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Does your estate agency need to be more flexible?

It’s no secret that technology has changed the way businesses operate, in all sectors. With that has come changes to the way we work too, as more and more owners strive to become an ‘employer of choice’ and enable their staff to achieve more of a work-life balance.

A few years ago, ‘flexible working’ would have been considered a ‘buzzword’ - something desirable but only really available to working mothers.

Now, it’s become a full-blown trend with businesses up and down the country adopting some form of flexible working policy.

But while a search for ‘flexible working’ results in articles on how the certain industries are embracing these new practices, there is very little guidance out there for estate agencies and why they should consider implementing such an arrangement.

To help you understand more about the benefits to both your business and your staff, it’s important to dispel a number of myths that surround the topic of flexible working.

Here are a few…

Myth #1 - it’s only for working mothers

As mentioned above, there was once the notion that only working mothers could benefit from flexible working. It may have started out like that, but recent figures show that 58% of employees now have access to some form of flexible working arrangement (such as job sharing, compressed hours, flexi-time or annualised hours).

Other studies show that having such policies in place makes a business more appealing, and that people would rather choose flexible working over a pay rise!

It’s something that’s being adopted by a wide number of industries, with millennials really leading the way - 7 in 10 (73%) of those aged 18 to 34 who are working full-time are doing so flexibly. Equally, in the same study of 3,000 UK adults, 84% of men say they work flexibly or wish to do so.

What’s more, anyone has the right to request flexible working, as long as they’ve been working at the same company continuously for 26 weeks.

Myth #2 - it will negatively impact productivity levels

Let’s say you run a small estate agency with 10 members of staff - it’s natural that you’d worry about the lack of control if you implemented a company-wide flexible working policy; how do you ensure everyone remains as productive as they would be in the office?

What’s interesting is the number of studies that indicate that employees are more productive when working from home, or a different environment. This may be because individuals feel less distracted and stressed giving them the time they need to get their head down and focus on their to-do list.

Furthermore, 58% of people believe that working away from the office would help them become more motivated, according to this Powwownow study, and similarly, 53% of people feel they would be more productive if they could work outside the office.

In regards to measuring productivity levels, the great thing about advancements in technology is that there are now so many cloud-based time tracking and project management tools to choose from, no matter what size of business you run, or what industry you work in.

Myth #3 - it won’t be any good for communication

Another worry that entrepreneurs have is that communication will break down if people are allowed to work ‘as they please’. Once again, technology plays a big part in facilitating this, with so many instant messaging and communication tools on the market to explore, helping both flexible and office workers stay updated in real-time.

One avenue you may wish to look into is unified communications (UC). With UC, all staff will be using the same one system for phone calls, instant messaging, conferencing and video calls, which not only saves time and money but ensures consistency across the business (especially important if you have multiple branches). Often, these systems can also be used to monitor workflow and how productively people are working.

Myth #4 - there are too many safety risks

Cybersecurity and data protection has never been so important, especially in the era of GDPR. There are security risks that come with staff working away from the office, just like there are when staff are working at the office! If your agents are working out and about then it’s vital you educate them on the perils of connecting to public Wi-Fi. These networks are vulnerable to hackers and may even be fakes set up to look like trusty public hotspots.

Instead, remote works should connect via a secure private network, a personal hotspot or a company VPN (virtual private network). In addition, you should also stress to staff the importance of accessing secure sites with the HTTPS protocol (as opposed to HTTP) and why they should change their password on a regular basis.

As with any business that requires the handling of payment details, it’s also imperative that agents are aware of the offline risks too - paperwork can be a data protection disaster waiting to happen!

*Alex Tebbs is co-founder of unified communications specialist VIA

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