A recent released YouGov survey, which polled 1,800 workers across the UK, revealed that only 6% of UK workers are now working traditional hours of 9 to 5.

The results also indicate that 58% of those who participated in the survey would rather start work earlier than 9 am and finish earlier than 5 pm.

Flexible working can span an array of working styles, including compressed hours, working from home and flexitime – which allows the employee to choose when to start and end work so long as they work certain ‘core hours’.

However, in many channel companies, flexitime opportunities can be limited in scope due to the nature of the roles.

As employees demand more flexible working environments, CRN asks how the channel is adapting to the changing working landscape

What does CRN stand for?

CRN was launched as Computer Retail News, covering the early days of the business side of the PC revolution. In 1987, Computer Retail News became Computer Reseller News, focused on those businesses involved with purchasing hardware from manufacturers and distributors, and, then reselling those items to end-user organizations and customers.

Times have changed, and retail and reselling are less central to most technology business companies. Our coverage has broadened to take in consultants, integrators, independent software developers, and others, all of whom we usually group together with the term “technology solution providers”. In 1994, CRN’s website was launched, and in 2000, the tabloid newspaper Computer Reseller News was reborn as the magazine CRN.

 In 2007, CRN estimated that the North American technology channel consisted of as many as a quarter-million solution provider organizations, generating $370 billion in annual sales.

What is the Channel?

When we talk about the channel, it is that ecosystem of people selling technology hardware, solutions and services. These organizations range from single-person consultancies and storefront computer shops, to global organizations like Accenture and CSC, and even the services businesses of IT vendors like IBM and HP.  This is the technology channel

Other channels exist — manufacturing, chemicals, and automotive, for instance.

Flexible working cannot be applied to all roles.

Justin Harling, CEO at CAE Technology Services, said that one of the more complicated elements of organising policy around flexitime is the fact that there are

flexible working
There are certain roles in the company for which flexible working cannot be applied, such as service-desk positions.

Harling is all too aware that this can affect recruitment for these types of roles, particularly in the wake of the digital skills gap.

“We know the biggest inhibitor for our growth will be attracting and retaining talent; there is a skills shortage and we definitely feel that,” he said.

“In order to be able to attract the right people, we realise that we need to be able to offer that flexibility, and there have been times when that was the only way to get a particular person.”

This flexibility includes having offices across the country to cater to those employees who prefer the sociability of working in an office rather than at home.

Highs and lows

Every individual has their own productivity clock, meaning that the traditional nine-to-five regime may not suit everyone. Flexible working can allow employees to alter their working day to suit their productivity needs.

Last year, HSBC conducted its own survey,  which revealed that 89% of employees across Britain believed flexibility was key to boosting their productivity levels.

The HSBC survey also indicated that regions where the ability to work from home is most popular, such as London (where 30% of workers have the option) and the South East (32 %), tended to see higher levels of productivity than those areas, such as Wales (18%), where flexible hours are not offered.

Flexibility beyond working hours can often help employers attract and retain staff, as potential employees are more decisive regarding the type of organisation and culture in which they choose to work.

Kelvin Kirby, CEO at Technology Associates, adheres to this by giving employees time to work on their own projects, and said that this freedom improves the company’s relationship with its staff, and allows it to benefit from that individual’s creative abilities.

“I have one employee who works four days and has one day off to pursue other interests,” he explained.

“There is a mutual benefit there because we can see a value in either the intellectual property she is developing – which we would have funded – or in terms of customers she is reaching out to, who might become customers of ours too.

“We aren’t encouraging people to leave the company and develop their own business, but we do encourage creative thought outside the normal boundaries of their day-to-day job because we think that adds significant value to their contributions within the business.”

The perks of choosing your own working hours do have its disadvantages, especially as apps such as Slack and Microsoft Teams make it easier for individuals to be ‘always on’ for work.

Paul Cunningham, CMO at Unify, said that it can be hard for home-based employees to mentally separate work and personal time.

“The boundaries are blurring and the pressure is put on people to make their own distinction between work time and personal time and draw their own boundaries around that,” he said.

“But if you approach it in the right way and maintain a sense of ‘otherness’ in the work environment, it works extremely well.”

Cunningham, who is primarily home-based, added that using workspace tools can help reduce the solitude of working from home. His team uses its own collaborative tool called Circuit to communicate.

“That immediacy, intimacy and focus that you can create in a collaboration place are much more productive [than working via email],” he explained.

“Rather than fairly transactional email correspondence, you are engaging in persistent conversations and workrooms – in a virtual sense – with colleagues, which is highly productive.”

Next Gen

The shift from the nine-to-five office-based work environment has changed significantly, in no small part due to cultural shifts, including both working parents being responsible for childcare and a new generation of workers who are more savvy and decisive in what they want from a job offer.

Marc Sumner, CEO of recruitment consultancy Robertson Sumner, said he is now seeing more candidates for roles rejecting jobs that are “too rigid” in their work hours and culture.

“Once organisations start seeing that they can’t attract the staff they want, we’ll see more and more employers moving to that flexible way of thinking,” he explained.

“If they’re not able to offer flexibility to their working parents or people with childcare, that is a big chunk of the workforce they’re putting off.

“While the idea of working from home sounds great, it is a very solitary environment. It is important to have an office to breed a culture, even if not everybody is there all the time. I don’t think home-working is key, but flexibility on hours is key for people.”

The power now lies with the employee, according to Sumner.

Traditionally, candidates may have been happy with good pay and a nine-to-five job, but nowadays they are doing their homework on companies before they even apply for roles, taking into account everything from pay to benefits to flexible working.

An employee shortage in the IT industry also means that employees can often be selective when looking for a new role.

Sumner believes that due to the technical skills gap, in order to recruit the right candidates, organisations need to start offering more than just a standard contract to employees.

“Employees are acting like consumers; looking at benefits packages, Glassdoor reviews and culture,” he said.

“If a company isn’t adapting to that, they are going to die because the talent shortage has caused the power to shift to the employee.”

A new generation of workers who have grown up on social media is now putting more stock into experiences and long-term travelling and are looking for roles that can accommodate this desire, according to Technology Associates Kirby.

This is a factor that he believes will become more dominant in the next few years as “digital nomads” have the skills required by companies, but do not want to settle in one location.

“How do we accommodate the concept of embracing people who have very specific technical skills that we need as a business to serve our customers, but those people want to travel as well as work?” he said.

“The nature of business now is being more flexible and I think we are going to have to extend that even further.”