The pros and cons of flexible working main

Flexible working arrangements - considerations for management

Many modern workforces have become more flexible, with a significant percentage of employees spending increasing amounts of time working from home or altering their hours or days of employment. But what do flexible working arrangements typically look like and what should you consider before introducing regular flexible working options for your workforce?

Firstly, the offering of flexible working options has been a growing trend for many years. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, flexible working arrangements were already tipped to be a key part of the unfolding Fourth Industrial Revolution, with technology allowing people to work on shared files and collaborate remotely.

However, the uptake was far from universal. That all changed when the crisis forced mass remote working upon a large percentage of organisations. In doing so, the traditional perspective that people must be physically present in one set workplace to achieve the required objectives was overturned. The productivity gains of remote working are now largely incontestable, while the real estate cost savings and staff engagement benefits are hard to ignore.

Other key flexible work benefits include improved staff attraction and retention. As research undertaken for our Upskilling Matters report found, a massive 89% of employers say flexible working options are an important element in successful staff attraction and retention.

Furthermore, each year our  Hays Salary Guide survey points to flexible working options as a key benefit that skilled professionals prioritise when they are in the job market.

Greater diversity of employees accessing flexible work

Clearly then, flexible working arrangements are important to a wide range of people. This includes employees who:

  • Have a long commute
  • Have ongoing caring responsibilities
  • Are ramping back up after parental leave
  • Are throttling back from full time work towards retirement
  • Want to pursue academic and skills achievement
  • Would like to improve their work-life balance
  • Found their productivity, output and job satisfaction improved while working remotely during COVID-19

What does flexible working look like?

Flexible working can involve any scenario that effectively allows an employee to achieve the required output and objectives of their job while also balancing their needs outside of work. It can involve altering the hours, location or pattern of their work.

For example, an organisation could allow employees to work flexible working hours, which involves altering their start and finish times.

Or they could allow them to access flexible working days, whereby staff work only on certain days. This could be by job sharing, working part-time or working their permanent fulltime hours over four longer days.

Of course, flexible working also involves changing the location of work, such as working from home or an alternative location.

What should you consider before introducing regular flexible working options?

Here are seven things to consider before offering regular flexible working options.

1. Decide which flexible working options you can support

Organisations large and small should review what options they are able to offer and the conditions for each. This could include remote working from home or an office different from where an employee’s manager is located, varying working hours or days, or job sharing.

For most organisations it’s unrealistic to expect that 100 per cent of your workforce can work from home 100 per cent of the time – but it’s also unrealistic to think that none of your workforce can work flexibly either. So, think about what ideal daily percentage of your workforce you could support working remotely or in other flexible working ways.

The options and the rationale behind your decision should be communicated to all employees. Being transparent about the considerations for both the employer and employees in creating a flexible work arrangement will help keep the organisation’s goals in sharp focus.

2. Flexible work arrangement assessments

Having a transparent assessment system so any employee can apply to work flexibly is important.

This could include considering the operational requirements of the job, the need to attend meetings in person, how those with direct reports would manage staff and the role of an individual’s performance history in making a decision to grant a flexible work request. Another consideration is whether the deliverables for a particular role suit a flexible work arrangement. Ultimately, flexible working has to work for both the organisation and its employees.

It could even be that certain parts of a job could be performed remotely while others are performed in the co-located workplace. For example, in our Hays Journal 14 we spoke to Monika Komornikova, Group HR Manager at international property developer HB Reavis, who developed a solution whereby staff at their organisation perform preparatory work remotely. Then, when projects reach a specific maturity point, they switch-over to face-to-face teamwork. According to Komornikova, this means staff still spend at least 20 per cent of their time in a co-located workplace.

Your organisation should also assess its own ability to support flexible working. This includes the right systems, online collaboration tools and video conferencing meeting technology.

3. Helping managers focus on outcomes

Training people managers to oversee team members they cannot see in a consistent way is a must for supporting flexible work arrangements.

A manager’s attitude to flexible workers can depend on their own experience, but often it’s more about their ability to organise work tasks so the quality and volume of work being completed is easy to see and assess.

4. Trust should be a cornerstone of your culture

In organisations where people are trusted and empowered to complete their work without constant monitoring, and where people understand the organisation’s overall objectives and how their role impacts them, it ultimately doesn’t matter where or when people work.

So long as targets are clear, and managers are explicit in their expectations, an organisation’s culture can influence the attitudes and behaviours of employees, who embrace the trust placed in them to perform at their best and proactively manage and deliver the required output.

5. Lead by example

You could create the best flexible working policy, but unless people feel empowered to access it, and do not fear that other aspects of their career will suffer if they do, it will never be widely adopted.

One way to overcome this fear is to lead by example. By ensuring that senior managers adopt and champion flexible working options, employees will come to feel that they too can work flexibly.

6. Remote workers access to opportunity

Make sure everyone knows that you don’t have to be working the traditional 9-5 in the office to be eligible for advancement and upskilling.

Use internal communications to promote the training, skills development and learning that is available and showcase remote and flexible workers who are constant learners. Ensure all employees, including those operating remotely, are upskilled in the latest knowledge and learning required to do their job.

7. When employees do come together, ensure it is meaningful

When you bring your entire team together, it must be for quality, high-level and meaningful work that adds value. Many employees who work flexibility are required to alter their schedules to attend in-person meetings. For example, part-time employees may need to alter day care arrangements if an in-person event occurs on a day they do not usually work. Or perhaps a remote worker will need to arrange before and after school care to accommodate a lengthy commute. Your employees therefore need to feel that all this extra effort is worth their time, particularly when it impacts others around them.

To conclude, a flexible approach to work has many benefits, for both you and your employees, provided you work through the above considerations and adopt the practice fairly. If so, you’ll attract and retain a productive, motivated, engaged and happy workforce.

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