According to the economists, countries are coming
out of recession one by one. But all of them
counsel that we're far from being out of the woods.
2010 promises to be a year of job cuts across most
sectors - and in particular the public sector
as our heavily indebted government struggles to
balance the books.
Most organisations are looking closely at what
they do and the resources they use. Cutting
costs and improving productivity to make leaner
organisations are the order of the day.
How can flexible working help?
1. Cut property
costs by working flexibly
Doing more with less is essential in difficult
times. After staff costs, the biggest costs
are usually real estate. The costs of renting
and running offices.
By deploying staff more flexibly, in terms of
where and when they work, it is possible for most
organisations to scale back radically the amount of
space they occupy.
It might seem like in property
downturn this is the worst time to dispose of
property. But most companies do not own the
property they use. It is a good time to
renegotiate leases, or if there is a lease break to
consider consolidating into smaller premises.
shrinking the office provides guidance on how to
go about this.
It's also a time to review why the
office is necessary at all. Most of the
functions carried out there could no doubt be
carried out elsewhere, in a less expensive location.
But it would be a mistake to up sticks and move the
entire operation desk by desk from, say, London to
Liverpool. It's a time to question how work is
done, and how to use space much more efficiently -
in all offices, wherever located.
relocation rarely delivers the savings promised, and
may lose many good employees along the way. This
can inject a 'random selection' factor into who
arrives at the other end of the move. Enabling
valued staff to work at or closer to home reduces
the property requirement.
The 'closer to home' part of the equation should
trigger investigations into 'flexible officing' -
using serviced offices or business hubs (a fast
growing market) for staff to work from on an
as-needed basis. Terms for using these can be
Using these flexible offices can
also enable staff to work closer to clients.
For many companies now, establishing a presence in a
new area does not mean taking on an office.
Instead, the presence in the area can be via a
serviced office, and using 'virtual office'
2. Don't sack the temporary staff!
Many organisations are doing what appears to be
the logical thing at the moment: shedding staff, and
starting by ditching consultants, contractors,
interims and agency staff. This is especially
so in the public sector. After all, isn't the first
duty to protect the permanent staff?
of all, it depends what they are doing. The
reason for many of the temporary/project workers being there in the first
place is that they are providing skills and
expertise lacking amongst the core staff. Who
will do their work after they are gone? Replacing
them with a
member of the permanent staff who has the wrong skillset but whose post would otherwise disappear
can end up being a costly exercise.
there's something wrong here isn't there? At a
time when the company needs more flexibility and
agility, the people on the variable payroll are
being ditched and the people on the fixed payroll
are being entrenched. The company's freedom of
action to respond to the market has taken a hit.
The right course of action is to retain whoever is
delivering a vital service, and to introduce new
flexibilities rather than eliminating the existing
3. Introduce voluntary and temporary
measures to deal with the troughs, as well as the
Many companies have been dealing with falling
order books not by laying off staff, but by offering
staff temporary reduced hours, or additional leave.
One leading legal firm offered staff:
- Reduction to 80% working for 85% pay
- Additional leave - 4, 8, 12 or 24 weeks
leave for 30% pay.
Most staff opted for one of these options.
'V-Time', or voluntary reduced hours, has proved
to be quite a popular way of retaining staff.
Additional leave has been a solution favoured in
the car industry by companies such as Honda.
4. Flex beyond the travel freeze
Companies may place an embargo on staff
travel when times are tough. But usually
this is only temporary, and productivity can
take a hit for the duration. There are
things that people actually need to travel for.
The recession offers an opportunity to think
about the purpose of business travel, and to
come up with some alternatives that will
maintain team cohesion and contact with the
Solutions such as increasing
audio-conferencing, videoconferencing and web
conferencing are as much about changing
behaviours as about the technologies. They
also offer a continuing, rather than temporary,
way to reduce travel costs.
But it's also time
to think about eliminating or reducing many
routine meetings altogether - especially the
ones that people travel from site-to-site for.
Analyse what meetings are for, and see if it can be
replicated by a teleconference or eliminated by
online exchange of information. Reducing
the duration of meetings - e.g. to 20 minutes
rather than booking a room for an hour or two -
will incentivise participants to join in by
phone rather than travel in. And increase
productivity into the bargain.
creatively across the range of options
The measures outlined here take examples from
three categories of flexible working: flexible
location, flexible contract, and flexible time.
Together they offer options for shrinking the
costs of property, travel and salaries - without
losing the best skills and the ability to
deliver services flexibly.