The UK government introduced the right for parents and carers to request flexible working hours into their employee contract almost two decades ago. A lot has changed in the workplace since then. We’re now seeing a marked shift towards flexible working in even the most traditional companies.
Trailblazing brands like Google, Rolls Royce, Unilever, Vodafone and Skyscanner are veterans of flexible working in the UK. For a long time, these barrier-breaking companies have sought to help their employees maintain the perfect equilibrium between their work lives and home lives. Now, industries that are traditionally office-based such as sales, marketing, accountancy, and tech are following suit.
The health and wellbeing trend is still going strong, and optimal work-life balance is a non-negotiable for millennials entering the workplace. This attitude is now trickling down to the UK workforce at large. It’s increasingly old fashioned to expect employees to be physically present at their desk during core hours.
In recent years, the rapid growth of innovation and technology has transformed the way we live and work. The world is more connected than ever before. The endless supply of digital communications tools and collaboration software available today means it’s easy to work remotely, so employees across many different industries are now demanding flexibility.
Making the workplace work for you
All employees now have the right to request flexible working if they have been with the company for more than 26 weeks. The Government definition of flexible working is ‘a way of operating that suits an employee’s needs’.
For parents with young children, this may mean getting to work early and leaving early to do the school run. For those with a long commute, it may mean working from home entirely for a day or two per week.
Staff with a long commute would benefit from flexible working arrangements
Employers are legally obligated to deal with such requests in a ‘reasonable manner’. They must weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of the application before making a decision.
Whereas requests used to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, it’s increasingly common for companies to roll out shiny new flexi-working policies for all staff members. This smart way of heading up operations means breaking with 9 – 5 working hours and turning tradition on its head.
HR professionals and recruitment professionals now include flexible working as a company benefit. Having a flexi-time policy can help companies attract and retain the best talent, and in turn, can help with employee retention too.
Outside of enhancing recruitment, other benefits to company culture include increasing motivation among staff members, slashing absence rates, increasing diversity, and reducing overheads.
The end of presenteeism
The focus is now no longer on presenteeism but on outputs. Research has proven that flexible working arrangements contribute to a more balanced and fulfilled life. Trusting employees to manage their own time and workloads can be a motivating force.
The right technology is vital to ensuring flexible working is a success and can be the make or break factor in maintaining a strong company culture. Adopting state-of-the-art collaboration software is key for companies that allow employees to work remotely. Instant messenger, phone, email and specialist software can help employees maintain good working relationships, as strong communication becomes more important than ever before.
A physical connection is still important
Many employers who have taken the leap into flexible working stress that physical connection is still important. Flexible working should not be implemented at the detriment of company culture, but rather add to it.
Being physically present when you need to be is of course still very important too. You can roll this into your flexi working policy by stressing, for example, the importance of attending events such as client meetings and having regular face-to-face catchups.
Include attending client meetings face-to-face as part of your flexible working policy
The rapport between employer and employee is paramount, so regular digital check-ins when working from home and ‘virtual coffees’ to replace water cooler moments can be used to foster healthy working relationships.
Setting up flexible working
Many companies roll out e-learning courses to employees before implementing their new flexi-time policy to help their people understand what is required and expected of them in terms of output.
Proper education is vital, especially for those working remotely, as they may need training in new collaboration software. This is also the time to stress the importance of seemingly obvious factors that can affect productivity, including having a strong internet connection and a comfortable environment free from disruption.
The world of work is changing and the fundamental shift to flexi working brings unique opportunities and challenges. Ultimately, employees should be able to trust their staff to do their job to the best of their ability. Loyalty can be fostered by recognising that people have commitments, passions and interests outside of the office.