Getting serious about flexible working
The record-breaking heatwave has taken its toll on just about everything, no least making sticky commutes and sweaty offices a real problem for workers. Along with relaxing dress codes, urging staff to keep water-bottles filled, and providing desk-fans, some employers have begun introducing more flexible working practices to address the issue.
Before jumping on that bandwagon, however, it’s vital these practices aren’t implemented just for show. Instead, employers will need to be sure that this way of working is planned very carefully, and that it will genuinely help employees and increase their productivity.
According to current UK laws, any permanent employees who have worked continuously for 26 weeks have the right to request flexible working. Their request must be responded to within three months and any refusal should be absolutely justified. Flexible working can include changes to hours or working in a different location.
With two-thirds of UK employees (68%) wanting to work flexibility in at least one form that is not currently available to them, it’s clear there is a large demand for revised working patterns. The good news, though, is that a lot of businesses are becoming more open to flexible working styles, even where no formal request has been made. This has been a welcome change, as it allows both employees and employers to benefit from a more dynamic working environment that can fit around employees’ specific needs and most importantly, leave them feeling more satisfied and productive at work.
Flexible working practices provide genuine advantages to both employers and employees, but when businesses fail to plan for these changes properly, problems can quickly arise. In some cases, businesses can even experience a decline in productivity, or may inadvertently leave workers feeling disengaged, since the divide between their home and work lives may seem unclear. Others may feel pressured into working from home, which could leave them feeling isolated, lonely and not part of the team.
Clearly, a number of factors need to be considered to ensure that flexible working is helpful to a business and its workforce. First, employers should examine the need: what do employees really want when it comes to flexible working? It’s also important to determine whether it is financially feasible for the business, or simply too costly to implement, especially for firms that are providing services to others.
Each individual will have different priorities, so it’s important that any new way of working being introduced isn’t forced upon everyone, but is a choice. Working from home, offering a more flexible schedule, or arranging to work compressed hours are all possible options, but their uptake will ultimately depend on each employee’s personal circumstances.
The second thing to focus on is guidelines: how soon in advance do employees need to notify their team that they’ll be working from home? What core hours must they work within a flexible working framework? Having clear guidelines will make sure that the business continues to run smoothly and there aren’t any grey areas which could cause tension further down the line.
The third, but most important consideration, is technology. Employers need to consider if their IT systems are up to scratch and if employees will have the tools needed to do their work well and efficiently when working more flexibly. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a laptop that fails during that all important project, or teams that aren’t able to reach other when a deadline is looming.
Leading by example
But no matter how high-tech solutions are, or which flexible working scheme is being put in place, employers need to make sure they are leading by example. If those in more senior roles are not modelling a new way of working, then employees will have a tough time getting to grips with it themselves.
And these workers won’t just struggle with the practical aspects of flexible working either; they may also think that uptake is actually looked at unfavourably by their employer. In order to avoid assumptions like these, employees need to be assured that these initiatives are there to be used, not there to be simply spoken about.
To this end, managers who receive flexible working requests should make it clear that they support this way of working, and should also try it out for themselves so that they’re well-placed to advise others. Once everyone is open to the idea, and right tools are in place to ensure that flexibility does not cause disruption, the advantages of flexible working can be significant, for both the business and its staff.