Today, many employees are crying out for flexible working. And I understand why, I genuinely do, it sounds delightful. But as a business owner I wonder: how on earth would I achieve it – and what would the real cost be to our customers?
Right now more than 3,300 workers at 70 UK companies, whether it’s your local pet shop or a massive financial firm, are trialling a four-day week with no loss of pay. It’s the world’s biggest trial of a new working pattern. Plus, the workers are getting 100% pay for 80% of the hours… But, as Housing Association Merthyr Valleys acknowledges in this BBC article, while employees say the trial could be “life-changing”, the company says tenants must not see a reduced service.
So how will they pull that off?
I would wholeheartedly, absolutely, freaking love to announce to my team that we’re going switch to flexible working; to say that they can work whenever they like, as long as they deliver a certain number of hours. Or to even say we’ll do a four-day week without reducing your wages! That would be an absolute dream. It would, I’m sure, have a positive impact on the mental health of the team, and make peoples’ lives just that bit easier.
BUT, would we need to hire more people? Would we have to put our charges up? What effect would it have on our customer service standards and agreements? These are some of the questions I can’t shake…
My take is that if companies want to shift to four-day working weeks, then the rest of us – and I’m talking the entire country – have got to accept that our consumer lives won’t be as convenient or as speedy as they have been. That’s a really tough ask, given what we’ve come to expect in recent years.
As a consumer, I still want Amazon Prime, I still want to order a takeaway and have it on my doorstep in half an hour, I still want to ring a call centre and not be on hold for 45 minutes and I want a live chat to be answered straightaway! So how do I achieve all that without putting the cost of my services up? Or risk existing employees’ jobs by taking on more people to try and balance the workload?
(I realise I’m asking a lot of questions, if you have any answers, please do add a comment below. I’m keen to discuss this.)
At TMP, our business is built on ownership of individual cases and on being available to our clients. Customers usually only deal with one to two team members across their entire homebuying journey and that’s what they love about us. So, if we introduced flexi-working, this would undermine a fundamental part of our business – clients would then have to deal with four to five team members and wouldn’t gain that same familiarity or continuity of service.
Perhaps we should be speaking more openly about flexi-working only being possible in certain sectors? Right now, it feels like a massive challenge for customer-facing businesses.
Where we are
When it comes to my business, I like to think that at TMP we offer flexibility but not necessarily flexible working. As an example, we’ve got people who need to pick their kids up during work hours and that’s something we definitely don’t take issue with. Need to take 20 minutes out to walk the dog? Go ahead.
True flexible working on the other hand, is no specified working hours, no specified holiday, and a work from anywhere attitude. There’s no formal expectation aside from doing the job and working a certain amount of hours in total.
Again, that sounds lovely, but I just don’t think our business would be the same. I don’t think it would be successful or profitable, or nearly as able to provide the support and resources that our employees already enjoy (and need). And that feels like too high a price to pay.
Is it simply that flexi-working or four-day weeks can’t work in customer facing industries? I guess we’ll have to wait for the trial results…
I can’t wait six months! In the meantime, is your business flexi-working? Do you have the answer to service industry flexibility? I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts