Flexible working is crucial for Parliament and businesses

flexible working bill
© iStock/Vladislav Zolotov

By Christmas we’ll have a Parliament set to embrace flexible working: business should too, says Stuart Templeton, Head of UK at Slack.

Whatever your political leanings, we’re on track for one decisively positive result from the UK’s 12 December general election: the most diverse Parliament to ever be elected, in every sense of the word. Record numbers of women and minority candidates are standing. Meanwhile, it is thought that the previous 2017 intake saw the highest ever level of single parents elected to the house, a trend likely to continue in 2019. Old political stereotypes are quickly dissipating as the 650 members sitting in the House of Commons better reflect the 66 million living in the UK, bringing with them a wider range of experience than ever before.

As the stereotypical MP becomes a thing of the past, so will the stereotypical government department. Cumbersome, siloed and inflexible, governmental activity has often had a reputation for being slow to adapt, behind on technology and unaware of the new era of work.

Despite this, in July 2019 MP Helen Whately introduced a flexible working bill in Parliament, stating that unless employers had sound business reasons for specific set hours, organisations should introduce flexibility into every job. She argued this would particularly benefit working mothers, who often struggle to return to work after having children, help close the gender pay gap and allow working men to spend more time with their children.

The benefits for the individual are clearly laid out by Whately, but beyond the important positive effects for families, flexible working can also be transformative for both businesses and even government departments themselves. The recent dissolution of Parliament halted the progress of the flexible working bill; however, with a new, more representative than ever Parliament around the corner, expect to see the flexible working discussion return to Westminster soon.

How MPs and civil servants can benefit from flexible working

MPs have to juggle a number of different responsibilities. Balancing commitments to their home constituents who may be in remote corners of Cornwall or Scotland with a schedule packed with parliamentary sessions, committee hearings, meetings with major NGOs and businesses require delicate management. Alongside this, with increasing calls to boost environmental sustainability on the job and reduce expenses, MPs from across the UK have to meet these various demands while keeping travel costs and carbon footprints low.

Boosting the availability of flexible working and the tools which enable it for MPs and government workers will help them communicate more effectively with various stakeholders and reduce time, money and CO2 spent travelling. Within specific governmental departments, using collaborative tools will enable teams to overcome the fundamental challenge of all organisations: co-ordination and alignment. The Ministry of Justice and Home Office are two examples of government organisations embracing the future of work, currently using Slack as a better way for their teams to work together.

This move to flexible and more efficient working requires rethinking communication. Rather than relying on face to face meetings and inboxes, new tools organise messages into channels. Channels can respond to anything – projects, teams, planning, constituent issues – and integrate with other software such as calendars or expense management apps. Everyone on a team – no matter whether in the tea rooms of Westminster or the local town hall – can see what takes place in a channel, providing a rich, permanent and searchable record of knowledge.

The world of politics is notoriously fast moving; and demands are only increasing. In an era of external 24-hour news cycles and social media, and the internal need for remote and flexible work between Westminster and the rest of the UK, it’s no longer feasible for politicians and government workers to keep limiting their agility with approaches to work and tools that have remained functionally unchanged in decades.

Flexible government will lead to flexible business

Beyond the halls of Westminster, employers that offer flexible working can expect to see a range of different benefits. Happiness and satisfaction levels rise while productivity is increased. Flexible working can help people cut down on time spent commuting, having a knock-on effect in letting them get more sleep. 61% of workers say they suffer from fatigue during the week: tackling this issue gives workers a better work-life balance while employers benefit from well rested and energised teams when they are at work.

HubSpot is just one example of a business which has grown rapidly and embraced new tools to allow employees to work flexibly and remotely. Using a suite of tools, including Slack and its seamless Zoom integration, HubSpot has enabled teams in nine different locations to overcome the challenges of distance and maintain alignment across the globe.

Few relish the prospect of a December election; most would rather be winding down ahead of the New Year. Yet the silver lining is that we can expect a more representative House of Commons to begin shifting both policy and internal Westminster culture toward greater flexible working and collaboration.

Taking Westminster’s lead businesses will embrace the benefits of a more flexible, agile and aligned workforce. For all of us this should mean more productive, satisfying time at work and – crucially – an improved work-life balance outside of it. What more could you ask for at Christmas?

Stuart Templeton
Head of UK


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