible working

Keith Mason

FOLLOWING recent research which revealed 78% of employers in Scotland are now offering a hybrid working model, a professional recruitment and workforce solutions specialist has stressed that a ‘careful balance’ between incentives and productivity is key.

The Hays ‘Ways of Working Survey’, featuring over 8,800 responses from professionals and employers across the UK, including 447 from Scotland, showed that 53% of Scotland-based professionals say their preferred way of working is hybrid.

Meanwhile, around 10% of employers are offering, or considering offering, incentives to encourage staff back to the office, with 26% saying their hybrid offering will change this year as they ask staff to attend the office more frequently.

The research showed the most popular incentives amongst professionals to encourage this shift are paid or subsidised travel (42%), lunches (42%) and gym facilities (39%).

However, Keith Mason, Hays Scotland director, revealed that offering certain popular incentives can be a risky financial strategy.

“Balancing time between working remotely and in the office is still seen as the best of both worlds by a large majority of professionals,” he said. “Whilst flexible working is still popular, we’ve recently seen very assertive moves to get staff back to the workplace more, and we believe this will increase in the next 12 months.

“While everyone has different preferences and lifestyles, the most popular enticements seem to be subsidised travel and lunches. However, while some companies offer interest-free travel, to offer paid incentives like these can become extremely costly over time, and a major financial hit for employers.

“Employers need to balance incentives with their need to drive productivity. For example, some managers are creating a purpose for their teams to attend the workplace, through networking and learning sessions. It was also good to see the number of employees who would deem clear training and development opportunities (63%) and career progression reviews (49%) as important when working in a hybrid way. These are lower cost strategies that can be integrated into a hybrid system.”

Although hybrid working is popular, being in the workplace can be crucial for several reasons, Keith Mason added, with stronger working relationships said to be created when you interact face-to-face as opposed to through a screen.

The research showed that other popular incentives are an onsite café with a free drinks machine (58%), bicycle storage/showers (53%), and access to better hardware/software in the workplace such as additional screens and faster internet connections (42%). Onsite childcare and subsidised childcare were viewed as incentives by 20% and 12% of respondents, respectively.

“Employers should also consider what makes an office an appealing place to be, in order to encourage workers to return to this way of life. Gym facilities and free drinks machines are becoming more common. But even small details like better office lighting and comfortable, well-thought-out office spaces which enable professionals to collaborate and nurture relationships, will improve productivity, job satisfaction and staff retention.

“Flexible working, when balanced with feasible incentives where possible, can have many benefits for both workers and businesses.”

The Hays research also showed that 67% of employees say it is very important for an organisation to be transparent about the flexible working options they provide, with 48% saying they would be tempted to change jobs if an organisation was more transparent about their flexible working options.