For a socially responsible business, flexible working isn’t just nice to have – it’s a vital part of using work to make the world a better place. Social responsibility starts at home, and unless you treat your employees right then everything else is just an add-on.

Setting the Tone for the World We Live In

One reason why flexible working is so important to a social business is that it sends a message about how you view the world.

Social businesses are about connecting together profits with what’s good for people. Human and environmental well-being don’t get sacrificed on the altar of the fast buck. Instead, human-centered practices are shown to be good for a business’s bottom line, disrupting the old dichotomy between the two.

Inflexible working patterns came from a way of working, and of viewing work, that saw people as little more than a resource with which to achieve business ends. It didn’t matter whether the pattern of work suited employees, as long it suited the business. It was the opposite of socially responsible business – business riding roughshod over human lives.

Flexible working shows that you care about what’s good for your employees. It sends a message to those employees and to the world that you’re not putting money before people, because you think that what’s good for people is good for profits. It sets the tone for your business and for the world we live in.

Social Responsibility Towards Your Employees

It’s great to create socially responsible products and services, whether that’s fair trade coffee, environmentally sustainable technology, or financial services for the disadvantaged. But if your social responsibility is focused entirely on your customers then you’re missing out on helping the people whose lives you most directly influence – your employees.

Flexible working practices make the lives of employees far easier. Tasks important to their well-being, such as visiting the doctor or dropping the kids off at school, become much easier to manage. This makes for employees who are happier, healthier, and less stressed. That in itself is a goal worth achieving.

For this to work, you have to give employees genuine control of their hours. Calling it flexible isn’t enough if you set core hours, duties, or layers of approvals that give them no room to maneuver.

Increased Productivity

Flexible working isn’t just good for your employees – it’s good for your bottom line as well. An international survey by Vodafone, which questioned 8,000 employers and employees, found that 83% had seen improvements in productivity thanks to flexible working. A similar survey of workers in the UK found that twice as many found their productivity increased when working at home as found that it decreased.

Flexible working increases productivity in a number of ways.

Firstly, and tying in to the previous point, it increases the happiness and decreases the stress level of employees. This makes them able to work better.

Secondly, it allows better use of time. If an employee can work while sitting at home waiting for the washing machine repair man then the flow of work won’t be disrupted for that morning. If they can attend a meeting through a conference call while looking after their kids then that meeting doesn’t need to be postponed.

Thirdly, is allows recruitment from a larger talent pool. If you allow home working or flexible hours then you can take on employees who live further from your base of operations or whose lives wouldn’t allow them to work full time, whether due to health, children, or many other reasons.

Flexible working helps you to employ the best people and to get the most out of them.

Community Action

There are countless opportunities for people to volunteer in their communities. From food banks to charity shops to environmental improvements, volunteering helps to fill gaps left by the system. Many people are keen to help out in this way, but the challenge comes in finding the time, and particularly in finding time at a time that is convenient for the task to be done.

Flexible working allows employees to more easily fit volunteer activities into their schedule. Some people might choose to work four days a week and volunteer on the fifth. Others might arrange their schedule to fit a full working week around a morning as a volunteer, or take longer lunch breaks for an activity like reading in schools.

Flexible working can allow groups of employees to take time off together to volunteer. This can make volunteering, and the social good it does, more central to your business and the way it faces the world.

Approaches to Flexible Working

There are many different ways to make working patterns more flexible. Flexi-time can be used to let people shift their hours around, as can being adaptable about scheduling. Allowing employees to buy extra holiday days or be awarded them as bonuses gives them more potential time to themselves. Companies such as Netflix and Hubspot use unlimited leave schemes, allowing employees to work in a way that suits them, focusing on results rather than time spent at a desk. Remote working integrates home and work lives, creating more freedom and saving time on commuting.

By giving employees the chance to balance their home and work lives, you take responsibility for improving the society you’re a part of – that of your employees.

However, you achieve flexible working, it’s a way to be more socially responsible as a business, to set the tone for businesses everywhere, and to give something back while increasing productivity. In short, it’s essential to being a socially responsible business.