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Flexible working schedules: benefits and tips

Flexible working provides employees with the opportunity to select the hours they want to work, or the location from where they want to work. Flexible working schedules are based on the needs of the employee rather than the demands of the employer and have the potential to provide staff with an improved work-life balance.

Flexible working can provide employers with a motivated workforce that is more productive and loyal to the business in the long-term. As the demand for flexible working hours increases, we explore the benefits that employers can realise and provide tips for implementing successful strategies in the workplace.

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What is flexible working?

Flexible working provides employees with more control over the hours they work each week, or the choice to decide where they work. For employees flexible working hours result in more independence, while simultaneously employers often see productivity improve.

Flexible working is an agreement between the employer and employee that establishes a work schedule outside of the standard office hours. While employees still work the set number of hours they are contracted for each week, they can choose when they put these hours in. Flexible working also encompasses other areas such as working from home or trading hours with other employees.

Flexible working schedules are varied and constantly evolving, but some of the major employer-employee agreements that are considered to be ‘flexible’ are:

  • Flexitime
  • Part-time hours
  • Remote working
  • Homeworking
  • Term-time working
  • Job sharing
  • Compressed hours
  • Annual hours
  • Sabbaticals

Other contracts or agreements are also considered to be ‘flexible’, including zero-hours contracts, freelancing and commission-based roles measured by sales, rather than hours worked.

What are the benefits of flexible working?

Flexible working is becoming increasingly popular amongst employees in the United Kingdom. A recent CIPD report estimated that up to 70% of the UK workforce would prefer flexible working hours or flexible working schedules. Other reports estimate that up to 30% of the UK workforce would embrace flexible working hours over a pay rise.

Flexible working has obvious benefits for employees, giving staff increased choice and the chance to improve their work-life balance. For example, parents can spend more time with their children, employees can cut down on their commute times and staff can choose to work abroad. For many employees, it’s the freedom and independence that come with flexible working that is more preferable to earning higher wages.

However, flexible working is yet to be embraced by businesses in the same manner as employees. The CIPD report mentioned above also records that in 2017 only 27% of the workforce had flexible working hours or a flexible working arrangement with their employer. While those figures don’t yet meet the demands of the workforce, they have improved steadily over the last two decades. For employees, the situation seems set to improve, as the number of remote and flexible workers is forecast to increase dramatically over the next few years by the CIPD.

The increase in businesses offering remote working schedules is helped by business owners understanding the benefits that they stand to gain from providing their staff with more flexibility. Flexible working isn’t just great for the well-being of staff members, but it can be great for productivity and ultimately for the profitability of the company, especially in the long-term.

Here are the major benefits of implementing flexible working schemes within your business:

  • Lower overheads: Remote working results in lower office costs, savings on energy and fewer travel subsidies.
  • Improved well-being of staff: Employees enjoy more freedom of choice, leading to greater motivation and productivity when at work.
  • Increased staff responsibility: With more independence, staff take more responsibility for their work.
  • Increase in staff retention: Happier staff are more likely to stay with the company, for longer periods of time.
  • Decrease in absenteeism: Happier staff are less likely to take sick days unless it is absolutely necessary. If working from home, staff are more punctual attending virtual meetings too.
  • Serve more customers: With flexible hours, employers can schedule staff to work different times of the day to allow for increased customer service demand.
  • Sell more products: With motivated staff and longer opening hours, businesses can increase sales.
  • Attract the best staff: Providing flexible working arrangements gives employers a competitive advantage in hiring ideal candidates over other companies that don’t.
  • Increased diversity in the workforce: Flexible working provides space for workers with flexible needs, such as parents, to continue working.

Employers can also consider other benefits that while not directly related to their business, are important. For example, flexible working arrangements that cut down commuting and travel times help to lower carbon emissions, lower congestion and lower pollution in cities. Staff members with an improved work-life balance are more likely to be happy in their private lives, with a lower chance of mental health problems outside of work resulting from lower stress levels.

Overview of the ‘right to request’ flexible working legal right

Flexible working isn’t new to the UK. Traditionally, however, businesses have only used these arrangements when necessary, usually to meet the needs of carers and new parents who have the right to remain in the workforce despite their other responsibilities.

This traditional outlook is steadily changing and employers need to consider that their employees have a legal right to ask for flexible working arrangements. They don’t necessarily need to be a carer or parent to do this and employers must consider the basis of their application fairly.

The UK government sets out guidelines for employers and employees to follow when ‘the right to request’ is being exercised. Legally, employers only need to consider applications from staff members who have worked for them for a minimum of 26 weeks.

If employees are exercising their ‘right to request’, then the following steps are taken:

  1. An employee with 26 weeks of service must put in a statutory application for flexible working hours in writing to their employer.
  2. An employer then has three months to make a decision on the application. Employers must decide in a ‘reasonable manner’.
  3. The employer responds within three months. If they agree, then the employee’s contract must be updated to reflect the decision. If it’s a no, then the employer must back up their decision in writing.

Making a decision in a ‘reasonable manner’ involves the employer taking into account the benefits that a flexible working arrangement can have for both the business and the employee. The employer can look at different types of flexible working arrangements to decide which would be most beneficial. If there’s no reasonable reason to deny the application, then the employer must consent and put into practice a flexible working schedule.

Employers must provide employees with an opportunity to appeal the decision as part of a reasonable process. They also need to be aware of the fact that employees are legally allowed to take them to an employment tribunal if a flexible working hours request hasn’t been considered in a ‘reasonable manner’.

Examples of flexible working schedules

Flexible working encompasses a wide range of different flexible working schedules, each with its own benefits and advantages. Different businesses and companies are best suited to particular flexible schedules, so employers must look at the full range of options available to them. Here are the most popular flexible working schedules in more detail:

Flexitime

Flexitime provides employees with the chance to choose when they start and finish work. Employees must work a set number of hours, but within reasonable limits, they are allowed to set these hours to meet their personal needs. For example, one employee may want to start work at 11 a.m. and finish at 7 p.m., while another employee may prefer to start at 9 a.m. and finish at 5 p.m.

Compressed hours

Compressed hours is a flexible working schedule that shortens the number of days worked each week while retaining the number of hours worked. For example, an employee can request to have a three day weekend. Instead of working 40 hours Monday to Friday, they work 40 hours from Monday to Thursday and have Friday off.

Remote working

Remote working is also known as telecommuting or home working. Employers allow their staff to work from home, remotely, provided they can complete the work to the same standard as they could in the office. Remote working is increasingly popular, especially given widespread access to computers, internet and teleconferencing software. Employees can choose to work from their homes, but can also be given the option of working remotely abroad if they desire.

Job sharing

Job sharing involves two employees sharing the workload and responsibilities of one employee. This can be an even split, with each employee working 20 hours a week, or completing the same number of tasks each week. Alternatively, it can provide one employee with 75% of the workload and the other only 25%. Pay is split evenly to reflect their respective workload. Job sharing offers employees the opportunity to reduce their working week and take more time off.

Tips for implementing flexible work schedules

Flexible working schedules can produce fantastic results for employers. As with any innovative concept, though, employers need to be confident that flexible working schedules can be put in place effectively and with minimal disruption to the existing business. Here are a few useful tips for implementing flexible work schedules:

Create a clear flexible work policy

Creating a clear flexible work policy ensures that employees and managers understand their responsibilities when working from home or reducing their hours. Ensure that employees understand their obligations, their tasks and how their performance is tracked while away from the office.

Develop clear working schedules

Sometimes the needs of the business or the customers won’t allow for full flexibility. Developing a clear and concise work schedule allows you to ensure that your phones can always be answered and your customers and clients always have a point of contact.

Prepare for flexible working in the future

Flexible working is expected to become increasingly popular, so start building flexibility into the business early. When vacant positions need to be filled, start designing and advertising roles around flexible working hours.

Implementing flexible working hours can result in a huge range of benefits to both employers and employees. Employers can improve productivity and lower their overheads, while employees can improve their work-life balance. With remote and flexible working becoming increasingly popular, now is a great time for employers to consider implementing flexible working schedules across their business.

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