There’s been a lot of talk around flexibility in the workplace, but most of it is aimed toward office workers in industries where remote or flexible working is easy. The ease of implementing flexible working arrangements generally varies significantly depending on the specific job, industry and individual company circumstances.
In general, being able to offer flexible working arrangements is easier for office workers, as many office tasks can be carried out almost anywhere on a laptop. As a result, it is often relatively simple for office workers to transition to remote or flexible working patterns, as long as they have access to the necessary applications at home.
On the other hand, non-office roles can often involve physically demanding or customer facing tasks that can't be replicated at home, and these largely require people to be physically present. For example, those in manufacturing, construction or healthcare need to go to the workplace to carry out their role, as this requires specialised equipment or hands-on tasks that are harder or not possible to replicate remotely.
In turn, this has resulted in many in-person, non-office roles not being able to offer the same level of flexibility as office workers. Overall, being able to work when and where they want increases employees' sense of control, boosting employee engagement and well-being, which is why many workplaces are now trying their best to offer it to employees. Reed’s 2023 Salary Guides revealed that over a third (36%) of employees believe flexible working practices are an essential part of their working life, and in response to this, 65% of employers understand the need to play the ‘flexibility game’ to attract the right people.
The risk here is that employees in non-office roles, such as those in retail or construction, for example, are unable to balance their work and home life appropriately without flexible working as an option. Because of this, it’s vital for employers in these industries to find a way to replace the positive impact flexible working brings.
Finding a ‘flexible working’ replacement
In places such as restaurants, warehouses, hospitals or retail stores workers tend to have different schedules and shifts to ensure someone is on the floor at all times. If these industries want to offer more flexible work options for their employees, similar to how office jobs do, they will likely need to hire more people to cover shifts to keep everything running smoothly.
In simple terms, giving the same flexible options to these jobs could end up costing more money, as businesses will need more workers to keep operations running the same. Some workplaces may offer some level of flexibility when it comes to swapping shifts with other employees, but, in general, in order to avoid bottlenecks, there’s a strong limit to how flexible these industries can be.
On the plus side, when taking on their role, non-office workers typically understand that the nature of their work comes with some restrictions on flexibility, especially when considering the location or hours they work, which are often fixed. So, when considering how to improve the employee experience in non-office work environments, employers need to think about what it is that really matters to their employees. The majority of the time, businesses can offer alternative benefits that will resonate and enhance well-being and employee engagement.
For instance, investing in employees’ long-term growth by offering the opportunity for career development is a good way to showcase how you value your employees. For those in retail, for instance, their long-term goal may not be working on the shop floor forever, so offering the opportunity to learn managerial skills or gain a chartered management certification may not only motivate them to stay at your workplace for longer, but it will also keep them motivated and engaged. In addition, offering company discounts is also a benefit that many workers in retail and hospitality appreciate.
It is also important to note that positive employee engagement comes hand in hand with treating employees with respect and maintaining clear, open communication. Clear communication and respect creates an environment where employees are comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns. When issues are addressed promptly, and employees feel they are being listened to, they are likely to feel happier and more respected at work. This will also prove to them that, as a business, you are committed to considering employee well-being and demonstrating that their contributions matter. This leads to greater employee engagement because individuals are more involved, motivated and trusted to their roles.
With non-office workers not being able to have the same amount of flexibility as office workers, businesses are at risk of having an unhappier workforce. However, by taking some time to think of other options and benefits that will make employees feel valued and heard at work, businesses can still work toward creating a happier, more engaged workplace.