The demand for a more flexible way of working refuses to slow. New milestones towards mass adoption are taking place all the time – including a recent bill debated in UK parliament, which, if successful, could make it mandatory for all British employers to be flexible.
The benefits of flexible working are clear – it allows more people to juggle their work and life commitments, so talented people can stay in the workforce. People who can benefit include older workers, those with mental health issues, disabilities, young parents and carers. And companies who offer greater flexibility are attractive in the eyes of an employee. IWG’s 2019 Global Workspace Survey found that 82% of international respondents would choose a job that offered flexible working over one that didn’t. And, given the choice between increased holiday allowance and being allowed to choose their work location, 34% chose the latter.
The survey also found that 62% of companies worldwide have a flexible working policy. A formal policy ensures both employer and employee are on the same page about what’s expected. It promotes transparency and gives businesses – HR professionals in particular – a framework to use when employees make requests for flexi-time.
HR operations are central in actioning a company’s flexible working policy. The department must speak face to face with staff requesting flexible working, understand the ins and outs of why they want it and what form of flexi-time they are seeking – be it remote working, reduced hours or a choice of working hours. It also falls to HR to communicate clearly with employees about what’s in the policy, and what duties are expected of those whose requests for flexible working are granted. Most importantly, HR often has the final say in whether an employee’s request for flexible working is granted – after the employee’s manager has made their assessment.
What do flexible working policies actually contain? Typically, they state the kind of situations where flexible working is permitted, along with considerations about how eligible a particular employee is for flexible working. These include the nature of their specific job (and how physically present they need to be), the needs of their immediate team, the impact on colleagues and customers, and the duration of the request for flexible working.
A policy also typically outlines a company’s procedure for assessing employees for flexible working – what happens after an employee makes a formal request, how management and HR operations work in tandem with the employee to process a request, and what happens if the request is approved or denied (and whether it can be revisited).
Businesses looking to draft a flexible working policy can start by finding template documents that can be tailored to their company, but it’s important that it is reviewed by a solicitor to take into account any local laws at play.
Even when offering greater flexibility, certain parameters will need to be in place – and policy helps communicate these clearly. Perhaps employers need to specify that staff are free to choose between two options of set working hours that best suit their personal productivity – 8am-3pm or 10pm-6pm, for example. Or the option to work remotely one day per week, provided they’re willing to work in-house on an ad hoc basis (flexibility is a two-way street, after all). Particular industries also have different challenges to consider. For example, the digital nature of a tech startup may make it easier for employees to work remotely than a business that creates and ships products. It requires going through what a company needs from its staff with a fine toothcomb, and building a policy that’s truly bespoke.
Another thing to consider is what happens when such a policy is approved. If employees begin working remotely, or working at different hours, this alters the daily operations of a business. To ensure the transition is smooth, HR may want to offer training for managers about how to keep team members working together. It’s one thing to have a policy in place but, in order to reap the benefits of flexible working, HR needs to ensure everyone involved feels equipped to flourish under this new way of doing things.
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