Embrace a flexible working approach to help you and your employees thrive.

Our working lives have changed considerably since 2020. Increasingly, businesses are enabling their employees to work more flexibly, and employees expect to be able to work differently. New communication platforms like MS Teams, Zoom and Slack have developed to support increased flexibility.

Flexible working operates at it’s best when it works for everyone - the employee and the employer. When properly implemented,  benefits to employers include; improved productivity, better attraction and retention of talent and reduced overheads.

Keep reading for a step-by-step guide that covers practical advice and regulation.

What is flexible working?

The term flexible working covers a diverse selection of working arrangements. It's about finding what works for your business, your customers and your individual employees’ needs. Discovering that ‘sweet spot’, where flexible working practices create the right balance so everyone benefits is the key to success.
 

In the UK, anyone who’s employed for 26 weeks can make a request to work flexibly. There are lots of reasons why they might do so. They could have children or caring responsibilities, or perhaps they want to spend more time on a hobby or interest. They may want to pursue further education, reskill or want to do their bit in their local community by volunteering for a good cause.
 

Businesses and the wider communities they serve can benefit from a more flexible relationship with those who work for them. Doing so in the right way, could drive more value for your company, your employees and your customers. In the UK, employees making a flexible working request do not have to provide a reason for their request.

Four ways your business can be more flexible.

1. Employee location

  • In the office or workplace
  • From home
  • Hybrid – combination of home and workplace
  • Multi-sites – visiting several locations to fulfil duties

2. When they work

  • Full-time
  • Reduced hours and term-time working – less than full-time hours
  • Job sharing – sharing one role between two reduced hours employees
  • Split shifts – splitting the hours you work in one day across two shifts
  • Staggered hours – starting and finishing earlier / later
  • Seasonal working – work to cover peaks, such as Christmas in retail or fruit picking on farms
  • Annualised hours – where a set number of hours a year is agreed but there is some flexibility about when the employee works
  • Phased retirement – reducing hours gradually until retirement

3. Type of role

  • Secondments – a short stint in another area of work can be used to cover parental leave
  • Job rotation – planned rotations, to increase skills
  • Multi-skilling or generalists – employees can have specialist knowledge or be more generalists depending on what’s needed in your business
  • Gigs – short-term placements to deliver a specific task usually alongside a day job

4. Who works for you?

  • Permanent employees – permanent contracts with no end date
  • Fixed-term employees – employed for a set period of time
  • Contractors – employed on a temporary basis and can often be on-boarded or released with minimal notice, often by a third party
  • Retired affiliates on retainer contracts or retired employees who are retained for ad-hoc tasks
  • Volunteers – resource provided free of charge such as litter picking in parks
  • Crowdsourced resources – for example, running a competition for customers to come up with a new design for an existing or new product 
  • Self-service – for example, banks enabling self-service for different types of transactions including: online banking, contact centres and ATMs so customers can get 24/7 access to banking services. Self-service will likely reduce the need for employed resource

Why adopt a flexible working approach?

As well as supporting an employee’s legal right to request flexible working, there are many reasons for businesses to adopt a flexible working approach. Let’s look at why. 
 

Recruiting the best people

By embedding flexible working, you’ll have a more competitive offering than less flexible rivals. 
 

Keeping and motivating employees

Once you’ve hired and trained a great team, you’ll want to keep them, and flexible working is a great way to ensure they stay happy and engaged throughout their career with you.
 

Greater flexibility at any stage of life

There are now five generations in the workplace and they are all seeking flexible working for different reasons. At the start of a career, employees may prefer to work in a hybrid way or have a more portfolio-based career (several reduced hours jobs adding up to full-time work). 

Parents and carers may need flexible hours to manage school runs and other caring responsibilities. Those nearing retirement may want to change the way they work as part of their transition into retirement, especially as people are living and working longer. According to a report from Legal & General and the Centre for Economics, 47% of the UK workforce will be over 50 by 2030 (PDF, 996KB), whilst other age groups will remain fairly static. 


A more diverse and inclusive workplace

Flexible working can enable a more diverse workforce and make your organisation feel more inclusive. By creating more flexible roles and opening vacancies to reduced hours, hybrid or home working, this can make working for your organisation more attractive to a wider pool of people.

Many organisations in the UK are publicly declaring a commitment to equal gender representation – The McKinsey Women in the Workplace 2022 article showed that flexible and hybrid working is a game changer for women, and in particular for those with a disability. 
 

Meeting customer demand

One of the most important things to consider is optimising your workforce so that customers are always well-served while avoiding unproductive capacity during quiet times. Understanding the changing demand of the customers you serve and how you can make sure you have the right people, in the right place, at the right time is at the core of a successful flexible working proposition.
 

Cutting your business costs 

By hiring people who work from home or in a hybrid role, you may be able to reduce your outlay on workspace and contribute to a more sustainable model of work. You can also reduce costs and increase productivity by only hiring employees for the hours you need, not all roles need to be covered on a full-time basis.

How to implement a team-led process for flexible working

Whatever type of business you are in, research shows a team-based approach is key to flexible working. Taking a one size fits all approach doesn’t work. The rationale for this is that your business is made up of different teams, roles and people. By involving your employees, you can shape a new model of work that meets today’s demands. This approach enables you to proactively introduce more flexibility into your business.

You can hold a team discussion which can be with the whole team if you are a micro business, or perhaps with team leaders or managers if your business is bigger, using the steps below to guide the session.

Step one: The goal

Start by explaining what you want to achieve for your business. What are your goals? Are you wanting to grow your business, to add new products, to get customers to self-serve more, to reduce office space, or just to survive in a tough economic climate? 

If your business goal is to win more international business, one idea might be to try staggering your working hours, providing greater ‘round-the-clock’ availability. Or, if one of your challenges is meeting customer demand at certain times of the day / week / month / year - considering more seasonal contracts, reduced hours workers or multi-skilling employees could help smooth out the peaks in demand and enable your business to grow.

Once everyone understands the business goals you and your team can start to think about what changes you need to make to the way your people work to help achieve them.

Step two: The discussion

Ask employees to think about what works well and what ideas for change they have. Get them to consider:
 

  • Your customers - Do they want to reach you at different times or in different ways?
  • Your employees - How would they like to work – more / less flexibly?
  • Your business - How predictable is the work? Do you have busier times?
  • Your competitors - What is everyone else doing?   
  • Your people processes - Can you simplify your processes?
  • Your culture - Can you do more to embed flexibility into the way you work?

 

Useful prompts

What’s working well for us? 

Think about this across the four dimensions: when people work, where people work, how they work and who you need to employ to fulfil the work.

 

What could we do better? 

Are there specific times of day when you need all / most of your employees present? These could be the core hours of an otherwise flexible pattern. Perhaps for team meetings, when it is important to ensure everyone is clear on their priorities, or for times when you want to collaborate?

Think about what you can change locally within any existing policy framework versus which changes might need a wider policy review to progress. For tips on what your policy should include – see the ‘Overcoming obstacles to agile working’ section below.

 

Do you have any ideas you’d like to trial? 

You can give your employees the opportunity to make suggestions and raise concerns. Are there flexible options that could deliver greater productivity and better customer service? Maybe your team already know of inefficiencies that could easily be remedied.

You could even give your team responsibility for devising its own flexible working solutions. Start by providing broad outlines based on the operational needs of the business.

Step three: The plan


Once you’ve agreed what you would like to change or try, you need a plan to make it happen. You could decide to run a pilot to iron out any problems or just make a wholesale change and track the impact on your business goals and performance. 
 

What your plan could include:

  • What will you stop / start / continue based on your discussion?
  • Who will be responsible for making the changes?
  • Will the change be available for all employees or just certain roles / teams/ locations in your business?
  • When will you make the change?
  • Who needs to be involved? 
  • Will you pilot or roll-out to everyone?
  • How will you know if the change has made a positive difference to your business, your customers, and your employees?

 

Measures to track the impact:

  • Increased / decreased costs
  • Improved / reduced productivity
  • Created more / less innovation
  • Enabled greater / less attraction and retention of talent
  • Improved / reduced the ability to meet customer demand
  • Improved / reduced employee wellbeing and absence
  • Helped / hindered providing a quality service for your customers
  • Any other performance indicators that are important to your business.

Assessing flexible working requests - what you need to know

Your employees have the right to request flexible working. 

Once you’ve received an application, you should hold a meeting with the employee to discuss it. Even if you don’t think it’s possible to approve the request, you could still discuss alternatives that may work for you. Perhaps your employee has some great compromise ideas? Try to remain open to finding a solution that works for everyone – that ‘sweet spot’ we talked about at the start of this guide shown on the Venn diagram included above.
 

You should consider each request individually and if you can’t accommodate it for business reasons right now, it is important you explain that to your employee. There are clear statutory reasons why requests can be declined
 

On the other hand, if you accept a flexible working request, you can use the meeting to agree; how it will work, what changes might need to be put in place in the wider team to support the new way of working and when it will be reviewed to make sure it is still fit for purpose in the future.
 

More information on flexible working laws.

Overcoming obstacles to agile working

Formal or informal flexibility? 

New arrangements, need to feel fair and flexible to the business, the employee and their team. Informal flexibility (temporary, non-contractual arrangements) can help employers and employees manage last-minute issues and may encourage more flexibility in return. For example, you may need someone to work late on an important customer order, and in return your employee can take time off to attend an event that is important to them, such as a child’s sports day. This doesn’t require a change to a contract and informal flexibility can help change the culture and behaviours in an organisation.
 

Formal arrangements are those changes that are permanent and change the contract between you and your employee. A formal change provides both parties with certainty and enables everyone to plan but it is important to review working arrangements regularly – if they are no longer working for the business or the employee, you need to discuss what needs to change to get back to the ‘sweet spot’.

 

Creating a transparent culture

For flexible working to be successful, you need to be transparent and consistent. This doesn’t mean that everyone needs to have the same way of working. Instead, the boundaries and guidance need to be clear and easily understood, which roles can be done on a reduced hours or job-shared basis versus those that can only be done by someone full-time or which need to be done in the office.
 

We recommend you have a policy that clearly outlines:
 

Flexibility by role – when / where / how each type of position can work.
 

Team arrangements – how teams can set-up an agreement that will help them decide how they will work together and stay connected as a team. This could include: team meetings, core hours and on-site or office days.
 

Tailored support – is there additional flexibility needed to support colleagues at certain points in their career? Such as those who have just started working with you or those returning from paternity leave.
 

Specific employee requirements – we all live our lives in different ways and have different commitments outside of work. You may have employees who would like time to pray on a Friday afternoon in the middle of their shift for example, or employees who have disabilities that need reasonable working adjustments. Read our Disability in the workplace guide to help you support employees with disabilities. 

 

Flexible working can benefit everyone, and trust is the key. If you feel it’s not working well for your business, arrange to have a conversation with your employee(s) and work together to fix the issues.

Keeping everyone connected

Keep talking to your employees and continue reviewing their arrangements regularly, perhaps once a quarter. Consider what technology can help you stay connected, regardless of when / where everyone is working. The model of work has changed, and workspaces need to change with it. Think about how you will run meetings and activities if your teams work in a hybrid way- some of the team at home and others in the workplace.
 

Setting a positive example

Start to structure senior jobs more flexibly to show it can be done. Use recruitment, restructures, and promotions to redesign roles and open them up to flexible working. If you’re working flexibly yourself, be clear about when and how you can be contacted and what to do in an emergency.
 

Make clear what you expect from your employees and what they can expect from you in return, building trust is important. Try to set a great example by sticking to your flexible arrangement as far as possible. And tell stories of the teams and employees who are getting flexibility right. Success often breeds success.
 

Flexible working can be a great asset to organisations of all sizes, across all sectors but it is important to invest the time to set it up in the right way. Developing a flexible working policy, enabling team conversations, understanding the regulation, and having a plan that aligns to your business goals are some of the important elements that lead to creating a win: win for your business, your customers, and your employees.

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