Flexible working is no longer a ‘nice to have’ benefit, it’s an expectation for many employees. But while it might appear easy to deliver, it’s important to make sure your flexible working policy adequately meets the needs of your employees, operational structure and business culture.
- Andy Caldicott, Managing Director at peoplevalue
Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen employees increasingly request more flexibility and autonomy over their work to foster a healthy balance between work and life. Businesses, ours included, have had to adjust their approach to keep employees engaged and remain competitive as an employer. Cue the rise of flexible working.
Now that we’re living in an online world, many people now have the ability to call the shots in terms of when and where they work. According to the CIPD, more than half of UK workers (54%) are able to work flexibly in some way whether that’s working outside the traditional 9-5 core hours or remotely.
But, when it comes to implementing flexible working, it’s not always as simple as adopting a blanket approach.
The challenges of flexible working
For small businesses like ours, flexible working comes with its challenges. With our team spread across two offices, our tight-knit culture is heavily reliant on people being physically present when they can. While we of course use technology to support internal communication, face-to-face interactions really do strengthen our sense of community and comradery which flexible working can jeopardise.
At the same time, flexible working also makes it increasingly difficult for employees to switch off. Physically leaving the office once meant officially clocking off for the day, but we can now access work and, equally, be accessible by work at any time of day, no matter where we are (as long as there’s WiFi!). This means work can easily bleed into our home life, perpetuating an ‘always on’ culture which in fact upsets the work/life balance flexible working is supposed to restore.
So, what’s the answer? I think it’s all about making flexible working fit your business and your people.
Making flexible working work for your business
We have departments, like our Customer Services team, that collectively need to operate according to our client service level commitments which means we can’t roll out a ‘one-size-fits all’ flexible working policy without significantly increasing our resource pool. It simply wouldn’t be fair on those that aren’t able to work from home or change their working hours.
What we do instead is deliver flexible working on a case-by-case basis. This of course may not be viable for big businesses, but because of our size, we’re adaptable, able to communicate effectively and we can give our employees the ability to make work fit around their needs while ensuring there’s a minimal impact on the business. The output of your business should be the focus, rather than the number of hours put in by each person.
We’ve got employees that live over an hour away from our office, others who need to pick up their children from school or nursery and some who simply want to start earlier and finish earlier because that’s what suits them. By approaching flexible working on an individual basis, it means we can consider specific needs and assess the impact on other employees to ensure that it works for us as a business. So, whether it’s a long-term alteration to an individual’s work arrangement to suit their personal needs, or an ad-hoc adjustment to make life a bit easier for an employee, we can still be flexible without compromising our culture and operational requirements.
Our approach works really well for us because everyone’s needs are different, and we can accommodate individual requests. If any of our people want to work flexibly, they can. We work together so that there’s a positive outcome for the individual and, in turn, our business. The result is happier people, which is what it’s all about.
Flexible working isn’t a tick-box exercise
Speaking to my colleagues, especially those in the ‘millennial’ bracket, it’s clear that flexible working is an attractive perk. But, while it’s tempting to add ‘flexible working’ to every job description you put out there, you need to really think about how your business is going to deliver it in a way that really adds value to your employees.
Having a ‘people first’ ethos is key because it means that flexible working doesn’t go the other way and negatively impact your employees. In other words, giving your employees the freedom to work from home, for example, shouldn’t mean that they’re expected to deal with work matters whenever they are home. Employees still need to be able to maintain a distinction between when they are ‘online’ and when they are ‘offline’ in order to establish a healthy work/life balance and, importantly, support their wellbeing.
Flexible working is undoubtedly a fantastic benefit, but I believe it should be implemented with great care and consideration of how it’ll impact your business and other employees’ engagement. You should empower your people to help them strike that optimal work/life balance, while protecting your culture and the overall operation of your business. Our business’ flexible working approach has certainly helped us attract employees, boost retention and drive performance, so it’s all about finding the right fit.
Written by Andy Caldicott, Managing Director of peoplevalue. www.peoplevalue.co.uk