Flexibility in the workplace can include changes to employees’ work hours or location or even the four-day work week scheme that a few companies are introducing nationwide. Capterra interviewed nearly 1,000 employees to see if their companies are investing in tools that can help with these flexible working arrangements.
In this article
Capterra’s first article in this two-part series on flexible working found that work-life balance is among the most important factors in job satisfaction for Australian employees. Work flexibility is beneficial as it helps staff balance their personal and professional lives, but it can also help companies improve retention and increase employee engagement.
But how can software aid companies in managing a flexible work policy? Capterra interviewed nearly 1,000 employees (in a computer-based role) who work five or more days a week in a small to midsize enterprise (SME) to find out whether their companies use software to facilitate flexible working. The full methodology is at the bottom of this article.
Collaboration and communication tools are rated as most useful by employees
The recent uptake in digital transformation, mostly due to the pandemic, has seen SMEs integrate technologies into all business areas. Companies have turned to artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), software applications, and workplace automation to remain resilient and competitive. Digitalisation offers SMEs the opportunity to explore new work models, such as agile working, where staff decide when, how, and where they want to work.
Software may help companies keep up with the latest trends in flexible working arrangements by increasing the sense of autonomy among employees whilst still enabling effective team communication. We provided survey-takers with the following list of software types to determine whether employees use these tools and if they find them practical for workplace flexibility:
- Collaboration software: facilitates virtual teamwork by enabling the creation, editing, and sharing of documents, spreadsheets, and other files
- Communication software: allows users to send and receive messages, calls, and other types of contact over the internet, through the likes of video conferencing software, etc.
- Tools for project management and productivity improvement: help users organise, track, and manage tasks and projects
- Software for performance management and time tracking: helps track productivity, time spent on tasks, and other performance metrics
According to survey results, 11% of employees do not use any software from the list of tools we provided. Of the remaining 89% of survey-takers who use these tools at work, the majority (70%) said they use them daily, and only 5% use them less than once a week. The types of tools most frequently selected as ‘useful’ by employees were ‘collaboration’ and ‘communication software’ (at 92% and 91%, respectively).
The biggest advantage of introducing software is ‘better team communication’
Software has a variety of benefits that can facilitate flexibility in the workplace. When we asked survey-takers who use the listed tools to select up to three ways they benefited from them, ‘better team communication’ (56%) emerged as the top advantage. This was followed by ‘quicker access to important information and tasks’ (40%) and ‘enhanced team organisation and collaboration’ (39%).
When asked about the software’s flaws, the most common response was ‘too many notifications or emails from associated software accounts’ (32%), ‘reliability and troubleshooting issues' (26%) and ‘time spent learning how to use it’ (24%).
Measures to solve business software challenges
The following tips can help SMEs solve the potential problems they may face with software:
- Reduce notification settings: Project managers in charge of tools can decrease the notifications automatically going out to employees or enable staff to customise and manage these by themselves.
- Keep help desk support available: Ensure help desk support is ready for employees to address software issues immediately. Always ensure the software is updated to the latest version, and create a system to detect and fix bugs in their early stages.
- Provide software training: Workshops and materials (e.g., manuals, online tutorials, etc.) can help employees learn how to use the software efficiently. Ensure staff only need follow-up training every few months rather than too often.
- Evaluate the number of tools you use: Determine whether your department has implemented too many types of software that do the same tasks. Avoid bombarding or overloading employees and decrease the unnecessary use of tools.
90% of software users think it helps them work more flexibly
Do employees think technologies contribute to flexibility in the workplace? 90% of respondents who use the software types we listed in our survey at their job said ‘yes’ when asked if these tools play a role in helping with flexibility in terms of time and location.
Capterra asked employees to indicate how the software could help them to achieve flexibility, specifically in relation to remote work, flexible hours, or the four-day work week, or whether it doesn’t help at all.
According to the employees that use at least one of these types of software, collaboration and communication tools were rated the most helpful for achieving flexibility at work. Tools for performance tracking and time management and software for project management and productivity were considered the least helpful.
79% would accept more employee monitoring if it meant more flexible working
Companies with flexible working arrangements often use employee monitoring software to better understand how workers spend their time. Capterra’s 2022 Company Culture survey found that more than a third of Australian employees working hybrid or remotely said their company uses tracking tools to supervise them, whilst one in five are not sure if they are being monitored.
Surprisingly, most survey respondents (79%) said they would agree to more flexibility at work if it meant increasing the monitoring of their tasks. It seems that survey-takers seek flexibility, as these results suggest the benefits of remote working or the option of flexible hours outweigh the cons of extra supervision.
But most people don’t like to be continuously surveilled, and without transparency from employers, monitoring could affect employee morale. An ‘increase in stress levels’ (59%) and making employees ‘have less trust in the company’ (42%) were cited as the most negative effects of employee monitoring if more were introduced. But, it seems survey-takers are willing to face extra monitoring in return for additional freedoms.
Respondents thought the most positive effects of increased employee monitoring would be an ‘improvement and increase in overall productivity’ (47%) and being made to ‘feel more accountable for their actions’ (46%). Gathering data about team members’ work activity can help improve employee performance levels over time. Managers can identify problems early on and work closely with employees to address and reduce the number of issues.
How to implement a flexible working policy
The following steps can help businesses create flexible working policies:
1. Hold a trial run: For companies unsure about the impact of implementing flexible working arrangements, devising a trial program with one department or small groups of employees from different teams is a good place to start. Run the trial for a few months to gather as much insight as possible.
2. Make flexible working optional: Remote working, for example, is not feasible for some departments or roles. Equally, some workers may find it difficult to work from home due to distractions, whilst others may feel the same about the office. However, workers across all levels and fields may want the option of some degree of flexibility in their work arrangements. Employees can fill in surveys or answer poll questions to determine their work style preferences.
3. Ensure flexible working is a part of the company culture: Giving employees the option of flexible working and schemes, such as the four-day work week, could help increase employee satisfaction and may play a key role in work-life balance. It can also help create an environment built on trust and may increase worker productivity for some employees.
4. Clarify what productivity looks like: Measuring productivity levels does not have to be based on time, such as when employees clock in and out of their shifts. Employers can measure employee performance based on clearly defined key performance indicators (KPIs) and tie them to the goals of staff members.
5. Ensure software tools are in place: Adopting technologies, such as communication tools, is part of the solution for supporting flexible working practices. Software can help employers with collaboration, teamwork, reporting, and presenting clear objectives.
Investing in software to help facilitate flexibility in the workplace
When Capterra asked software users whether they think their company plans to invest in tools to enable more time and location flexibility at work in the next 12 months, most said no (40%). Only 29% said they expected more spending throughout 2023.
A previous survey by Capterra found that companies rated technologies related to IT management, CRM, and cybersecurity tools as the top investment priorities this year. Whilst these categories reflect the sectors that faced some of the biggest challenges in Australia in 2022, flexible working arrangements are also important as they can help attract workers in a tight labour market.
Most of the survey-takers (77%) who either expect their company to invest in tools or don’t know about purchase plans agree that their employer should spend more on software to help achieve more flexibility. This suggests these tools have a role to play in helping companies and staff adapt to more flexible working arrangements.
Companies should evaluate how adopting more flexible ways of working might benefit their workplace culture and employee engagement, especially as it encourages listening to employee needs. A flexible workplace could improve both employee retention and attract new talent. Implementing and investing in tools can help SMEs to achieve workplace flexibility and measure its impact, both in terms of employee productivity and overall job satisfaction.
Capterra conducted this survey online in January 2023 among 936 employees in Australia. The criteria for this study are as follows:
- Australian resident
- Aged between 18 to 65 years old
- Employed full-time
- Works in a company with 2-250 employees
- Works five days a week or more
- Works with a computer