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Flexible working - what should I be offering

The term ‘flexible working’ seems to be everywhere; organisations are looking at how to deliver their services in an agile and efficient manner, customers expect a quick service delivery and staff are no longer looking for traditional 9-5 opportunities.

Whilst organisations are required to have a flexible working policy in place the legalities are in reality very simple to manage. Hopefully by the time you’ve finished reading this blog, it’ll give you more confidence in terms of what’s actually required by law, and how you can turn a legality into something really positive for your organisation.

In writing this blog I thought it might be helpful to look at current research on the subject and highlight how one organisation embraced a flexible working approach which fitted their operational model and service delivery.

Flexible working and the law

Legally, all employees in England, Scotland and Wales, have the legal right to request flexible working after 26 weeks continuous service, and employers must deal with any request in a reasonable manner. This includes:

  • Assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the application

  • Holding a meeting to discuss the request with the employee

  • Offering an appeal process

An application can be refused if there are good business reasons for doing so, and this is really the bit that employers find challenging, because the law on this is open to interpretation. In reality, you need to think longer term, and understand that a ruling you make today, may have consequences down the line if you deny/approve somebody else the same flexible working schemes later on – unless you have an excellent business reason for doing so.

Flexible working should be embraced!

A 2017 YouGov survey showed that 89% of respondents (businesses and employees) believed that flexible working boost productivity and 81% of remote workers believed flexible working arrangements encouraged them to increase their productivity.

In 2018 I was invited to be part of a cross-organisational working group for flexible working champions which was co-run by the CIPD and Timewise. Timewise, an organisation which champions part-time and flexible working, has significantly researched current flexible working options in the UK, what attracts people to flexible working arrangements and the benefits of flexible working (both for organisations and individuals). The image below illustrates the benefits as seen by those currently working flexibly:

This year the UK government launched a flexible-working task force, proving that flexibility is on the increase – so if it hasn’t already affected your organisation, the likelihood is that it will…

Since everybody loves a case study…

As a senior HR Specialist I recently worked with the CEO of a national charity to develop a proposal on the organisation’s approach to flexible/agile working. The organisation had 120 staff based either at home or small offices across the country. It was recognised that by offering flexibility they attracted a larger pool of applicants and received a lot of goodwill from their staff. It also meant that they took an interest in the wellbeing of their staff by promoting a healthy work-life balance.

Their objective was to create a workplace where staff could:

  • Work anywhere

  • Work anytime

  • Work on any device

In 2018 the organisation held a staff survey where 82% of their staff believed that the organisation was a flexible employer. Staff particularly highlighted the following as valuable:

  • Working pattern/flexi hours

  • Working from home

  • Being able to work part time and/or term time

  • Autonomy/trust

  • Generous annual leave

Using this feedback as a basis I developed a proposal to create and sustain a flexible working organisation, and plans are well underway to achieve the following by 2020:

  • Local community integration by developing inspiring hubs where staff and service users can meet in order to reduce on-going costs spent on maintaining small offices located in far-flung places.

  • An agile and flexible approach to support service users (including using technology efficiently and offering flexible working arrangements, particularly to build new business in smaller areas).

  • Increased staff retention and attraction of new talented staff to continue to deliver and grow their services.

So, rather than fear a lack of control, why not embrace flexible working? It could increase productivity or help retain good staff – but it is important to recognise that one size does not fit all and organisations need to consider what works for them, their staff and their customers.

Most organisations will operate informal flexible working arrangements on top of the statutory flexible working policy, and key to any successful flexible working arrangements is equality: remember that any perceived unfairness to access flexible working may result in some staff feeling demotivated and becoming less productive and engaged as a result.

If you want to talk to us about any aspect of flexible working (formal or informal) please feel free to contact me, Charlotte Pihlqvist, via or on 07564 508815.

About the author…

Charlotte Pihlqvist is a CIPD member who has been working as an in-house human resources specialist since 2001, and has, for the last 12 years worked strategically within senior human resource roles across sectors. Charlotte’s specialisms include working with organisational leaders and managers to help them cope with change, build resilience and create teams. In her previous roles, she has regularly reviewed HR policies and procedures to ensure legal obligations are met and led on the development and implementation of all HR related initiatives.

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