Flexible working and your business

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‘Flexible working’ is a term you have probably heard before, but what does it actually mean, and could it benefit your business?

What is flexible working?

The International Workplace Group (IWG) found in their annual Global Workspace Survey that 73% of people now view flexible working as normal. At its heart, the term flexible working just means a working arrangement that deviates from the standard pattern of work, generally 9-5 for many companies. However, how do employees see flexible working?

In the IWG survey, a fifth of global workers recognises flexible working as the ability to make some decisions regarding their working hours.

A quarter equates it with being able to manage their workload.

However, over half relate it to being able to choose the type of work location, highlighting how critical the issue of where they work is in relation to how they define flexibility.


Typical flexi-working arrangements

CIPD report indicates that there are nine primary ways flexible working is commonly carried out:

Part-time work – When employees are contracted to work anything less than full-time hours

Term-time work – An employee remains on a permanent contract but can take paid/unpaid leave during school holidays.

Job-sharing – Where two (or occasionally more) people share the responsibility for a job between them.

Flexitime – Allows employees to choose, within certain set limits, when to begin and end work.

Compressed working hours – This doesn’t necessarily involve a reduction in total hours or any extension in individual choice over which hours are worked. The central feature is a reallocation of work into fewer and longer blocks during the week. Examples are four-and-a-half-day weeks and nine-day fortnights.

Annual hours – The total number of hours to be worked over the year is fixed, but there is variation over the year in the length of the working day and week. Employees may or may not have an element of choice over working patterns.

Working from home – Employees regularly spend time working from home.

Mobile working – Employees work all or part of their working week at a location remote from the employer’s workplace (which may be the employee’s home).

Zero-hours contracts – An individual has no guarantee of a minimum number of working hours, so they can be called upon as and when required and paid just for the hours they work.

However, this list above isn’t exhaustive. Flexible working can include other practices, for example, employee self-rostering, shift-swapping or taking time off for training. Often flexible working is an informal arrangement between an employee and their line manager and is not officially recorded as flexible working. Arrangements are implemented to help the employee manage their work-life commitments more effectively and the company to receive the level of labour they require.


Challenges and benefits

Offering flexible working arrangements can be challenging for small businesses who require staff onsite for their business to operate successfully. However, many small companies may be implementing some elements of a more flexible working practice by merely using contractors and outsourcing areas such as accounting. Allowing them to access expertise without the overhead of an employee.

The IWG survey indicates that 83% of global respondents would consider the ability to work flexibly at least some of the time as a critical factor if they were trying to make a decision between two similar job offers. Showing that being open to the idea of flexi-working could aid a business in attracting and retaining talent. Obviously, the ability to provide these sorts of working benefits relies very much on the industry sector your company specialises in. For example, Consultancy and ICT businesses are making the most of the fact they are knowledge-based industries, and possibly do not require the same level of onsite presence as some other business models, to offer more flexible working arrangements.

The Mega Trends report on flexible working states that women are more likely to use flexible working arrangements than men as are the youngest and oldest age groups and people with dependent children.

As the state pension age rises, and more people are looking to work for longer, there may be a future need to offer flexible working arrangements to support an ageing workforce.

The Mega Trends report also found that just because a flexible working option is available to staff does not mean they utilise it 100% of the time.

The IWG survey states that 83% of its respondents confirmed that productivity increased in their business as a result of greater flexibility.

65% of businesses said that flexible workspace helped them reduce capital and operational expenditure, manage risk and consolidate their portfolio.

65% of respondents believed that businesses who tailor the work environment to the work function of their staff are more productive.


UK law

Under UK law, all employees have the legal right to request flexible working if they have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks.

The business retains the right to refuse the flexible working request if they have justified business reasons that the request cannot be accommodated.

If the request is agreed, it would mean a change to the employee’s contract to include the new terms and conditions.

Employees can only make one application for flexible working a year.

You can find more information about this topic on the gov.uk website here.


What does this mean for your company?

Flexible working can be a useful tool in running a successful enterprise; however it is dependent on the type of businesses model you operate.

In retail, flexible working may look like shift patterns that can be utilised to ensure several hours can be covered by multiple members of staff to ensure the store remains open. This type of flexi-working is probably just business as usual for the company, as it forms a key part of their business model.

For small businesses, it may be outsourcing things such as social media management or bookkeeping to keep the need for employees to a minimum.

If your company does not require an onsite presence from staff, then offering a work from home solution, could help to lower overheads and remove the need for office space that isn’t crucial to the business operation.

You may already be engaging in some form of flexible working arrangement informally without realising it. A lot of small employers care greatly about their staff and look to accommodate their needs where possible, allowing paid time off to attend health appointments or care for sick children.

While you may not be in a position to implement a flexible working strategy immediately, it is essential to take some time to look at whether the need to do so may increase in line with potential employee expectations in the future. Or whether there may be a benefit to the business to offer certain aspects of a more flexible working arrangement.

Identifying the challenges and benefits will allow you to create a business where the needs of the company are balanced with the needs of your employees. Enhancing the relationship with your staff and potentially increasing your ability to retain talent. Your employees may feel grateful that you have taken the time to consider what the company may be able to facilitate even if the result is not what they hoped for. Just by recognising the complexities of the work-life balance you could find your staff feel more satisfied in their role.


Further information

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