Contractors report cost savings with flexible working

Four contractors have found that the use of flexible-working policies has helped them to save money – with no negative impact on project timelines or quality standards.

Bam Construct, Bam Nuttall, Skanska UK and Willmott Dixon took part in a trial programme with consultancy Timewise from early 2020 until mid-2021, and have since continued to use the policies.

Flexible working includes measures such as changed shift patterns and remote working.

A new report on their progress following the end of the programme reveals that the measures paid off in reduced office overheads, business travel and sickness absences. However, some who took part feared that the potential financial savings from flexible working could lead to “a client expectation to see a reduction in their costs”.

Difficulties arose, though, in the challenge of offering flexible working to those who need to always be physically on site, and how to extend that flexibility to subcontractors’ workforces. Clients might also need to be convinced of the benefits, the report suggests.

Representative industry body Build UK’s chief executive, Suzannah Nichol (pictured), says in the introduction to the report Making Construction a Great Place to Work: Can Flexible Working Help? that the findings “demonstrated that flexible working can be implemented on construction sites, without negatively affecting budgets or delivery”.

For those whose physical presence is always required on site, the report suggests that flexibility could be offered with regard to start and finish times.

It notes that some managers are concerned that failure to offer flexibility in site roles “will lead to a shortage of workers willing to take on frontline and site-management roles”, and some had already noticed a trend among apprentices and graduates towards office-based jobs.

People employed by subcontractors are largely excluded from flexible working, and the report admits that “it will be a while before the progress ripples out widely across the sector”.

It adds: “Once the large construction firms have got their own houses in order, they will need to start having open conversations with their subcontractors to ensure transparency over working hours for frontline manual workers.”

Willmott Dixon and Bam Nuttall reported a reduction in sickness absence of 33 per cent since 2019, Bam Construct by 10 per cent, and Skanska by 33 per cent for one-day sickness absences.

Build UK called on the Construction Industry Training Board to develop more comprehensive training for managers on understanding flexible job design, as well as how to implement flexible working on construction sites.

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