Flexible working has clear business benefits for organisations and individuals, but is it the panacea everyone is predicting?

Remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic has led many people, and businesses to re-evaluate howwhen and where they work, here we discuss what flexible working is and how to deal with it in a way that aligns to your business needs.

A well thought out flexible working programme can help attract talent, improve employee job satisfaction, reduce absenteeism and enhance wellbeing, but let’s first define what flexible working is….

  • Staggered hours mean an employee having different start, finish and break times compared to other workers. It’s often used for service or manufacturing staff, who often can’t work from home but seek more flexibility. Staggered shifts or hours also reduces the likelihood of large numbers of people travelling at peak times and groups of employees arriving and leaving at the end of the day.
  • Compressed hours: The central feature here is the reallocation of work into fewer and longer blocks during the week – eg working full-time hours over fewer days.
  • Part-time working:  working fewer hours or days a week
  • Job sharing: A form of part-time working where two (or sometimes more) people share the responsibility for a job between them and split the hours.
  • Hybrid working or blended working, where employees travel into the office for some of the week and work remotely for the remainder. It also has the benefit of saving time travelling to and from work and allowing organisations to save money by reducing their office space.
  • Flexitime: Choosing when to start and end work, often whilst maintaining a core set of hours, that suits the business needs. 

To be successful, a hybrid model requires planning, organisation and experimentation if it is to be successful, and it should be tailored to the unique needs of the business or department rather than an individual.

 

Making flexible working work for you – our top 10 tips

After the last year, the traditional stock response of “the business cannot support this” does not hold much weight now, so all requests should be dealt with the following in mind.

  1. All requests should be made and dealt with in line with your flexible working policies. If you haven’t already done so now is the time to revisit and update them where necessary. Ensure they accurately reflect the options available after the last year.
  2. For consistency and fairness, look at all job roles even those that haven’t traditionally been seen as suitable for flexible working. 
  3. Communicating the different types of flexible arrangements you offer, is key to managing flexible working requests in a fair, feasible manner, not all businesses can offer everything (and you’re not obliged to!) Be clear on what’s available within your business, and who would benefit from it.
  4. Ensure the task fits the hours, review the jobs that suit the flexible pattern (eg, make sure full-time jobs are not squeezed into part-time hours, that just leads to added stress and overworking). 
  5. Make sure you involve managers in the process, they can differentiate the tasks employees perform at specific hours to aid decision making and effective working out comes.
  6. Proactively embrace a team-based approach to designing work patterns, supporting those involved to co-ordinate patterns of availability makes good business sense.
  7. Be clear about the degree of formality involved in any change to flexibility of hours, and whether this is a permanent arrangement or a change to terms of employment. Your policy should be clear on your expectations and outcomes. 
  8. Involve your teams in these processes and ensure line managers are on board at all times; this’ll help employees work collaboratively when they may be working different hours or present in the physical workspace on different days compared to their colleagues.
  1. Trial flexible working arrangements for a set period of time; this’ll show you what works and pinpoint any problems. Any issues highlighted in the trial can then be adjusted before making anything permanent.
  2. Measure and evaluate flexible working and learn from trials using data and measures.

Some legal considerations

Who has the right to request flexible working?

Employees have the right to make a flexible working request if:

  • you’ve employed them for at least 26 weeks
  • they’re legally classed as an employee
  • they’ve not made another flexible working request in the last 12 months

The right to request flexible working applies to all employees, including those who are:

  • parents
  • carers
  • women returning from maternity leave

Requests from parents or carers should not be prioritised over requests from other employees.

If you’re planning on make permanent changes to shifts and working hours, you’ll need to follow the rules governing contractual changes, as employers who attempt ‘imposed’ changes to employees’ contracts without agreement will be in breach of contract. 

An employer can make a change (‘variation’) to an employment contract if:

  • the employee agrees to the change
  • the employee’s representatives agree to the change (for example, a trade union).

Such changes could include an amendment to working hours. If an employee’s contract normally involves changing shift patterns, the contract may set out the minimum number of hours the employee is required to work. Employers may then be able to change those shift patterns, provided the employee is still being asked to work their agreed number of hours and there is no discrimination in the new patterns.

For consistency and fairness, ensure ongoing access to development and careers opportunities remain open to all flexible workers. 

If you would like to discuss how flexible working could support your business, please get in touch for a FREE initial discovery call.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this guidance is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. While the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances may impact the accuracy and validity of the information.  You are advised to seek relevant professional advice before taking any action.

Rowan Consulting

Management & HR Consultants

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