This week, Small Business editor Caitlin Sykes talks to business owners about flexible working.

When staff at appointment booking software firm

have been with the company for a year they get a unique anniversary gift: a bathrobe.

All of Timely's 27 staff work remotely - and most from home - and the gift is a fun way to celebrate the way the company works, says CEO Ryan Baker.

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But while working flexibly from home might mean you have the option of rocking up to your desk in your robe, it's a misconception that flexible workers are likely to lounge around, he says. Timely's primary challenge managing a remote workforce is staff working too much.

"The first thing I'm usually asked about working remotely is 'how do you know people are productive?', and I think it's an unfortunate perception that an 'unmonitored' person won't be productive. We literally have the opposite problem."

Baker says the company reaps a number of rewards from flexible working, but the primary one is around recruitment.

"Being able to offer people the ability to work from home and flexibly around their lives, whether they're into climbing mountains or they're looking after kids, really strikes a chord with some people. We've been able to attract some really talented people because that's the way they want to work."

Carol Brown is CEO of diversity consultancy Diversitas, and says business owners need to understand increasing workplace flexibility is an irreversible trend.

With an increasingly diverse workforce, businesses are having to juggle the needs of different workers to keep people engaged, she says, and workers are wanting to create more sustainable arrangements with their work where they're not having to pay a price either personally or professionally.

Adopting flexible work design as a strategic part of your people practices means you're able to attract the best talent and keep them engaged in your organisation. The research shows that when workers achieve a work/life balance they're more productive and give their best discretionary effort.

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Steve Abley is managing director of

, where all 38 staff are able to work flexibly, and there are no prescriptive 'core hours'.

"Some choose greater flexibility like permanently shorter hours but obviously that comes at an expense of a salary sacrifice," explains Abley. "Most people in the team simply appreciate it as the ability to fit day-to-day outside activities into their working week."

Abley says creating a culture that empowers personal responsibility has been key to making flexibility work in the organisation, and that starts with getting staff with the right cultural fit into the organisation to begin with.

"You could be god's gift to traffic engineering and technically brilliant but if you've got some cultural behaviours we don't think will fit with our team then it's a 'do not pass go' moment."

Workshops on the benefits of flexibility and diversity for small to medium businesses will be held in Christchurch, Wellington and Hamilton in early 2016. For more information, contact the Chambers of Commerce in those areas or go to www.women.govt.nz/news for more