The Evolution of Workplace Flexibility in the Era of Technology

Introduction

The Human Resource Department and the workplace are some of the most dynamic areas in different fields of business and organizations around the world. Human resource is increasingly being impacted by current trends such as technology, globalization and even the occurrence of disruptive factors and influences such as the covid-19 pandemic currently present all across the world. These three factors have especially been impactful to various aspects of HR and the workplaces including the flexibility as well as diversity. As a result of the social distancing and other preventive measures brought about in the last year due to the covid-19 pandemic outbreak, different organizations and businesses have adopted teleconferencing and telecommuting as major changes in the workplace to enhance flexibility and continued productivity and profitability. This essay looks to delineate flexible working and other aspects of flexibility within the workplace, highlighting the reasons and significance of these changes in the contemporary workplace.

Flexible Working

Flexible working can be defined as working structures and arrangement in which employees of a given organization are afforded significant freedom in how and when they fulfill their obligations and tasks to the organization. According to Gov.uk (2020), flexible working is a schedule of working that effectively suits an employee’s needs in terms of space and time. Employees can have their own determined flexible start and finish times and also poses the freedom with regards to where they work including working from home or possibly the park, a restaurant or work stations. Heathfield (2021) advances that the most common type of flexible working include “Flextime” a nontraditional working arrangement in which the employee is allowed greater opportunity to determine what time they report to and leave work every day, provided that they work for the total amount of hours required by the employer.

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As a result of current developments such as technological advancements that have shifted significant working operations to the online domain, coupled with the currently experienced covid-19 pandemic, other flexible working arrangements have been increasingly adopted and become common place among multiple organizations. For instance job-sharing, compressed working weeks and most commonly telecommuting. While these arrangements are yet to be fully accepted and effectively practiced among different organizations all across the world, countries such as the UK have employment laws and regulations that allow employees to be able to request for flexible working hours from their employer. This allows employees to not only engage in working related activities when they are sufficiently motivated and ready for it, but also to be able to take control of their day and schedule other activities effectively, ultimately leading to increased satisfaction, productivity, performance and retention by the organization.

Organization Flexibility

In addition to being able to offer effective flexibility for the workers with regards to their working time and other work related activities, Organizations need also be significantly flexible to enhance benefits such as increased performance and productivity and subsequent competitive advantage. According to Taylor (2019) within an organization set up, flexibility can be adopted to refer to a wide range of different areas of activity, however most commonly; flexibility within organizations is categorized under two major themes’ including Structural Flexibility and Cultural Flexibility.

Structural Flexibility

Organization structures can be defined as the various patterns by which organizations are divided and interconnected to impact coordination and control of different tasks and activities. These are the bureaucratic divisions of labor alongside effective control and coordination between different tasks and activities to develop effective communication and cooperation (Sayyadi, 2019). They highlight the different types of job descriptions and the contract under which each personnel works as well as the architecture of the organization’s Human Resource. Structural flexible organizations according to Taylor (2019) deploys people as and when they are needed using a variety of contractual arrangements, and expects its people to work in a variety of different roles as and when required.

A structurally flexible organization has significant talent specialized for each aspect of operation or production and individuals filling these positions are effectively qualified for them and as such contribute towards work efficiency. Structural flexibility enables an organization to be able to react and respond rapidly enough to any changing circumstances in the market, business environment and evolving customer expectations (Taylor, 2019). On the other hand, structurally inflexible organizations can be characterized by employees with the same set of skills and talents employed under the same terms and conditions and thereby working in narrowly defined jobs where the employees are required to fit into the task appointed to them. This leads to a fairly rigid organization structure making it impossible to effectively react and respond to any sudden changes in the business environment or market.

Cultural Flexibility

Cultural flexibility is concerned with organizations beliefs, ideas and values and whether they are flexible enough to accommodate other beliefs and values from diverse employees and or partners. In an increasingly globalizing world where different countries with different cultural concepts and working rules are forced to work with one another for enhanced productivity and development maintaining cultural flexibility affords an organization significant opportunity for development. Prudence (2010) defines cultural flexibility as the propensity and ability to value, move across as well as appreciate different cultural set ups, beliefs and ideas. In addition cultural flexibility also looks into an individual’s ability to appreciate and interact with different social peer groups and environments that are unlike their own.

Organizations that are culturally flexible have the ability to appreciate different cultures and ideas and accommodate them for the sake of enhancing development and productivity. Such organizations have a better chance of appreciating companies from different countries built on different cultures and customs and as such enable multicultural collaborations that impact diversity, creativity and innovation, thereby ultimately gaining a potential competitive advantage. According to Taylor (2019), it is little use having an organisation that is structurally flexible if its people do not share a flexible mindset. The willingness of the personnel and the company to appreciate and effectively respond to change is as significant as the ability to do so. As such through developing a tolerant organization culture that is appreciative of diversity and flexibility and getting the personnel to commit to and appreciate the diversity leads to a more culturally flexible organization with an ultimate increased chance and potential for growth and competitive advantage.

John Atkinson’s proposed model of flexible working and a flexible working environment ‘the Flexible Firm’ premises that an effectively flexible firm is made up of three basic groups of employees: Core Workers, Peripheral workers and a third subcontracted group of employees often as a result of outsourcing Human resource (Taylor, 2019). This indicates a significantly complex business environment requiring specialization and division of labor and adopting specialized employees for every specialized task and activity rather than carrying out such activities in-house in a rigid workplace.

Reasons and significance for increased flexibility

Increasing globalization and technological development highlights among the major reasons why organizations are increasingly adopting flexible structures, cultures and working patterns. Sharma, Sushill and Jain (2010) advance that globalization is a major driving force for the contemporary business environment as a wide range of companies in developed and developing countries are seeking to go international. Appreciating and working with different cultural set ups, rules and regulations have led to the increased tolerance for cultural diversity among a wide range of companies and is significantly contributing to increased flexibility among different firms.

Further Baran and Udres (2016) advance the development of technology as a significant driver of flexibility among different organizations in the contemporary business environment. Given the development of easy ways of communication and collaboration in the online domain such as teleconferencing and emailing services, workers are increasingly developing a culture of flexible work environment and subsequently influencing employees to change their workplace policies and structure. Technological advancements enable the development of flexible working patterns such as job sharing and telecommuting which further contribute to employee productivity and performance convincing organizations to increasingly enhance flexibility within the workplace.

According to Taylor (2019), an inherent belief is that organizations that gain a capacity for greater flexibility can develop sustained competitive advantage. This advantage is effectively gained in three distinct ways including: deploying and use of talent more effectively and appropriately, acquiring an increased ability to effectively and rapidly respond to changes in the business environment and demonstrating value to employees which lead to increased productivity and retention. Effectively flexible organization both in the structural and cultural aspects are better able to use different employees who demonstrate effective talent despite their cultural background or any other personal differences they may have with the organization. Such firms can as such acquire the best talent and effectively use them in enhancing organization performance.

Flexible organization are also in a better position to react to any changes in the business environment including marketing demographics or changes in consumer taste and preferences, in this way such organizations are able to deliver any products and services that may be required by customers ahead of less flexible ones affording it a distinct competitive advantage. In addition, flexible organizations are more likely to allow flexible working strategies such as Flextime and telecommuting which enhance the satisfaction of employees thereby boosting their performance and productivity as well as the organizations potential to retain them. This ultimately impacts enhanced organization productivity and performance.

Conclusion

Organization flexibility in terms of structure and culture are significant in the contemporary environment and not only enhance the company’s performance and productivity but also enhances the retention of talent which enhances creativity, innovation and the organizations competitive advantage. Through adopting a flexible organization structure and culture, and allowing flexibility in working, employees are able to manage themselves within the stipulated guidelines of the organizations and are therefore more productive in terms of performance and creativity. Employees working within a flexible workplace are also more likely to be adequately satisfied by their job and thereby maintain working for the company rather than switching jobs. Flexible working strategies such as job sharing, teleconferencing and telecommuting are also gaining significant traction and popularity due to various HR trends such as globalization and advancement in technology.

Task 2: Outsourcing

Introduction

Technological development and globalization have impacted significant aspects of different organizations leading to growth and development of businesses beyond the scope of the original mission and vision. Given the increasing need to do everything required for the business in the right way rather than in house within the organization, outsourcing of Human Resource has significantly grown as a business HR aspect among multiple multinational and local organizations. Outsourcing refers to the process of renting or contracting out a significant aspect of a business’ or organization’s operations to a third party company that has effective expertise of handling them. It is a common business occurrence especially in flexible organizations and business environments. This essay looks to intrinsically evaluate outsourcing of Human resource, outlining the rational for effective outsourcing as well as its merits and demerits.

Outsourcing

Outsourcing is a significant aspect of business and business organization given the critical need for specialization. Despite being a common occurrence among multiple businesses in the contemporary business environment, there is a significant variation with regards to its definition. While one group of scholars sees it as buying resources from external providers of services that could be provided internally, others have the perspective that it involves purchasing of services that cannot professionally be provided in-house as a result of lack of specialization. According to Overby (2017) outsourcing refers to a concurrent business practice where services or job functions of one organization are farmed out to third party provides. An organization hires third party professionals to provide specialized services or perform specified tasks within the company regardless of whether or not the company is able handle the work by themselves in-house.

Outsourcing as such includes both perspectives highlighted by the scholars and is taken up by an organization as a strategy for enhanced production and profitability. On the one hand according to Kakabadse and Kakabadse (2002), outsourcing is synonymous to subcontracting which includes purchase of services from a provider who is better placed and qualified to provide the services. On the other hand however Outsourcing can also take a the form of a franchising agreement, partnership or joint venture where a third party company takes over the running of key business operations of another organization within a designated location on behalf of the outsourcing company. Outsourcing provides a significant aspect of organization flexibility enabling organizations to develop effective competitive advantage in the contemporary business environment. However Outsourcing is not a new concept. According to Dolgui and Proth (2013) Small firms have been intensively involved in outsourcing in the past preferring and prioritizing outsourcing certain services because they lack the resources and the size to justify employing specialists such as accountants, lawyers, engineers and IT experts on a constant basis

Drawing on statistics from government figures, Workplace employment relationship surveys and other individual studies Colling (2005) shows that there were very substantial extensions of outsourcing during the 1990s in the UK indicating the pedigree of the business practice. Further Kersley et al (2006) showed that the trend then continued in the first years of the 21st century, but they balanced this by recording many instances of previously outsourced functions being brought back in-house. A 2011 survey reported a net decline in the incidence of new subcontracting arrangements occurring since 2004 (van Wanrooy et al, 2013). Since then, while global outsourcing has continued to expand steadily across the whole world with increasing multinational organization and cross cultural collaborations, some UK sectors have reported further modest decline of the practice. The public sector, in particular, is less inclined to outsource activities than it was 10 years ago.

Rationale for Outsourcing

Despite being a common and effective strategy in enhancing business flexibility and impacting increased performance and productivity of an organization, outsourcing is not the best option in all instances where additional professional services are required by an organization. According to Manning et al. (2008) outsourcing is heavily determined by low labor costs and global talent hunt to focus and achieve effectively on a business’s core competencies. Through outsourcing non critical and non strategic operations and tasks to outside providers an organization can effectively enhance the achievement of its core competencies. Some of the factors considered by organizations in making effective decisions on outsourcing include: the cost factors, the competency of the available third party human resource, and the potential relationship developed on account of the outsourcing.

According to Iqbal and Dad (2013) outsourcing is only viable when it brings about cost benefits to the organization. A wide range of scholars including (Kakabadse and Kakabadse, 2005, wang et al., 2008; Sharma and Loh, 2009; Herath and Kishore ,2009) further confirm that cost reduction is the most significant driver of outsourcing. However companies will also only involve competent third party companies in outsourcing so as to enhance the competency and quality of outcomes. For example mobile communication service will only higher third party customer management services if the customer care agents are competent at handling customers for effective care and support. In addition the outsourcing organization has to be able to develop an effective partnership and relationship with the third company to enhance effective collaboration and coordination with them and thus foster adequate and effective outcomes. As an aspect of enhancing organization flexibility outsourcing has significant merits and demerits to consider before its adoption.

Merits of Outsourcing

Outsourcing has a wide range of benefits for the organizations that adopt it as a flexibility enhancing strategy. Among the major benefit as highlighted by Riggins (2021) include having access to expert and professional services that eventually impact success in the organization. Outsourcing services to third party human resource that are more qualified and specialized enhances the efficiency of the organization’s performance which ultimately impacts their success. For example, rather than presenting themselves in legal matters which are often rampant for a large company dealing with multiple other companies, A multinational company such as Coca cola, hires a law for to help represent it in court. In this way, Coca cola receives the best legal representation and support by lawyers who are adequately qualified to handle different aspects of the field of Law.

Patricia (2017) further highlights that through engaging in outsourcing an organization can maintain focus on the core issues and activities that matter to the ultimate strategy and goal of the organization. Rather than being distracted by activities and tasks in which the organization has no competent employees or talent for, outsourcing such talent helps to keep the available employees on their normal duties which are significant to the ultimate goal of the organization. This also enables the organization to handle all its activities in a timely manner as time is saved through the employment of third party professionals who are competent at their work.

Outsourcing also has the benefit of reduced cost of production. Indulging in activities and tasks with limited knowledge and expertise is likely to impact increased spending on resources as well as time. Given that third party companies are essentially competent on such specialized activities they will utilize resources optimally and finish the tasks within a much shorter period thereby saving the company significantly on costs. Further in outsourcing contracts, the outsourcing company and the third party company that is outsourced often share risks thereby minimizing the burden of risk on the outsourcing company.

Demerits of Outsourcing

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Outsourcing however may also exhibit significant demerits major among them being the loss of control on specific processes and procedures of implementation of the outsourced tasks (Riggins, 2021). Outsourcing services means handing over control to a third party; this, in high risk business environment is a potential risk that an organization may not be willing to take. Further in the age of Big data management and data protection, handing over an aspect of a project through outsourcing to a third party provides a potential security risk to the organizations competitive advantage. Third parties can potentially leak of fraud business processes and activities leading to the production of similar products which may ultimately minimize the competitive advantage of the outsourcing company.

Conclusion

Outsourcing as a strategy for organization flexibility serves to enhance its productivity, performance and competitive advantage through employing the use of experts and highly qualified individuals in different aspects and services of the organization. As a business strategy, outsourcing bares significant merits including production of enhanced quality of work output, saving on costs and spending as well as sharing of risk with another party. It also enables an organization to maintain effective focus on core issues and activities that impact the expected goals and objectives significantly. However, it also exhibits demerits such as not being able to control the quality of output and offering a potential leak to top secret and private business endeavors.

References

Dolgui, A. and Proth, J., 2013. Outsourcing: definitions and analysis. International Journal of Production Research, 51(23-24), pp.6769-6777.

Gov.UK, 2020. Flexible working. [online] GOV.UK. Available at: .

Herath, T. and Kishore, R. 2009. “Offshore outsourcing: risks, challenges, and potential solutions,” Information Systems Management, 26 (4), 312-326.

Heathfield, S., 2021. The Pros and Cons of a Flexible Work Schedule. [online] The Balance Careers. Available at: .

Iqbal, Z. and Dad, A., 2013. Outsourcing: A Review of Trends, Winners & Losers and Future Directions. International Journal of Business and Social Science, [online] 4(8), pp.91-107. Available at: [Accessed 27 March 2021].

Kakabadse, A & Kakabadse, N (2005) ‘Outsourcing: Current and Future Trends’. Thunderbird International Business Review, Vol. 47(2) 183–204

Overby, S., 2017. What is outsourcing? Definitions, best practices, challenges and advice. [online] CIO. Available at: .

Patricia, 2017. Advantages and Disadvantages of Outsourcing | Smart Church Management. [online] Smart Church Management. Available at: .

Prudence, C., 2010. Race and Cultural Flexibility among Students in Different Multiracial Schools. Teachers College Record, [online] 112(6), pp.1529-1574. Available at: [Accessed 27 March 2021].

Riggins, N., 2021. 20 Advantages and Disadvantages of Outsourcing from Your Small Business - Small Business Trends. [online] Small Business Trends. Available at: .

Sayyadi, M., 2019. Improving Performance: Flexible Organizational Structures. [online] Performancemagazine.org. Available at: .

Sharma, A & Loh, P (2009) ‘Emerging Trends in Sourcing of business services’. Business Process Management Journal. Vol. 15 No. 2

Sharma, M., Shufil, P. and Jain, P., 2010. Revisiting flexibility in organizations: Exploring its impact on performance. Global Journal of Flexible Systems Management, [online] 11(3), pp.51-68. Available at: [Accessed 27 March 2021].

Taylor, S., 2019. Resourcing and talent management. Kogan Page Publishers.

Wang, L., Gwebu, K.L., Wang, J & Zhu, D.X (2008) ‘The Aftermath of Information Technology Outsourcing: An empirical Study of Firm Performance following outsourcing Decisions’. Journal of Information Systems, Vol. 22 Issue 1, p125-159


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