I am currently helping an occupier create a
new flexible working environment by facilitating the change management process
to ensure the staff buy-in to the new working arrangements. I presented my
usual list of the benefits of flexible working (to both the organisation and
the individual) but was told to go away and collate hard evidence. The client
is an engineering practice and their staff includes analysts and planners; as a
consequence their nature is to challenge and not accept consulting recommendations
without detailed and rigorous data to back it up.

Fortunately I have access to case studies that
I have collected over the years as a workplace consultant, and I also found
quite a few published on the web. You can read through the case studies in my occasional
paper on Flexible Working Benefits.

The case studies illustrate clear,
objective space efficiencies and associated property savings. However they also
support claims of the less-tangible (readily measured) benefits. For example,
organisations such as BP, DTI, EC Harris, GSK, PwC, Rolls-Royce and the
Treasury Solicitors all reported that flexible working enhanced knowledge
sharing, communication, team interaction and collaboration. In some cases this
resulted in better joined-up services, more cross-selling of services, and
ultimately increased profitability. GSK and EC Harris believe their flexible
working environments contributed towards increases in profit in the order of
12%. Decreases in travel time between the office and client sites, and reduced absenteeism
(from appointments) etc associated with flexible working have resulted in
further increases in productivity.

Interestingly, when I presented my evidence
on the benefits to the client’s engineers their response was to ask
about the dis-benefits. I took this response favourably as it means they had accepted
my evidence and had moved on to their next challenge. However, they do have a
point – most case studies only present the positive results and brush over the
negatives. Not presenting negatives is not just limited to case studies, many new
scientific researchers shy away from presenting negative results for fear that
they will be criticised. As a consequence they publish only the studies supporting
existing theory rather than challenging it. This leads to groupthink and makes a mockery of the view that good theories are falsifiable. For a long time I have suggested
we resent case studies “warts ‘n’ all” as we (due to our critical nature) tend
to learn more from mistakes than from successes, see the BCO’s Guide to Post Occupancy Evaluation.

So I explained to the engineers that my
task was to present the benefits and that also very few case studies presented
the negatives. The best way to discover what doesn’t work in flexible working
is to tour flexible working environments and ask questions (of the end-users not
just the design team and sponsors). I have done this for a number of years and
my experience is that most flexible working environments will have niggles but
they are not “show stoppers”. The issues that prevent a flexible working
project from being a success (or from even going ahead) are:

· lack of buy-in from senior management
who lead by example;

· a focus on culture, performance and innovation
rather than on reduced space and cost (pushed by the property or FM team);

not fully understanding the business
requirement and not aligning the flexible working strategy to it;

· setting an unrealistic workplace target
rather than providing an optimum solution, for example moving from private offices
to free-address agile working is a long journey;

· lack of liaison between IT, HR and
FM – all policies and strategies must be aligned;

· not communicating or involving the
staff, not bothering with a change management process.

So despite a focus on space and associated
cost savings by the property community, there are many more worthwhile benefits
to implementing flexible working. Indeed, flexible working is more successful
when the driving force is not space and cost savings but emphasis is placed on
these other benefits. Furthermore, the best flexible working projects tend to
be ones where the business is leading the project, based on a change in
culture or work-style, rather than being promoted by the property team as a
means of simply saving space.