How to get the most out of flexible working

Flexible working arrangements are becoming more favourable and popular in today’s workplaces. A grassroots survey reported that 49% of respondents cited flexible working as the most coveted future workplace benefit. A recent research paper from ACAS highlights that flexible working has benefits for employees and employers but also there are downfalls for both to be aware of.

This blog will review the general guidelines on what makes a ‘good’ flexible worker and what makes a ‘good’ flexible employer.

But first, let’s start with the basics – what is flexible working?

What is Flexible Working?

Flexible working allows employees more flexibility in regard to where and when they work. The most common variations include part time working, home working, flexitime, job sharing and shift work.   The Employment Rights Act 1996 gave employees the right to request flexible working. To request it, an employee must be working at the organisation for more than 26 weeks continuously and can only request it once every 12 months. An employee then needs to set out their request in writing and employers must reasonably consider all flexible working requests.

The good, the bad and the ugly – the benefits and disadvantages of flexible working

There are many benefits to flexible working. An article from the guardian argued ‘why now is the time to embrace flexible working’. Flexible working can positively impact employee wellbeing and work-life balance and can also improve organisational productivity. Employees are more engaged, committed and motivated in the workplace, leading to benefits for both the individual and the organisation.

However, sometimes flexible working isn’t always as beneficial as it looks. ACAS argue, that there are ‘hidden penalties’ that can affect both the organisation and the individual employee. These include communication barriers and team co-ordination in the workplace. Flexible workers may also suffer from loneliness due to lone working and their work life balance can also be negatively affected, with the lines between home and work becoming increasingly blurred.  A recent TUC survey found flexible working can often result in worst outcomes for workers. It argued that organisations need to change workplace cultures to make flexible working more inclusive and encourage it to become the norm.

To keep the balance between the benefits and disadvantages, it is down to both the workers and the organisation to keep a strong working relationship. Considering ACAS’s recommendations, here are some guidelines on how to be a good ‘flexible’ worker and a ‘good’ flexible employer.

Guidelines on how to be a ‘good’ flexible worker and a ‘good’ flexible employer

  • Communication is key.
    • Workers should make colleagues and clients aware of when they will not be in the office. A key example is ensuring that their out of office email is on. This should detail if they are still contactable during this time and also, alternative contact details. If they are not contactable then state this in the email, include when they will be available and make sure they have provided alternative contact details for a colleague or line manager, where possible.
    • Workers and their line managers should ensure that two-way communication is maintained with one another when the worker is out of the office via phone, email etc, where possible.
    • Workers should advise their co-workers on anything that may arise and organise handovers before they leave. Try to keep them as up to date as possible as this means that their colleagues can be prepared for anything that may arise in the worker’s absence.
  • Maintaining an awareness of organisational and individual’s needs and goals.
    • Flexible workers need to be aware of their colleagues, clients and the business’s needs, as well as their own goals. Ensuring these are balanced with their flexible working arrangements.
    • Employers need to ensure that boundaries are set and that a clear set of expectations and goals are communicated to the flexible worker. This maintains productivity.
  • Managing flexible working
    • Employers need to effectively manage the flexible worker. Employers don’t need to be constantly checking on their flexible workers, they need to trust them. They should ensure that goals are set and achieved but also giving employees the flexibility and autonomy to do this. Workers need to ensure that they able to achieve what is expected of them.
    • Ensure that there are regular review and feedback meetings between flexible workers and their managers. This gives both parties the opportunity to discuss any benefits, concerns or suggestions that either party has regarding the flexible working arrangements.

Overall, flexible working can be a positive experience for individuals and the organisation. Workers and employers need to embrace the benefits and frustrations and continue working together to make flexible working a success.

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