From the Central Line to the bottom line: What the London tube strikes can teach us about flexible working

London’s workforce faced another frustrating commute this morning as, for the second time in a month, the London Underground was shut down by strike action. 

Brave workers took to everything from buses and bikes, to roller blades and even a penny farthing to make it to work on time – but despite their best efforts, the disruption to businesses with workforces stranded across the capital was considerable.

Four unions undertook the action after disputes over the proposed 24 hour tube service, scheduled to be rolled out on 12th September this year, failed to be resolved.

“There are not sufficient guarantees about flexible working for the future – around the work-life balance and unsociable hours”, said a spokesperson for Unite, and today’s strike could bring the debate about flexible working out of the underground and firmly into the office.

As the average 9 to 5 becomes a thing of the past, and smartphones and tablets replace the fixed office cubicle, the concept of the workplace, and what and where it is, is becoming increasingly fluid. What today’s industrial action highlights – both for those striking, and those struggling to get to work – is the shortfalls of many businesses to adequately deal with the changing landscape of that workplace, and the needs of the modern workforce within it.

The benefits of flexible working

With a 24 hour strike coming at an estimated cost of anywhere between 10 and 300 million pounds, it’s clear how important the concept of flexible working is to the UK economy – but what measures can HR and business leaders be putting in place to get the most out of their workforce when they’re out of the office?

Under laws that came into effect last June, all employees are entitled to request flexible working – be it a change in their times, hours or location. Flexibility isn’t simply a matter of legality, however, but is a real issue for HR managers as we move into the future of work.

It is important to be sensitive to the needs of employees, since flexible working is no longer just the domain of those in exceptional circumstances – stuck on the tube, for instance – but is becoming more of a commonplace expectation, especially for Generations Y and Z to whom the idea of a job for life is less attractive. The same goes for parents seeking maternity and paternity leave, and in such cases, having a more inclusive approach to flexible working demands can be a key part of attracting and, more importantly, retaining key talent.

Creating a flexible working structure through HR systems

Having the infrastructure in place to accommodate such flexibility is key, and it is vital for businesses to have an efficient people or HR management system in place in order to ensure consistency and continuity of output. In a larger workforce, and businesses with disparate teams especially, employee self-service, automation and visibility makes this process easier, and allows the management of diverse workforces with different sets of requirements.

By keeping employees engaged and efficiently managed even when out of the office, flexible working can become not merely a disruptive necessity, but a central part of a company culture that can ultimately be of benefit to the bottom line.

Our aptly named report ‘Mind The Gap’ talks about the differences between the haves and have-nots of organizations when it comes to modern HR information systems that can enable and support flexible working. Read more here.

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