Can you really offer flexible working in the construction industry?

Posted by Derek Mason

17th August 2021

Photo by Ümit Yıldırım on Unsplash

Flexible working is shown to increase wellbeing, as well as productivity. Several studies have shown that flexible working is good for the mental health of our workforce, and that offering some flexibility helps with staff retention.

In my opinion, these studies back up something that most of us instinctively understand to be true. But, of course, it can be more challenging to offer flexibility in the construction sector, due to the constraints of working on-site.

So it is interesting to look at the results of a pilot scheme involving four major construction companies. BAM Construct, BAM Nuttall, Skanska UK and Willmott Dixon – who collectively employ approximately 11,000 people – took part in the scheme from June 2020 to February 2021.

Different firms tested different flexible working models, including an approach that took individual workers’ preferences into account, and one that let workers accumulate extra hours, which they could swap for a day off each month. They trialled earlier starts and finishes, staggered start times and a choice of break times, and limiting hours to 45 per week including breaks. And they tested out setting working hours based on a detailed schedule of work that gave required outputs for each day.

After the pilot, workers mentioned a positive shift in wellbeing, as well as improvements to family life. Managers felt there was a better team dynamic and a greater sense of trust. Overwork decreased, and 84% of workers felt they had enough time to take care of their own health and wellbeing, compared with 48% at the start of the pilot.

The companies who took part said they saw no negative impact on project budgets or timeframes. Some of the data suggests that adjusting work patterns for greater flexibility could drive savings, due to greater productivity.

I don’t think the results of this pilot are particularly surprising, but this is a positive step forward for the industry as a whole, as it shows what can be done to make conditions better for our workers.

I’ve always believed in offering flexible working to my team, meaning they can choose their working hours (within reason) and have flexibility in their schedules as well as some remote working if they want it, although I find my team prefer to be in the office (especially after the last year or so).

Some people are early birds and some people are night owls, and it doesn’t make sense to force people to go against their nature. For example, one of my team likes to work from 7.30am to 4pm, to miss the morning and evening rush hour. Another likes to finish in time to pick their daughter up from nursery. And one prefers to work 10am to 6.30pm. Assuming you make sure your lone workers are safe (I get the last person in the office to contact me when they’ve left so I know they’re ok) it makes sense to offer some flexibility.

When the weather looks good at the weekend, I’m happy for my team to work extra hours on Thursday and finish early on Friday. As long as the work gets done, I don’t need to police people. This give and take means my team get to spend more time with their friends and family, to have a schedule that suits them, and to know that they’re trusted and valued.

I hope that this approach can be adopted more widely in the construction industry. More than 3 million people work in construction in the UK, making up 9% of the economy, so a lot of people would feel the benefit.

Meanwhile, if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch with me or my very flexible team.

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