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Flexible working, often presented as a benefit within organisations, can take so many forms. The level that organisations are able to offer will vary even within the same sectors.

We outline the various approaches employers are taking when it comes to defining what flexible working looks like in their business, the cultural impact associated with hot desking, remote working and four-day weeks and what has worked for various companies so far.

The right to flexible working

The onus is on the employee to make a request after 26 weeks’ qualifying service, with the right available to everyone, beyond just those with caring/parental responsibilities. The employee must justify how it will work, but the employer is able to reject applications on the basis of cost, ability to deliver customer service, inability to reorganise work or the risk of undermining the quality and performance of a job role. However, employers are expected to deal with each request in good faith, to identify how current constraints can be overcome.

The benefits of flexible working

The top benefits reported by employers include:

  1. Attracting and retaining talent
  2. Overcoming skills shortages
  3. Accessing wider talent pools
  4. Enabling employers to become more inclusive
  5. Fuelling productivity

All of these benefits are interconnected, as flexibility empowers employees, making the potential administrative inconvenience a secondary effect to the potential to drive productivity and innovation within organisations. This can fuel a truly effective culture where people want to join and stay, strengthening your employee value proposition.

According to People Management, online furniture company MADE offers ‘Everday Flex’. This is a scheme designed to let employees choose their schedule based on their working style and commitments outside of work, such as nursery drop offs or evening classes, which they say is how they hold on to ‘hard to keep talent’.

Where working from home is not an option

There are certain sectors where individuals must be physically present to carry out their role. Retail and healthcare are classic examples, however some employers in these sectors have strived to redefine flexible working to suit their culture and accommodate a diverse workforce.

Job design is critical to ensure that a part time role is accurately advertised as such. Instead of risking stress to individuals who try to squeeze a full working week into four days, careful consideration of the scope of each role ensures that job shares and part time manager roles can operate effectively. These roles have become more prevalent in retail and can still support career progression.

Redefining flexible working

Equally, the NHS has focused on offering “predictability” over “flexibility” for its 76 per cent female workforce, where working from home is not achievable for the NHS’ 150,000 doctors and 320,000 nurses. Offering greater certainty over hours, so that individuals can plan in advance, challenges the traditional ‘working from home’ definition assigned to flexible working and re-frames flexibility as the agility of each team to respond to their individual employees’ requirements, with more onus being placed on effective line management.

Innovative flexible working arrangements

Change can be hard for those used to working in a certain way, so defining what level of flexible working suits each organisation can optimise productive, happy and even loyal employees. The construction industry, typically involving fixed and long hours in addition to shift work, is increasingly looking at how job roles can be shared or whether site locations can be offered nearer to site managers’ homes for example. Flexible working pilots are being undertaken in the industry in collaboration with flexible working consultants Timewise to overcome constraints and realise employee potential through greater support.

Closing the gender pay gap

Construction company Morgan Sindall has focused on building a culture that welcomes flexibility in its head offices and sites across the UK, embedding this in its culture particularly to champion more females in the sector. Tapping into the female talent pool has been an objective made possible through reviewing every individual role and assessing what degree of flexibility could be offered for each. They have been acknowledged for their holistic approach – such as offering cover for site locations nearer to home, consistent line manager reviews to see what arrangements are working and flexible returner policies for new mums to support progression to senior roles. Compared to an industry average of 14 per cent women making up each workforce, Morgan Sindall have seen their numbers double to 21 per cent.

A retreat from flexibility?

The flexible working model works where productivity flourishes, but the model is based on trust. In some organisations the bubble has burst where presenteeism is equated with productivity, which is often an attitude set by new management. Some organisations are gradually retreating from these policies because of the additional administrative burden, such as health and safety checks required for home office areas, and the wider impact of remote working on the culture of their organisation. According to the CIPD’s 2019 Flexible Working Guide, considering the facilitators and barriers at manager, team and individual levels is a key step in assessing how you can harness the opportunities involved.

Achieving a cohesive culture

Hot desking is a good example of something that has become prevalent, but may pose a risk in some organisations to an effective culture of collaboration. The system requires a careful balance of all the pros and cons involved. However, trying to strengthen your culture by retreating from flexible policies that some may perceive as a backward step may undermine the basis of your working relationship in the future. Focusing on introducing more positive steps as opposed to retreating from flexibility may be the answer. Mentorships, better internal communication systems and equipping each individual with a sense of purpose in delivering the overall company vision will fuel productivity in the absence of a 9 to 5, desk-based role for each individual.

Recognising why employees need flexibility

Actively listening to employees in itself can drive down any retention issues being experienced by employers, so all requests for flexible working should be carefully considered in order to acknowledge and understand the drivers behind the request. This will ensure that each request can be suitably responded to, even if it’s not a straightforward yes from the employer. Employees could suggest a trial period and action plan, which would make it harder for employers to say no. Whilst the current legal framework puts the onus on employees to ask, 87 per cent of employees want to be able to work flexibly, so why wait? Enabling line managers to proactively identify how employees could be supported can achieve a healthier, happier and more productive workforce.

We’d love to discuss ways in which you can equip your managers to maximise the effectiveness of their teams. If you would like to discuss how you can support flexible working arrangements whilst optimising productivity within your organisation, get in touch.

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