Studies have looked at the correlation between flexibility and productivity. According to HSBC for example, 9 in 10 employees consider flexible working to be the biggest motivator for productivity levels.
The gov.uk website defines flexible working as “a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, e.g. having flexible start and finish times, or working from home”. Everyone is entitled to request flexible working but must have been working for an employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible (the rules around flexible working are different in Northern Ireland, as you’ll see from the link above).
Although around 47% of UK businesses now offer full time roles with flexible working, many managers are still wary of letting employees work with different schedules or remotely. Balancing all your employees’ schedules and demands is a true management skill. But if you can strike a fair balance that works for your staff, your business and you, you can increase the work done and money made in less time.
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The type of business you run and who you employ will naturally affect the type of arrangement you have. Thankfully, flexible working can be delivered in many different ways. Some of the most popular are:
Flexitime is a policy where there are no set start and end times in the working day. As long as the employee achieves their targets and fulfils the expectations of their role, they’re free to manage their day as it suits them. To keep company culture strong and to make sure everyone is contactable at some point, many offices supplement flexitime with core hours. These core hours represent a time window during which everyone is present for a reasonable amount of time. For example, if an office offers flexitime with core working hours of 11am until 2pm, it would not be suitable for someone to start at 7am and finish at 1pm. Instead, they could work 9am until 3pm.
It’s becoming easier to communicate with coworkers and employees without even stepping foot in the workplace because of new technologies. A 2014 study by Stanford researchers found that call centre employees working remotely were on average 13% more productive than those working in the office, making more calls and spending more time on the phone.
Working from home (WFH) or simply remotely is perhaps one of the most favoured flexible working options for employees. As people’s lives get busier, working hours get longer and open plan offices become the norm, the desire to manage home demands with work, and complete tasks without distraction, are growing.
Working part time
The 8 hours a day, 5 day week doesn’t work — or simply isn’t necessary — for everyone. Part time work, which is usually defined as less than 35 hours a week, can be a suitable solution for some. The variety and rest that part time work allows has been said to increase general cognitive ability. And who doesn’t want sharper, more energetic workers in their team?
Whilst maternity and paternity leave aren’t ongoing flexible schedules, they are legal requirements. Employers can add extra benefits or extend leave time at their own discretion to stand out from others. Many household name companies are going the extra mile to offer parents more time off, flexible work schedules after the leave period and access to on site créches.
Empowering employees to work in a way that makes them more productive and allows them to create a healthy work-life balance can make them happier and better at their job. From a business standpoint, introducing flexible schedules can also bring benefits like:
Attracting top talent.
Flexible schedules act as a powerful recruiting tool. With the job market becoming increasingly competitive, the option for employees to define their own working day is an attractive benefit to catch the eye of talented workers.
As we covered already, working from one location on a formal schedule isn’t the best environment for everyone. Giving employees some freedom to work out a better work-life balance may be the boost they need to become more productive.
Burnout often happens when employees aren’t getting the work-life balance they need — everyone’s different. With less travel, more time to focus and so on employees feel more motivated and refreshed. The Stanford study we mentioned before also found that employees who work from home are less likely to resign.
When designing your approach to flexible schedules, be sure to involve your team closely. One size does not fit all, and whilst one employee may need a lot of flexibility, others might prefer the collaborative, stable environment that on-site, structured work provides. There is also a potential risk that several employees working flexibly may become isolated from others — as always, great leadership and planning for your employees requires balance.
If you’re uneasy about making the move to flexible schedules or it’s proving hard to make everyone happy, these guidelines will help:
Establish clear boundaries.
Before you agree on any kind of arrangement, make sure the parameters are clear. For flexible schedules to work, there have to be rules, expectations and fair consequences. Put aside regular time to have catch ups and progress reviews, and ask employees to send weekly updates on their achievements and blockers.
With everyone working to slightly different schedules, it’s more important than ever to stay in communication. Don’t overlook the value of arranging social activities so that everyone stays close. And make it clear to your employees that you’re always there to listen.
Use remote working tools.
With flexible schedules become more popular, technology companies have responded and there are now a range of tools to help you and your team cooperate remotely. Trello for example, is a great platform for managing workload and projects, whilst Google Drive and Dropbox provide an easy way to collaborate on documents and files.
Trust your employees.
The most important ingredient in a successful flexible working setup is trust. If you keep fixating on whether or not people are doing what they should be, something is broken. Hiring good employees who share your vision is the first step towards a trusting relationship. The second is working on strengthening your team. And the third is adopting a more emotionally intelligent approach to management that uses positivity and awareness to connect with the individuals working for you.
Transforming your workplace to suit flexible schedules isn’t an overnight task, so don’t feel like you need to rush into anything before you’ve found the right arrangement. Start with outlining the needs of your business, then bring in your employees to find a solution together. If you can maintain a strong team and be flexible yourself, you’ll discover the perfect balance over time.
*This article is intended to offer helpful guidance and should not be interpreted as legal advice. You should consult a legal expert regarding your obligations under relevant employment legislation to provide guidance tailored to your business’ specific circumstances.