How to make flexible working work for your teams
Now more than ever, you might believe that spending every day in the workplace, from 9am–5pm is an outdated concept. Flexible working isn’t new – it’s been evolving for years – but now, thanks to technology and lifestyle changes, employees are seeing a dramatic shift to flexibility. The goal is to create a better work/life balance and improve all elements of wellbeing.
While the benefits can be vast, it’s important to remember that flexible working takes planning. You’ll have to make it work for your employees, your teams and your business. We’re going to take a look at how to get it right.
What is flexible working?
Flexible working is an umbrella term which describes anything that isn't the traditional working routine.
Traditional working hours will look a little something like the 9am–5pm that many of us know so well. Flexible working, on the other hand, is anything that doesn’t fit into that format. This can include part time hours, working from home or in co-working spaces, job sharing and compressed hours, to name a few of the options.
Flexible working helps employers put the wellbeing of their people first, while allowing employees to create their own work/life balance arrangement. When employees are working in the ways that suit them best, engagement levels increase, stress levels can reduce and overall productivity can rise.
Types of flexible working:
Part time working – when an employee works less than full time hours for that organisation, usually by working fewer days (e.g. 2 or 3 days per week)
Working from home – where possible some or all work will be done from home or anywhere else other than the normal place of work
Job sharing – two (or more in some cases) people do one job and split the hours
Compressed hours – working full time hours over fewer days – this can mean reallocating working hours over a week to fit them into different days
Flexitime – an employee chooses when to start and end work (within agreed limits) but works certain ‘core hours’, for example 9am–3pm everyday – often this pattern will be in place for the whole team rather than just an individual
Staggering hours – an employee has different start, finish and break times from other workers – this can mean that there is always an employee available to assist customers
Phased retirement – the default retirement age has been phased out and now older workers can choose when they retire – this means they can reduce their hours and work part time if preferred
These options mean that you can make it flexible where, when and how much people work.
The benefits include:
Flexible working provides benefits to both employees and employers.
Employees are happier and more productive
When employees are able to change their working routine to boost their work/life balance or work in a way that works best for them, their wellbeing is placed as a priority. This means that when employees are in work, they are engaged and focused – boosting productivity levels.
Freedom and flexibility can be empowering
When employees have more freedom and are trusted by their employer, they can feel empowered. This allows them to take control of their own work and feel more motivated to reach targets and objectives.
Employees can gain back time normally spent commuting
According to Lloyds bank, the average journey time of UK employees is 65 minutes each day, with employees spending up to 70 weeks of time travelling to their job during their lifetime – costing £37,399 on average. This can be enough reason alone for employees to seek a better solution.
Working from home completely or even just a couple of days a week helps to give this time back to your employees, improving work/life balance and improving financial wellbeing by saving commuting costs.
Parents or carers can have a better work/life balance
For any employees who are parents or carers, flexible working offers the opportunity to achieve a balance between work and other responsibilities – which is extremely valued for those in this position.
Flexibility can also give employees the freedom to study for any extra qualifications they would like to gain. This time is not only valued by employees, but it makes them feel more engaged and driven, which improves overall company performance too.
Widen your potential talentpool and gain a competitive edge
When you offer flexible working opportunities as an employer, you can appeal to a wider group of potential employees. Flexible working options lead to fewer restrictions on who will apply to your roles, meaning you gain a wider talentpool to hire from and, in turn, are able to build a more diverse workforce. This helps to boost morale, productivity and creativity.
Offering flexibility can also be a benefit that brings a competitive advantage over a rival employer. For example, if you’re a smaller company competing against larger, more established brands for talent, flexible working policies can provide the edge needed for employees to choose you over another employer.
You can be flexible to suit your customers too
When you don’t stick to the normal 9–5, you can adapt your working patterns to match any demand driven by customers, technology and the global market. It’s very likely that demand for customer service can differ across time zones, which can highlight a need for different shift patterns or working hours.
With agreement from your employees, you can plan working hours alongside your periods of highest demand.
Reduce staff turnover
By providing flexible working options, employees can work in a way that works best for them and their lifestyle. Employees will be reluctant to give this freedom up, as they risk losing their preferred working patterns if they move to another employer – reducing staff turnover.
Furthermore, if an employee’s situation changes and they are no longer able to work full time, by providing other options, you don’t risk losing valuable team members.
How to make flexible working work your company
You need to work to maintain team morale
An increase in remote working leads to fewer employees in the office at one time and different working schedules can mean that it feels hard to catch a moment when you’re all together as a team.
This means a vital part of a manager's job when employees are working on different routines is maintaining team morale. The team needs to still feel like a team despite being apart more often, and employees need to be able to feel the company culture, no matter where they are.
Thankfully, technology can provide many solutions for this. Take a look at our remote team building activity guide for some ideas to make sure team morale doesn't fall behind with remote and flexible working.
Consider training for managers
Rather than HR, it may be best for team managers to take requests and make decisions on flexible working, as they are closer to the individual employees and should therefore know how flexible working would work in each individual case.
Line managers should be trained on how to handle requests as they need to be supportive and work to find ways for each employee to work best. They should also be mindful to consider all requests and not dismiss any straightaway to ensure fair treatment.
Timely and clear communication is a priority
It takes extra effort and planning to keep those working part time or remotely in touch and up to date with everything happening in the business. Meetings that may have once been face-to-face may now be harder to arrange and casual conversation that would normally take place around the workspace is lost.
Managers have to ensure that their communication is clear and that everyone is kept in the loop – there’s no such thing as overcommunication in a flexible working situation. Weekly team catch ups are a great way to recap anything that has happened over the week and communicate any changes or developments in projects or within the wider company.
Companies with a large number of remote employees or employees working at different times should also ensure that all meetings are recorded and can be shared to watch on demand at a later date. This ensures that no one misses important information simply by not being in the workplace at the right time.
It can also help to make it clear to employees that managers are available to answer any questions or discuss information further should it be needed. Managers can then relay any frequently asked questions and answers back to the wider team for further clarification.
Read next: The perks employees want in 2021
You need a lot of trust
Trust from both sides is critical to flexible working. Managers need to trust employees to be productive and efficient no matter when or where they are working, while employees need to trust managers to be supportive of their flexible routines.
Managers and employees should discuss how flexible working is going during their one to ones – this way you’re both able to highlight any issues that either party is experiencing and find solutions together. By openly discussing any issues, managers are better able to support their employees.
Furthermore, if anything needs to change in the flexible working routine – for example if you need an employee to come in on a day that they would normally be off, it's important to discuss this in advance, provide reasons and allow them enough time to make changes to their schedule. Remember that employees are working flexibly for a reason – so it can seem disrespectful to suddenly demand they drop everything.
Regularly review how your processes and policies are working for you and your employees
If you introduce flexible working into your teams, it’s important to review how employees are utilising these policies and how the new ways of working are impacting those involved.
Managing based on objectives or goals is beneficial with flexible working, as you can more accurately measure an individual's productivity or efficiency – this way you’re able to make changes to your processes based on actual results.
It’s also important to survey employees to see how they’re finding their new ways of working, or if there's anything they feel the company could do to better support them. You may find that those working remotely or those compressing their hours are working longer and experiencing more stress. On the other hand, it’s possible that some employees may abuse their flexibility, for example by taking long breaks while working remotely, which could be impacting their colleagues.
By asking employees how they are feeling about your policies, you can make the necessary changes to ensure employees are feeling happy, healthy and productive, with morale staying high.
If you’re still not sure if flexible working will work for your company...
If you’re not sure how well flexible working is going to work for your teams, don’t feel that you have to completely dive in with no going back.
You can try to implement flexible working into your teams on a temporary or trial basis. This way you are able to see how it works for your teams and possibly make any adjustments needed, rather than just rejecting any requests straight away.
And if you’re dealing with competing requests:
When the option of flexible working is available, employers may receive competing requests from different team members – which may mean that they’re not all possible:
Each request should be taken in turn
When you have considered and approved the first request, you need to think about how this changes day to day business operations. Following each request, you need to look at what the new daily business operations now look like and take this into account when considering the next request.
Try random selection
Let employees know that there are competing requests and confirm with them that this is how it will be decided. For example if you have two employees who would like to work 7am–3pm, but you only need one person to work this shift – the decision really can be as simple as picking a name out of a hat – so long as you have the agreement of your employees that this is how it will be selected.
Ask if employees are willing to switch with others
If there are too many people already working in different routines and you can’t accommodate any further requests, you can ask employees who are already working flexibly if they would be willing to change their schedules to create capacity for others. This can then be looked at on a rotating basis so everyone can have the opportunity to work in the way that suits them best.