‘Flexible working’ is a common phrase, but what does it mean? How is it implemented? And what are the pros and cons of offering flexible working to your employees?
‘Flexible working’ refers to a way of working to suit an employee’s needs. This may involve flexible working hours to accommodate a school run, for example, or even working from home where necessary.
How popular is it?
A lot of employers are starting to offer flexible working as a perk, but many are happier sticking with the traditional nine-to-five office hours approach. A Powwownow survey found that 47 per cent of employees don’t access to a flexible working structure.
However, any employee that has worked for the same employer for 26 weeks is eligible to request a flexible working structure – and employers are obliged to deal with applications for flexible working in a reasonable manner.
Is it better to be flexible?
Flexible working acknowledges that employees have a life outside of the office and that a nine-to-five job plus a commute can take up much of the day.
The Powwownow survey also found that almost 45 per cent of people spend over an hour commuting a day. This can lead to increased stress levels – 66 per cent of commuters say they feel stressed or flustered at least once a week. Flexible working can enable employees to travel at off-peak times or avoid dreaded journeys altogether.
Parents and carers often need a more flexible approach to work hours to allow them to fulfil all of their obligations, and many other employees appreciate the flexibility simply as a perk. In fact, 67 per cent of employees wish they were offered flexible working.
Flexible working can also help with recruitment and staff retention. 70 per cent of respondents to the survey claimed that being offered a flexible working structure makes a job more attractive to them. In addition, 30 per cent of people would rather have flexible working than a pay rise – so it can be a cost-effective way to make employees feel valued at work.
Naturally, some managers will always be concerned that employees are more likely to be idle when they are not under close scrutiny. However, 58 per cent of people believe that working away from the office would actually make them feel more motivated.
What about the drawbacks?
One drawback to the scheme comes in if an employee cannot be trusted to work off-site. Managing home workers can be tricky, and indeed around 56 per cent of people in the survey believe that managers need to learn skills to manage a remote workforce.
Another drawback is if an employee is absolutely required in the office. For example, IT support, or a member of a team that often works collaboratively might be able to achieve more from the office. Bear in mind there are tools available to help employees work remotely, such as web conferencing, online messaging and cloud applications for file sharing.
Overall, there are so many potential advantages to a flexible working structure that it’s worth considering. Most employers would be glad to see an improvement in their employees’ health and wellbeing – and reduced stress levels and increased motivation are good news for the bottom line.
How can you support your home-based workers?
- Help get them set up in their home
Visit your employees and make sure that they have a good working space, with a desk and chair set up to ensure they’re sitting comfortably and their posture is right. You should also ensure they have access to necessary resources.
- Keep up the communication
Make sure that you book in those face-to-face meetings that virtual meetings can’t always replace. Identify good work that they are doing and highlight it to others; recognition is a positive motivation. For employees that can feel isolated and miss the social interaction, you could also set up an instant messaging service which would support real-time communication with others in the business.
- Set up an Employee Assistance Programme
Give your home-based workers easy access to support by setting up an EAP. It can be trickier to identify issues and know when to step in with support when your employees work remotely, but an effectively run EAP can help you with this and provide ways of enabling these employees to deal more effectively with the pressures in their lives.