Embracing flexible work schedules: advantages and challenges
Half of Britain’s employers are braced for further increases in demand for flexible working post-pandemic according to a study by Acas. Clearly, the ability to work flexibly, splitting time between home working and going into the office or choosing to work part-time, gives employees more freedom as well as cutting commuting costs and improving their work/life balance but what are the benefits for employers?
It’s not a one-way street. The advantages of flexible working extend to employers because when staff feel valued, they tend to perform better and Acas believes that any employers who adopt a flexible working scheme will attract and retain staff and increase productivity.
A report by the CIPD states that 56% of employers now feel that it is important to provide flexible working as an option when advertising job roles. It is viewed as a key method of attracting the right calibre of staff and addressing labour shortages.
Impact of flexible working on employers
According to CIPD’s study, 43% of organisations believe that their workforce is more productive when they are dividing their time between the home and office. As a result, 39% of organisations are investing in technology that aids hybrid working and adjusting policy to promote homeworking.
Hybrid working also aids inclusion and diversity in the workplace as those with personal responsibilities or disabilities that might prevent them from being office based 5-days a week or working full-time, are able to contribute their skills and creativity whilst also having the freedom and flexibility to meet other personal commitments and manage their health and wellbeing.
For the employer, it also reduces overheads. Office space is expensive and if your workforce is working flexibly, desks can be shared, and you can reduce the size of your office building. This reduction in costs means that you can invest in improving office space, giving staff a reason to want to come in for a few days each week.
Disadvantages of flexible working
The hybrid working model looks very attractive but it doesn’t work for everyone and there are disadvantages, such as:
- Home working doesn’t work for everyone. If you house share, have young children or don’t have the space for a proper workstation at home, it is often better to go into an office. Some people don’t like the blurring of work/home boundaries – papers all over the kitchen table, checking e-mails after hours, etc. It can become hard to know when work stops and home life begins.
- There’s an energy that forms when a group of people are in the same room and it often leads to the sharing of and forming of new ideas. It’s hard to brainstorm when you’re staring at a screen.
- Some workers, especially the younger generation, enjoy the camaraderie of office working and can feel isolated if they are stuck at home all day
- There is some evidence that career progression can stall if workers spend too much time working from home. This is particularly true of female workers.
- It’s harder for managers to supervise staff when they are working from home and in some cases, they may fear that workers are taking advantage, i.e. doing other things when they should be working. Research shows that generally, people do more work when they work flexibly but many old-school managers like to be able to watch their team at work.
- You have to be self-motivated to work from home successfully and it doesn’t suit those who tend to procrastinate. It’s easy to empty the dishwasher or put the bins out, etc when you’re working from home and before you know it, half the day has gone and you haven’t done any actual work.
- Flexible working might mean that a member of staff misses out on training or other in-office events that may further their career.
- Attitudes to flexible working aren’t always good. Some organisations are not in favour of it and it is often frowned upon if somebody who is not a parent or carer, requests a hybrid working arrangement. In organisations like this, you might find yourself being overlooked when it comes to promotion because your commitment is wrongly questioned.
When it comes to weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of flexible working, the hybrid model comes out on top and is fast becoming the new normal. All UK employees have a legal right to request flexible working if they have been working for the same organisation for at least 26 weeks.
If a member of staff makes a request for flexible working, you have to assess the advantages and disadvantages of the option fairly, discuss the request with them and give them the right to appeal if you decide not to grant their wish. If it is felt that you haven’t dealt with the request reasonably, you can be taken to an employment tribunal. You must have a good reason for turning down the request.
How to facilitate flexible working
Acas recommends organisations do the following when considering a hybrid working arrangement:
- Talk to members of staff to find out what they think. Consider any practical implications such as technology, health and safety factors, etc.
- Decide which roles are eligible for flexible working, decide on a request process and decide the most appropriate balance between home and office-based work.
- Make sure that those working from home are not excluded from opportunities such as workplace training or team building.
- Ensure that your process for requesting hybrid working is fair and transparent.
- Consider training managers to help them prepare for flexible working arrangements.
- Think about a trial period to see what works and make any adjustments needed.
- Support your employees so that they can stay motivated and organised, manage their time appropriately and achieve a good work/life balance.
- Discuss with managers and employees how performance will be measured. Make sure staff have clear objectives and continue to offer learning and development opportunities.
Alice has over 10 years experience within the HR sector, understanding
changing demands of employees and creating strategies to attract and retain
employees, creating a productive and positive working environment.