The Rise of Flexible Working


Remember how it used to be? People worked a routine nine-to-five with the same colleagues in the same office building and when travelling on business no one was able to contact someone until they’d reached their destination… How things have changed. Today we don’t even think twice about walking to meetings whilst sending emails, working in coffee shops, working from home, checking emails on holiday or collaborating on projects with people in different time zones. Thanks to smartphones, laptops, Wi-Fi and a host of other technologies, we can work in so many other places than a traditional 9-5 office.

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According to the Institute of Leadership and Management, 94% of UK organisations apparently now offer staff some form of flexible working, while 73% of managers say that their organisation is largely supportive of it. But do they really support it? And if so why aren’t people using it? I have a feeling that it’s just a statement from the top, but in reality do organisations proactively encourage it? I think not…

Whilst I appreciate that it is physically impossible for many organisations to become completely flexible, I think the concept of moving to a ‘mobile’ way of working can frighten organisations that are currently very static. I still know businesses that freak out if an employee wants to take their laptop outside the office building and work in the garden (to enjoy the one day of sunshine we get a year in Scotland!) Do you ever find yourself sheepishly asking to work from home because your boiler is broken or Virgin Media are coming round to fit your internet? I know… I’ve been there, I felt guilty too.

People are contracted to set hours and therefore get paid for those hours, but I also think we’ve all waved goodbye to the days in which work used to end the moment you left the company premises. That’s a luxury that few of us have today. Taking your work everywhere with you is, well, just what you do in the long-hours culture that technology has helped to create!

So if employees are putting in the hours and getting the job done, can’t employers trust that their staff will get the work completed regardless of time and place? Whether that be at 6am, at 3pm, at 10pm, in the office, at home, in the garden or in Majorca. A deadline is a deadline right? Some of us are happier in quiet surroundings and experience greater well-being without distractions of office gossip and fire alarm drills.

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And of course productivity should be key! The long list of benefits of flexible working include: a more efficient and productive organisation; a more empowered and motivated workforce; increased staff retention and loyalty; and reduced levels of sickness absence.

I’ve built my business around flexibility and this works perfectly for my clients, my team and myself. I don’t need to see my team to know they are doing a good job, I just know that they are. This week we’ve worked from a coffee shop, a library, the gym, home and a flexible co-working space.

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And our productivity is better than ever. Sometimes we start at 5am. Other days we work until 11pm. We almost certainly all work on Saturdays and I tend to work on Sundays. Due to the nature of social media, we have a number of clients that require our services 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. We’ll probably be working on Christmas Day (sorry team!)

But what this agile, flexible approach does provide us with, is the flexibility to pick our working hours and our locations. Personally, I really suffer from the ‘afternoon slump’ between 2pm – 4pm. Now I just start work at 6am, go to yoga during my ‘afternoon slump’ and go back online until midnight. Not only do I achieve so much more by breaking up my day, but it also means that Sunshine has unique offering of being able to provide a 24/7 service to our clients. As long as we’re awake and have wifi, we will work for you. This means we can service our clients in the UK at any time, but also around the world on completely different time zones.

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Don’t get me wrong – some rules are needed of course and establishing the correct culture is not easy. Our output, our work ethic and accountability are what allow Sunshine to have a flex-work schedule, but I have to set some guidelines. We speak every day on Slack, have weekly conference calls, meet every month and have a totally honest relationship. The team are expected to be 100% on top of their workload and if they weren’t, then things would need to change very quickly.

This summer I spent 5 weeks working in Barcelona. It was the best thing I’ve ever done. I worked every single day, but the view from my workspace was, however, a little different! I may have had to rise early some mornings to work within global time zones, but this is safe in the knowledge that I could be swimming in the bay later in the day. I plan to work remotely every summer and I would encourage my team to do the same.

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To be able to do this we use online tools such as email, social media, Skype, Slack, Trello, Evernote and Dropbox to communicate with clients and suppliers. We’re a completely paperless organisation. I don’t keep a single copy of a paper invoice for example. I work entirely online with my accountant and a cloud based system called Free Agent.

So take a look at the bigger picture. There really is a worldwide opportunity that remote working offers for those prepared to step outside their comfort zone. Where are you working today… and if you really wanted to, where in the world could you be working tomorrow?

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Jenny Emslie Photograph

Jenny Emslie

Founder & Managing Director