Flexible working should be a right not a perk
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Flexible working should be a right not a perk

On 10 August, Google hit the headlines. It was planning to cut the wages for some employees who decided to work permanently from home.

13 September 2021

On 10 August, Google hit the headlines. It was planning to cut the wages for some employees who decided to work permanently from home. It was perplexing. Surely, Google was going to save a heap removing expensive desk space in their fancy offices for these employees.

The story of course was slightly sensationalised by the press.

Google wasn’t doing anything differently. It was following its existing pay structure that was in place prior to the pandemic.

The way employees are paid at Google is highly discretionary. The difference in wages between employees can vary drastically depending on their talent and skill level. Adjusting a contract for living expenses for where an employee lives is just a minor part of the overall compensation calculation.

If you work for Google in Switzerland, then this particular pay-factor doesn’t even enter the equation.

Nonetheless, this story sparked a lot of debate. Right now, there’s lots of anxiety among professional workers about what kind of flexible working policy their employer will settle on.

Switzerland is heading towards a flexible working culture

There’s a certain urgency now. A company’s employer brand is at stake if they don’t develop an attractive flex-work policy. By the way, the title of this article is rhetorical – flexible working will almost certainly become seen as a worker’s right in the future.

The reason for this is that if companies fail to set the tone for what flexible working should be, then eventually the Swiss government will decide on what the minimum is.

The Swiss government will almost certainly act. Flexible working has the potential to increase economic productivity because it increases the opportunity to work. For instance, regardless of which canton you live in, if you can work flexibly then there are opportunities that you previously had no access to.

For example, you could live in Ticino, but work for a company in Zürich. You might only need to visit them once a week to give them an update. This type of arrangement makes Switzerland’s job market a lot more dynamic. It also has potential to increase the workforce. For instance, people with disabilities, older workers or mothers of small children can work more easily with additional flexibility.

Subsequently, diversity in the workplace improves naturally by offering flexible working. This is why Switzerland is heading towards a flexible working culture. It will be seen in the future as a right and not a perk.

Swiss companies need to develop new flex-work policies fast

What I have seen are two types of companies. The first type are those that are waiting to see what happens. The reason being is because there is no benchmark for them to follow or industry standard. However, there is tremendous pressure on them to act, especially from their employees who may feel left in limbo. If they fail to act soon, it could damage their employer brand.

The second type are the ones whose HR teams are burning the midnight oil to put together the right flexible working package that is competitive and attractive. These are companies that are willing to set the standards for their industry to follow. 

They are the ones most likely to benefit from a first mover advantage and secure the talent they need in a post-pandemic economic recovery. 

There are of course limitations. Some jobs just have to be done on site. If you drive a bus or you are a teacher, then flexible working is harder to implement. There has also been a lot of criticism on how remote working leads to falling productivity, declining corporate culture and the lack of a nurturing environment for younger workers.

Flexible working is not the problem, it’s the company

This is something that needs to be cleared up. There is a huge difference between working flexibly and working 100% at home.

Most candidates do not want to work remotely – they just want more flexibility on when and how they work. It’s true that many younger workers felt isolated and cut off during the pandemic. Some had never even visited the companies who hired them.

However, flexible working is not a continuation of lockdown. All it does is offer employees more flexibility to choose when and how they work.

Younger workers can still work in the office and receive the mentoring they need from flexible workers.

The assumption that working from home is less productive and less social isn’t necessarily true. A company’s work culture isn’t defined by bums on seats in the office. It’s reflected by its leadership. 

Those companies that are managed top-down and give little responsibility to their employees will of course suffer with flexible work arrangements. If you give employees autonomy and a strong purpose for working, there should be no decline in productivity.

The bottom line

Switzerland is a country where a work-life balance is deeply respected. It’s a country of strong family values. Flexible working suits Swiss culture and brings far more social and economic benefits than is currently appreciated.

Companies that fail to act will see their employer brand suffer. However, those that do will have access to a deeper pool of talent and benefit from a more productive and content workforce.

It is not a legal right, but flexible working has become the new normal. It can’t be avoided or ignored.