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The future is flexible

by Shannon Walsh


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It wasn’t that long ago that a standard 9 to 5 day was the norm. And unless you worked in the emergency services there was very little deviation from that. Yet, in a decade attitudes towards flexible working have been transformed – businesses are increasingly recognising the benefits of giving staff more flexibility as well as the positive impact on their bottom line.

Technology has helped drive this change, allowing people to work remotely yet link into office systems, calls and phone conferences easily. As long as you have an internet connection, there’s nothing to stop you sitting in the park or café, sipping a latte while you write your latest report!

The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices has highlighted the need for flexible working with the review’s author, Matthew Taylor, writing: “Let me make clear that the review team thinks flexibility is a good thing, in fact we need more.”

Mr Taylor isn’t alone - companies across the UK are increasingly looking to adopt flexible workforce models whether that’s for permanent employees or by bringing in interim managers, contractors and frelancers with specific knowledge and skills for a set period of time.  

The standard 9 to 5 is almost seen as outdated and unable to keep up with the demands and needs created by globalisation and our 24/7 society. Businesses have woken up to the fact agile workforces can actually increase productivity and bring expertise into their business they might otherwise not have access to.

Changing workplace attitudes

Most people have a relative who got a job, worked their way up the ladder and stayed there for 30 years or so until they retired. These days, that’s a rarity. Lifelong job security is a thing of the past, with people much more likely to move jobs throughout their career to improve their prospects or deal with life events such as having children or caring for elderly relatives.

Employers are increasingly recognising the fluidity of their workforce and responding to it. Working from home or going freelance are no longer seen as lightweight options. In fact, they are respected career paths.

Computer giant Microsoft operates an “Anywhere Working” policy where staff choose how, where and when they work whilst Johnson & Johnson believes flexibility builds loyalty which makes good business sense.

Britain’s Healthiest Workplace report 2016, which surveyed 34,000 employees across 169 employers, found those who were office-based with inflexible hours and long commutes were less productive and suffered poorer health. Neil Carberry, CBI director for people and infrastructure, agrees, saying rigid attitudes and lack of flexibility and agility are holding firms back and the challenge is getting businesses to drop outdated assumptions.

He said : “In today's competitive and dynamic commercial landscape, having a flexible, agile workforce has become almost essential. In order to compete, businesses need to think on their feet, creating and managing a mobile, fluid and sophisticated environment for their employees.

 “Flexible contracting is part of this too, saving jobs during tough economic times, and enabling businesses to rapidly respond to the growth opportunities.“

A growing market

The shift towards more agile workforces shows no signs of slowing down with more and more employees wanting to fit their work around their lifestyle. As growing numbers of Millennials enter the workplace and demand a more fluid way of working this trend is set to continue.

One of the effects of this shift in attitudes has been the growth in interim management, particularly in the public sector, with increasing numbers of senior management opting to work on a contract basis rather than in a permanent position.

This is partly down to public sector cuts and poorer career prospects but also down to senior managers making lifestyle choices which better reflect the way they want to work. 

From an interim professional’s perspective, the roles can be more varied and interesting, allowing them to use their particular expertise and skillset to its full advantage. They also don’t stagnate in a job with no upwards momentum but can often achieve a similar level of remuneration and a better work/life balance.

For organisations, such as Local Authorities, they can bring in people with the right skills at the right time to support overstretched management teams. Those professionals can hit the ground running and be hired in a matter of days and weeks rather than months, meaning businesses can start to see a real impact very quickly. They also get someone who is fresh, motivated and brings with them new ideas.

Flexible workforces: the new norm?

There’s still a way to go before Britain is fully flexible but flexibility makes healthy workers and healthy workers mean greater productivity for businesses. Raising productivity by just 1% could add £250 billion to the economy within a decade and increasing flexibility could save UK plc up to £34 billion, freeing up desk space and helping to attract a more diverse range of talent. Any business that ignores this societal shift towards greater flexibility in work, does so at its peril. 

The future is bright, the future is flexible.

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