Why flexible working is the next battleground for talent

Employers must adapt to changing worker preferences to ease recruitment headaches, says Ronan Copeland

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Flexible working is the new world order. Many employees are now keen to maintain a flexible working environment to help them balance their personal and professional lives. And, despite the looming economic forecast, that mindset is unlikely to change. With the latest data from the Office of National Statistics indicating that the UK is still in a tight labour market where staff hold the power, businesses need to respond to employee demands if they want to keep talent that is vital to ensuring their readiness for the future.

While some businesses have reinstated regular full-time office-based work, research commissioned by DocuSign shows that four in five organisations believe that flexible working arrangements will be critical to their future success. Driven by a need to optimise productivity and alongside a renewed focus on staff welfare, flexible working practices are increasingly seen as a means to deliver results for the organisation.

However, making structural changes to accommodate hybrid working remains a major headache for many organisations. Legacy infrastructures aren’t necessarily designed to withstand short-term hybrid working strategies that enable business continuity to become permanent fixtures within the organisation. Organisations therefore need to overcome major challenges without harming themselves at the same time.

The talent headache

The research showed 75 per cent of businesses see offering employees the flexibility of where and when they work as a competitive advantage, and the large majority consider it an essential offering to attract and retain the right talent now and in the future. The government has even stepped in to introduce new guidance that enables new joiners to ask for flexible working from their first day of employment in recognition of this growing demand.

In order to attract and keep the best talent so they can be ready for whatever the future throws at them, businesses must adapt their policies to match expectations. With recruitment and talent management cited as the main priorities for the majority (56 per cent) of UK businesses in the year ahead, the pressure to provide flexible working environments is mounting.

In a potentially troubling sign, over half of the businesses surveyed say they don’t support flexible working for their staff, creating potential points of conflict. Thankfully, 25 per cent are actively working towards achieving this goal, and a further 7 per cent plan to do so in the future. However, the gap between planning to deliver such fundamental change and actually delivering it can be huge without the right tech stack in place.

Closing the technology gap

Building an environment that supports flexible working from day one can be incredibly difficult without the right tools in place. It’s highly dependent on the development and deployment of robust digital strategies and infrastructures and is becoming such an important factor for businesses that 40 per cent cited it as a top reason to invest in new technology infrastructure. But that investment can be costly and time intensive. Businesses need to carefully consider the tech stack that will work best for their individual needs. Do they need tools that enable instant chat functions, or is email still suitable? Similarly, how do they want staff to access documentation – and just as importantly what steps do they need to take to protect it?

Notably, the research identified further cloud implementation is critical to success. Half (51 per cent) of businesses are already managing important documents via the cloud, while 49 per cent have enabled the ability to connect multiple teams and stakeholders on a collaborative, central platform, to facilitate productivity regardless of location.

What’s more, 46 per cent have capabilities in place to digitally send and sign business-critical documentation, such as agreements and contracts, increasing transparency across the value chain and providing a greater opportunity for purposeful, productive work. In order to maintain or grow productivity levels, and to be prepared for the future, businesses must carefully examine the best approach that enables their staff to deliver their best work.

The sustainable side-effect

As a perhaps unexpected bonus of the shift to flexible working, the research also showed that three quarters of UK businesses believe that digital technologies can help their industry become more sustainable. Seven in 10 (71 per cent) also believe such solution deployments will help create a more sustainable future for the company, indicating that the return on investment in deploying new infrastructures will be greater than the sum of its parts to offer not only efficiency benefits, but sustainable ones too.

As environmental factors take greater prominence, including in recruitment, any way that businesses can have a positive and meaningful impact on the planet will pay dividends.

The future is flexible

Designing and building a flexible workplace is becoming paramount to any organisation that wants to prepare itself for the future. What this research shows is that, while not all have or plan to adopt fully flexible working practices, the desire to change in readiness for challenges in the future is growing. Meeting the expectations of current staff, as well as attracting and retaining talent is going make the economic storm much easier to navigate.

Ronan Copeland is group vice president and general manager EMEA at DocuSign