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Last updated: 10 Jun 2021
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Is flexible working the right choice for your organisation?

With restrictions easing and organisations now planning a workplace return, what should you consider when deciding if implementing flexible working practices is the right choice for you and your employees?

The disruption caused by COVID-19 demonstrated the critical importance for organisations to invest in their operational resilience. As organisations now plan a workplace return, the dramatic shift in working practices, as a result of the pandemic has shown that it’s possible to move away from traditional thinking and adapt to make flexible working the ‘new normal’. 

So how can you ensure that flexible working works for you and your organisation?

About the author

Sarah Dalton

daltons@buzzacott.co.uk

The disruption caused by COVID-19 demonstrated the critical importance for organisations to invest in their operational resilience. As organisations now plan a workplace return, the dramatic shift in working practices, as a result of the pandemic has shown that it’s possible to move away from traditional thinking and adapt to make flexible working the ‘new normal’. 

So how can you ensure that flexible working works for you and your organisation?

What is flexible working?

What is flexible working?

Flexible working can take many forms and can include remote working (including home working), flexi time, condensed hours, job-sharing and part-time working. Hybrid working, a combination of both office-based and remote working, is also becoming the newest, desirable model for many employers and employees alike.

Flexible working is not a new phenomenon, and the right to request a flexible working arrangement became law in April 2014. Currently, employees can make such a request after 26 weeks, however, there’s debate over whether this should become a right from day one. An application for flexible working must be made in writing, which employers must deal with in a "reasonable manner". Legislation sets out reasons for which organisations can reasonably reject a request for flexible working and it’s important to analyse each of these when considering a flexible working request. Individuals must then be notified of their employers’ decision in writing and within a specified time frame.

What are the benefits and challenges?

What are the benefits and challenges?

Notable benefits of flexible working include increased employee motivation and productivity, reduced costs in office space, and offering a competitive advantage in the market when recruiting. There’re also lots of employee benefits such as savings (in both time and money) from reduced commuting, working patterns for work/life balances, and more autonomous working. 

While there are numerous advantages, there are also challenges and operational disruptions that pose risks. For employers, there is the risk of mismanagement and abuse of the agreement. For employees, poorly managed flexible working arrangements have been found to result in intensification of work and overspill into non-work contexts, tension, anxiety, and unpaid overtime.

For some organisations, where effective communication between colleagues is a key component of the business, remote working poses other challenges. For example, for financial services firms, there’s a heavy reliance on the effective communication of key information where the smallest error could have huge financial significance. With this in mind, you have to consider the technological barriers in terms of accessing information remotely. Also, in many organisations, activities such as in-person mentoring forms a significant part of development. So moving to a more flexible work-from-home model will need to consider these complexities. 

It’s also important to remember that although there may be potential for many roles to work more flexibly, it may not necessarily be suitable for all roles. While some individuals may find it easy to work from home, others may need to be in the office to access systems. Some roles may be required to be more mobile to meet clients, for example. Flexibility therefore needs to be tailored, and before enacting any flexible working practices, firms need to consider their circumstances in detail, including operational issues, nuances in their business models, and risk management.

How can you reap the benefits of a more flexible workforce?

How can you reap the benefits of a more flexible workforce? 

  • Ask your employees – Employee input will optimise the effectiveness of flexible working, and improve engagement. A survey can be an excellent tool in establishing the general feelings of your employees and which ways of working are most suitable for your firm.
  • Implement a flexible working policy and procedure - This will enable you to formalise the practice and adapt it to suit your specific business needs. For example, do you need employees to be physically present at least some of the time? Are there set working times during which employees are required to be ‘available’? Setting these policies will help clarify boundaries and expectations for employees and managers to prevent confusion or potential issues.
  • Consider cost-efficiency and effective working - While there are reductions in cost resulting from reduced requirement for office space, other less obvious costs may build up if precautionary measures aren’t taken. Effective training in working remotely can help in many aspects of day-to-day work, such as management from a distance, enhanced productivity and purposeful virtual meetings.
  • Enable the right technology - Give employees what they need to succeed when working remotely, such as tools that improve productivity. Continue to assess and reinforce your VPN and access controls to help ensure remote work is secure.

There are certainly challenges to be overcome when considering the implementation of a new working structure, which could potentially impact the majority of employees within your organisation. Ultimately it is the responsibility of senior management to recognise its value and to work out how, if possible, to integrate it into current business practice. Similarly, advocates of flexible working need to appreciate its limitations.

Speak to an expert

Get in touch

The importance of ensuring legal compliance and following best HR practice cannot be underestimated, a breach of employment legislation can result in expensive litigation and considerable reputational damage. We can assist you in implementing and improving flexible working arrangements tailored to your needs. If you are seeking advice, particularly with the current additional challenges, or if you feel you would benefit from guidance compliant with UK legislation, we can support your firm with practical solutions. 

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