Six ways to successfully navigate flexible working
The days of nine to five are numbered. Traditionally rigid patterns of working just don’t cut it for a diverse workforce that’s dealing with shifting domestic responsibilities coupled with ever-increasing demands for productivity. And UK employment legislation is beginning to reflect this. Employees with at least 26 weeks’ service now have the right to request flexible working. Which means that as a manager you have a legal responsibility to handle these requests in a reasonable manner.
What’s so great about flexible working?
In a nutshell: flexible working respects peoples’ lives outside of work. It gives them a sense of independence and control, which is why employees rank it alongside good communication, team support and fair management as one of the most valued conditions of work. And by giving people the capability to manage their work-life balance, it’s also a low-cost way to boost employee wellbeing within the workplace.
The right to work flexibly doesn’t only benefit employees, either. Companies benefit from reduced absenteeism, increased punctuality and better retention rates of working parents and carers. And in a competitive hiring market, it makes employers more attractive. The recent Job Exodus poll from Investors in People found 34% of employees would choose a more flexible approach to working hours ahead of a 3% pay rise.
Dealing with requests for flexi work
To help you manage employees’ requests for flexible working, Working Families produced a guide for the Bank Workers Charity (which you can download here) that takes you from a traditional work set-up to a more flexible arrangement. Below are six ways to help you work through a request to go flexible.
- Unique people in unique situations
Ask yourself if the role can be done the way the employee wants to do it. Whether it’s a request to go part-time, job-share, work remotely, compress hours or take advantage of flexitime, consider each case on its own merits. What are the benefits and detriments to your employee and the running of your team? Are there advantages that would offset any potential drawbacks? For example, employees who are juggling caring responsibilities with work demands might have fewer absences and improved punctuality if they have the ability to better manage their hours.
- Day-to-day, deadlines and dependencies checklist
It’s helpful to have a checklist when examining the impact of each request you get. Consider your employee’s day-to-day tasks and deadlines, as well as dependencies across your team and on a wider company basis. Do their requested hours align with the tasks contained in their role? If not, could the tasks be divided up differently? Try to work towards a compromise that will satisfy their requirements and your team’s objectives.
- The IT crowd
Think about the IT capabilities your employee and team may require for flexible and remote working. With the adoption of smartphones and tablets outstripping that of laptops and desktops, consider whether a policy that enables staff to use personal devices would be suitable. Cloud-based applications, desktop virtualisation and video conferencing all help with remote access and a reduction in travel. Meanwhile, applications like Slack are designed with team messaging in mind, and Google’s Apps for Work offers online storage and shared calendars to make keeping in touch easy.
- Trial and error
If you’re not sure if a particular arrangement will work, arrange a trial period to help make up your mind. This will give you an opportunity to assess the real impact of the change, identify any difficulties and assess whether they can be overcome. Make sure both you and your employee know how long the trial period will last, which factors will decide if it’s working, and how much notice you’ll give if it’s not.
- Lines of communication
This is where a lot of flexible working arrangements suffer, so it’s important you consider this carefully. The peer and managerial support employees get from regular interaction can be a vital source of support to people in demanding roles. How will reduced levels of direct contact with your team member affect your levels of trust in each other? It’s also important to think about how your employee will exchange ideas, interact with colleagues and keep in contact with you and your customers.
- Mechanisms for management
Set clear objectives for supervising work and managing performance, especially if your employee’s hours will be changing. Focus on output and quality rather than hours worked but be aware that an erosion of boundaries between home and work can lead to overextension and burnout. With remote working, in particular, think carefully about what mechanisms for management you need to adopt to address issues such as these, and make sure you’re giving and getting regular feedback.
There’s no reason why flexible working can’t work for you and your team. But you need to recognise that it’s a way of working that demands different skills, ways of communicating and styles of management. Download the Working Families guide here to help you navigate the transition.