What is flexible working and what’s changed?
Flexible working is “a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, e.g. having flexible start and finish times, or working from home” (gov.uk). It’s been a growing trend over the past decade and is increasingly important to younger workers in particular. Many companies already offer it but the UK Government has recently made it easier and safer to request for all employees with at least 26 weeks employment.
What does it mean for me?
You must consider any official written request in a “reasonable manner”. This is detailed in the Acas Code of Practice and includes such things as holding a meeting to discuss the request and assessing the advantages and disadvantages. You are only allowed to deny their request if you have a justified business reason for doing so and you cannot dismiss or treat an employee unfairly because of their application.
Will my employees work responsibly?
Flexible working is going to mean less contact time with staff and a common reaction to this is to expect more from employees who work from home to prove that they aren’t slacking off. This can create resentment from over-worked employees and dissatisfaction from managers. To avoid this, make sure you establish how performance will be measured. This can be difficult in less KPI-based roles but will help prevent issues arising later on. If anyone does show signs of not performing effectively, be sure to act on it quickly and efficiently. This not only enforces the arrangement, but is also fair to those who are working properly.
What about the other staff?
If you only offer flexible working to those that request it, you may also generate some frustration from new employees who can’t apply yet. This is easily resolved by offering it as a perk of every suitable job and can even help attract higher calibre talent to your company.
However, some roles may require working regular office hours and this can cause tension in a generally flexible office. Firstly, be as clear with them as possible. Explain why you can’t offer anything and give them a chance to say what they think. Secondly, offer as much flexibility as possible. What do you do when they’re on holiday? Can anyone else cover their role occasionally? Even the flexibility to start and finish slightly earlier or later can be very appreciated.
Will the work be less cohesive?
One of the legitimate concerns regarding flexible working is that having your employees separated by working hours or location can hinder productivity. You may want to schedule regular phone meetings or have at least one day a week in the office. Try things out and get feedback or suggestions to see what works for you and your employees. They’ll appreciate the effort and will want to make it work.
What are the benefits for me?
Flexible working has clearly proven to boost morale and job satisfaction. This can have knock-on effects such as fewer disputes and higher staff retention but has also been shown to improve motivation and output. That could mean that not only are your staff working harder but they’re happier about it!
An inflexible conclusion
Flexible working is a rapidly growing trend that now has government support. Resisting it is increasingly considered unnecessary and unattractive by employees, particularly as the job market improves and applicants become more discerning. To continue recruiting and retaining the best talent, offering flexible working will soon become a necessity you can’t ignore. You may as well embrace it.
For more information, visit gov.uk/flexible-working.