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Getting ahead of the competition: how flexible can your business be?

Fleixble Working Hours, just another buzz phrase?Written by Simon Morgan, HR Dept South East London and North Kent 

Flexible working. One of the “buzz phrases” of the last few years, it’s a hugely popular concept among employees, with around half of all British workers wanting some flexibility in their working hours or location (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2015).

Since 2014, all employees have had a legal right to request flexible working after 26 weeks of service for any reason, but despite this entitlement, 42% of workers still say that they’d feel uncomfortable asking their bosses to let them work more flexibly (CBI and Mumsnet, 2015). Further, just 6% of job adverts make mention of it. Thus there appears to be a fairly significant disconnect between what workers want and what employers actively encourage.

While it may be true that there are some roles that don’t suit job shares or part-time work, flexible working hours are just that – flexible. There are so many different ways that you can offer your employees the chance to work flexibly that there’s bound to be something that can really work for your firm.

Here are some of the more common types of flexible working:

  1. Working remotely – one of the most widespread examples of flexible working, it’s predicted that 70% of firms will offer remote working by 2020 (Citrix, 2016). Remote working is popular among employees as it enables them to miss the daily commute, and good for employers as it can save money on office space and equipment.
  2. Part-time working – the benefits to the employer of part-time working can be significant, not least the flexibility to meet peaks in demand, more efficient use of machinery and other equipment, and the ability to extend operating hours.
  3. Job sharing – one type of part-time work, job sharing is where two (or occasionally more) workers share the responsibility and pay of a full-time job. Benefits to the employer of a job share include a wider range of skills and experience to call upon, and greater continuity during absences.
  4. Flexi-time – usually under flexi-time arrangements employees can start and finish at different times while ensuring ‘core’ hours are covered. One of the main direct business benefits of this is the ability to extend opening hours without having to pay overtime; for employees, benefits include missing the worst of the commute or being able to do the school run.
  5. Compressed hours – by working full time hours over fewer days, work is reallocated into fewer and longer blocks during the week. Only really successful when the working patterns of everyone else in the team allows it, the main direct business benefit for employers is the ability to ensure the right amount of help at both peak and quiet times.
  6. Term-time working – targeted at parents of school-age children, employers may permit workers to remain on a permanent contract while taking paid or unpaid leave during school holidays. Of course this applies to educational establishments, but it can work particularly well for other businesses whose quiet periods coincide with the holidays, reducing expenditure during those times.
  7. Annualised hours – under this arrangement, employees have to work a certain number of hours over the year but have some flexibility about when to work them. It can be very beneficial to employers who have significant peaks and troughs in work volumes.
  8. Commissioned outcomes – not suited to every role, workers have an output target in place of fixed hours; it can be a great way for employers to encourage efficient working practices.

Flexible working can bring huge benefits to businesses – cost savings on office space and equipment, ability to meet changing demands for services, improved employee psychological contract, and increased appeal to top quality candidates to name but a few. Rather than waiting for their employees to make a formal request for flexible working, then, firms should be actively looking at ways that they can match their business needs with the way employees want to work.