10 top tips on how to make flexible working ‘work’ in your business

Flexible WorkingLet’s explore the challenges that businesses face when accommodating part time and remote working. If you read on you can see our 10 top tips, great ideas if you are in a business that is reluctant, or struggling, to engage in flexible working practices.

What do we mean by flexible working?

Flexible working (also known as part time, remote, home working, flexi-time, condensed hours, annual hours, term time only hours…the list goes on!), has been around for many years and research has shown that it brings a whole host of advantages to both employees and employers:

  • Improving productivity through increased employee motivation.
  • Retaining valued employees who may not be able to work full time.
  • Addressing skills gaps.
  • Tapping into top talent by making work more accessible to those with carer responsibilities.
  • Reducing sickness absence as a result of boosting a healthier work life balance.
  • Better engagement.
  • Increasing the talent pool at recruitment.

The benefits, if you can get it right, are seemingly endless. Read more about flexible working trends and benefits.

How widespread is flexible working?

Not all employers recognise or value these benefits . Many employees are still not being given any options around flexible working, despite the fact that since 2014 all employees have had the right to request flexible working arrangements.

Of course, flexible working won’t work in every situation and for every role, but we have to question if employers are fully exploring options or has someone somewhere just decided ‘no’ at some point? Have you decided that the extra admin and extra cost just makes flexi working a non starter?

In 2018, the Government launched a ‘Flexible Working Taskforce’ with the aim of boosting flexible working across the economy so no doubt flexi working across sectors will continue to become more widespread, but before we look at some of the barriers, let’s take a moment to remind you of the ‘legals’…

A legal reminder…

  • All employees, with 26 weeks service are entitled to request flexible working.
  • Only one flexible working request can be submitted in a 12-month period.
  • When someone requests flexible working there is formal procedure you have to follow and time limits for doing that.
  • Whilst not a legal requirement, it is recommended by ACAS that you hold a meeting with the employee and offer them the option of being accompanied.
  • If you reject a flexible working request, you must have a sound justifiable business reason one of which might be the anticipated additional cost burden.

The barriers to flexi working

Before coming to our top tips on how to get it right, let’s briefly look at some of the brick walls and challenges of flexi working, which of these applies in your business?

Communication

Let’s be honest, it does take extra effort and a fair degree of planning to keep people who work part time or remotely in touch with everything that’s going on. Also face-to-face meetings can sometimes be harder to arrange or more effort for a manager to attend and the value of the informal day-to-day communication (water cooler, passing in the car park etc.) that is lost when someone isn’t around should not be underestimated.

But managers rise to many other challenges so they can rise to these too, assuming they like the look of the list of benefits we provided earlier! And video calls, chat functions etc. have all made communication a whole heap easier – assuming managers are using the tools available to them for great communication.

Resourcing

Again, it’s not always fun when someone is expected to be working, only for you to find out that they are not! Many of us find it nigh on impossible to keep track of the endless variations of working patterns of our colleagues, or even where they are today working from, but what would it really take for us to be a little more adaptable and flexible and to hold ourselves back from thinking that everyone should be working just like us!

Also, if we focus on outputs rather than inputs then the issue of hours/days and location becomes somewhat less critical. It’s perhaps also a good opportunity to think more widely about how hours are covered, clients supported, products created etc. as flexi working creates opportunities when it comes to resourcing as well as the aforementioned practical challenges.

Social isolation

Remote working is often ‘requested in haste and repented at leisure’….is that how the saying goes? In our experience employees requesting remote working often think about the positives whilst refusing to listen to any of the warnings about social isolation. But social isolation creeps up on many and can become a major headache for managers seeking to keep their remote worker on track.

According to Forbes, 21% of remote workers named loneliness as their main challenge. One obvious solution is to not offer full time remote working but, wherever possible, offer a blend of office/workplace and home working.  If the employee is not able to spend time with colleagues though due to distance from office, disability etc. then some serous planning and communication is needed to ensure the arrangement is both sustainable and productive for both parties.

Full timers kick back

We have all been there, seeing a part time colleague rush out the door to collect their kids from school or do a bit of gardening whilst we dig in for the rest of the working day. It’s tough seeing someone head for freedom whilst we are locked down, but the reality is that most part timers are not leaving with a view to putting their feet up, they are leaving because they have another job to do (paid or unpaid).

So really the issue here is with the mental blocks people (you and we) have and assumptions people make about who is most hard done by when it comes to work. And nothing will square this circle until everyone stops comparing themselves to everyone else and taking the view that the grass is always greener – it often isn’t.

There is no harm though in companies being a little more considerate towards their full-time workers, being aware of the dangers of burnout, stress, anxiety when they have to cram their entire personal life into a few hours each evening or weekend. Acknowledge and don’t ignore, the added pressure so many full timers experience whilst their part time colleagues head off.

Part time holidays

It’s no mean feat to calculate the legal holiday entitlement of a part time employee. So, if you need to ask us for advice! But not understanding the calculation should not be a barrier to recruiting a flexi worker in the first place. Equally, don’t just give them full time holiday rights as we find so many do as a result of having no clue how to calculate it.

Increased costs

When push comes to shove you just can’t give a part time worker half a car, half a uniform, ¾ of a training course or a sandwich without any filling. Some costs in the workplace just can’t be pro-rated and having a serious discussion about the additional cost of a part timer is essential if you are to deal with it, remind yourself of the benefits part time staff bring and then move on. But not having this discussion leads to resentment and frustration and that’s useful for no one.

But let’s now move on from the challenges to the advantages of bringing in more flexible working, as there are many advantages if you care to analyse and consider properly.

Ten top tips for beginning to open your workplace to flexible working

1. Strategy

Be clear on the reasons why you want to offer flexible working and acknowledge the benefits it brings to your organisation. This will make resistance from managers or employees who are anti-flexible working easier to overcome.

2. Balance

Analyse what the right ratio of full timers to part timers might be for your individual teams/departments to ensure the operation of the business and wellbeing of all staff aren’t compromised if too many requests for flexible working get submitted!

3. Communication

The more flexible workers you have the more you need to up your game with communication. What tools do you use to keep people in the loop, are they working, do you communicate often enough, is communication lazy?

4. Culture

Create a culture and environment where employees feel comfortable to raise frustrations and concerns with you about their own and others’ working patters so they can be discussed before resentment sets in. The culture you are aiming for is one of give and take!

5. Outputs not inputs

If you can, find ways to focus on outputs (what is produced or done) rather than inputs (hours worked). If output is high, then why worry about when and how people achieve results for your business.

6. Personal accountability

Put time into ensuring everyone is clear on tasks/goals and expectations. Train managers to feel confident to hold others to account.

7. Paperwork

Have a clear Flexible Working Policy so everyone understands the process and ‘rules of engagement’. Ensure managers understand the policy. Encourage good problem solving and innovative solution finding rather than defensiveness from managers.

8. HR

Get advice or involve HR sooner rather than later when problems crop up. Little issues have a nasty habit of becoming big issues if not properly managed.

9. Boundaries

Set clear boundaries for remote working in relation to communication, work/office space, travelling, hours etc. It might be obvious to you that work should not take second place to dog walking during working hours, but don’t assume it is to them. Set the boundaries of expected behaviours!

10. Focus

Get your managers to refocus away from what isn’t working, and focus on how to make it work. With a positive attitude so much can be achieved. With a negative attitude your managers will behave like victims. No one can afford or work with that!

HR headaches, in tray too full of the jobs you don’t want to do, large project looming, Jaluch is here to help! Here are some of the ways we support our clients.

  • HR Audits
  • Developing flexible working policies and contractual clauses for your Employee Handbook
  • Subject Access Requests (SAR)
  • Management Development Training

Between us at Jaluch we have well over 100 years’ of HR experience, we deliver bespoke HR advice to over 300 clients in the UK and are proud to have won a plethora of awards. We would be delighted to support you, so please do get in touch

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Disclaimer: The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.

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