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How to embrace flexible working in 2015

Last year was a landmark moment for advocates of flexible working, with the government extending the law to all employees. Traditionally, the right to make a request for an adaptable way of working had been applicable to carers and those who looked after children. Now though, flexible working is, at least in the UK, relevant to all. And it’s set to become even more widespread.

So, what do we mean by it? In short, flexible working can best be described as an organisational arrangement that offers employees the opportunity to work in less a rigid way. Historically, working hours have been extremely regimented (the traditional 9-5, from Monday to Friday), with workers required to carry out their responsibilities in an office. There has been very little leeway in this framework.

However, over the years, attitudes to this strictly controlled and heavily prescribed system have been changing and, more recently, there has been a decided shift to operating in a more flexible way.

Types of flexible working

A man using a tablet and smartphone

There is no one size fits all model when it comes to flexible working and, accordingly, business leaders will have to develop a system that works best for them and their workforce.

However, there are popular practices that have emerged, which can either be implemented on their own or as part of a range of options. This requires a lot of thought and research, as any change of this kind will impact on the way a business is run and there are evident logistical issues to get your head around.

Some of the most popular options include:

The stark reality

While many can appreciate the virtues of flexible working, contending with the realities that come with it can be a hard pill to swallow, as Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families, noted in an interview with HR Magazine last year.

“Getting flexible working right is a management challenge because you’ve got to be clear about objectives, deliverables and how, culturally, you want work to be delivered,” she explained.

“That’s quite scary for a lot of managers who are wedded to the idea that you can only manage what you see, the hours you can see someone sitting in front of their screen.”

Best practice

Define your policies on flexible working in consultation with all stakeholders – especially your employees – and draw up a guide that outlines, in detail, how your business will embrace this arrangement. Review this document regularly, at least once every six months.

Next, develop a robust and fair procedure that allows employees to make requests for short and long-term flexible working. Many organisations require their workers to “make a written application”, which then tends to be followed up with an informal chat. At all stages, be encouraging.

There is a need to be consistent when it comes to agreeing flexible working on a case-by-case basis. The last thing you want is to create animosity through the unequal deployment of this arrangement. Be objective but also consider the particulars of certain requests.

Embrace technology and new ways of working to streamline the experience of working at home and at the office. Unified communications, for one, is a big trend this year, and fits in perfectly with a flexible and contemporary approach to work.

Business benefits

Flexible working not only directly impacts on the morale and productivity of your employees; it also delivers huge business benefits. There is, after all, a direct knock-on effect from having a workforce that feels empowered and in control of their personal and professional life.

A study carried out by the American software company Citrix found, for example, that flexible work programmes reduce unscheduled absences by 63 per cent, boosts happiness levels (90 per cent of flex workers say they feel happier) and motivates workers to do more (55 per cent state they will “go the extra mile” for their company as a result of their new working arrangements).

Other advantages include cheaper running costs, a smaller carbon footprint, better retention rates and more scope to attract talent, and more innovation. The less boundaries you have, the more open you are to embracing new concepts, the higher the chances of being part of the creative vanguard

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