Brilliant Basics – Flexible Working Strategies

In this week’s brilliant basics blog we look at one of the most talked about areas of any people strategy in recent times, Flexible Working. We aim to discuss what flexible working actually is, why it’s important, some of the legalities and close off with a couple of the frequently asked questions (FAQ’s) that I typically receive from senior HR & business leaders. Recent global challenges such as the coronavirus have highlighted how far behind a lot of companies are when it comes to their flexible working strategy.

Despite this, some businesses have adopted what could be described as a flexible culture. Which as a concept it is still very much in its infancy, so we’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences – please leave a comment below!

 

So, what actually is flexible working?

I have no doubts that you’ll be able to find a number of technical definitions however, put simply flexible working is the process where employers allow their teams more control of HOW and WHEN they work.

One of the biggest misconceptions that I see when it comes to flexible working is that some senior leaders  seem to think that flexible working means working from home. The reality is that remote working forms one small element of a flexible working strategy – we’ve found that most employees DO NOT want to work remotely any more than once per week and some would rather be in the office every single day.

So what are the other types of flexible working?

  • Job sharing
  • Part time
  • Compressed hours
  • Flexi hours

Above are four common flexible working concepts that you’ll see existing within businesses. Flexi hours seems to be having more of an impact to employee engagement year on year.

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So, we know have an understanding of what flexible working is, but why is it important?

I thought it would be useful to play out a scenario that you’ll see in a lot of businesses, here’s two perspectives…

Scenario 1:

John has recently become a father for the first time. His wife is due to return to work and therefore, they need to look into making childcare arrangements. The couple find a solution that allows them to both continue working full time BUT John doesn’t finish work until 5.30pm, which is the same time that he needs to pick his child up. So, he goes to have a chat with his boss. PAUSE… what do you think would happen next if this was your organisation?

John goes to his manager, explains his situation and asks if it would be possible for him to come in 30 minutes early and therefore leave 30 minutes early – his boss says no. With the reason being that when he first started his job, he agreed to work 9-5.30pm.

What do you think the result of this is? John is now actively searching for a new job with another employer that will allow him to work flexibly. He is disengaged and consistently clock watching after 5pm. Consider the cost the cost of this to the business!

 

Scenario 2:

We’re in exactly the same situation as scenario 1. John is a new dad; his wife is going back to work and they have made childcare arrangements where his child needs to be collected at 5pm. He approaches his manager to ask if it would be possible for him to start early and finish early.

But this time there is a different result. After asking a couple of simple questions such as “why do you need this flexibility”, John’s manager begins to understand how important this is to John but also the impact that this will have on his engagement and performance.

John’s manager seeks approval and signs off the new work arrangements, clearly stating the boundaries. In the weeks that follow John  is more engaged that ever, is performing well and is even putting extra work in when his child goes to sleep in the evening.

Which scenario would you rather have? If John was a top performer would you let processes get in the way of him staying in the business and performing to the best of his ability? Although a lot of people will not like it, power is shifting very quickly to employees and employers no longer have as much control.

Here’s a few more benefits:

  • Improved employee motivation
  • Better control over work life balance and employee wellbeing
  • Increased employee retention and lower employee absence

 

What are the legalities? (ACAS)

  • Employees who have been employed by a business for over 26 weeks are entitled to make a flexible working request
  • Employees can not make more than one request in any twelve month period
  • The employer is liable to make a decision within three months

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Flexible Working – FAQ’s…

Question: If employees are not in the office, then how do we know that they are working?

Answer: You don’t – it’s all about trust, which sounds slightly fluffy. But why would you hire employees if you do not trust them to work from home? You’ll learn a lot about your culture when you’re not there…!

Beyond trust, some employers use their internal communication systems such as skype, slack etc in order to communicate and report back on employees progress. However, the most effective mindset shift I have seen businesses make is where they begin to focus on results, rather than outputs.

We all have some members of our team who appear to be much more effective than others. The ones that stay late, come in early – you know who I am talking about. But, if you look at their productivity vs the rest of the team, do their results differ that much? Creating a culture focused on results will help your team to prioritise their daily activities based on performance and  not just how many hours they put in.

 

Question: What if we need to urgently get hold of a team member?

Answer: For any flexible working strategy to work effectively it is important to set core hours of work. These are the hours that employees MUST be available for meetings, calls and anything that the business throws at them. This is a great opportunity to delegate actions and share updates.

Things become slightly harder when you’re trying to get hold of a team member outside of these times. However, anticipating any risks will help you to manage this. Have a contingency plan for most of your processes and DO NOT let individuals be solely responsible for high risk work.

 

Question: If we’re not in the office then how will we communicate?

Answer: As eluded to above you will more than likely already have an existing suite of internal communication tools such as, Slack, Skype etc. Firstly, these are a good way to engage as a team, but also on a 1-1 basis.

Next, you have the good old fashioned phone call!

Finally, if you wish to see each other’s faces then once more you can use Skype but also you can use other platforms such as Slack.

 

Question: But we’re a blue collar business, we can’t let our teams work from home?

Answer: Earlier in the blog I talked about the different types of flexible working, other than remote. Check them out and see what could work within your industry. Sometimes it’s a case of giving someone flexibility on their shift!

 

Conclusion

In summary it does feel as though many businesses create barriers when it comes to flexible working, which is expected as it’s a large shift in the world of work. But make sure you understand and define exactly what flexible working means in your organisation – it may be the key to growth as you look to retain and attract talent!

 

As always we’re keen to hear your thoughts and experiences so please feel free to comment/like/share.

 

Harry Wright

Rencai Group

Employee Engagement & Client Delivery Consultant

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