The new flexible working legislation came into force on 30 June 2014, giving every worker the statutory right to request flexible working after 26 weeks of service.
With the new rules promising to support work-life balance and job satisfaction, flexible working can also improve employee engagement and productivity levels, in addition to reducing office overheads. While the business case is widely understood, implementing a flexible working framework is not an easy task with the potential to cause a headache for HR, IT and line managers, if not handled and managed effectively.
Increased flexibility in location and working hours is an attractive option for employees and, as a result, the UK Government has forecasted 182,000 flexible working requests per year, with the new legislation accounting for 81,000 of these. HR departments play an important role not only in managing these requests but, most importantly, building a culture that truly embraces flexibility. In many cases this means making behavioural, environmental and technological changes to the workplace.
Enabling flexible working can be challenging – especially in small organisations – however, there are a number of arrangements and ways it can be managed. Being able to work part-time is often the best option for employees, who have other life commitments. If the role requires full-time hours, working flexitime, working from home or job sharing can be ideal solutions for both the employee and the employer. By and large, the goal is to make sure that work gets done in the most productive way, regardless of time or location.
One of the most important aspects of flexible working is ensuring that employees can do their jobs effectively wherever and whenever they want, through having the right technology in place. But despite its importance, this is an area where a number of organisations struggle.
While large corporations may face issues with legacy systems and rolling out new software, SMEs are often faced with high costs of hardware and cloud services that are key enablers of flexible working practices. A laptop would now be considered a necessity for most remote and flexible workers, as would a mobile or smartphone. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) schemes can offer a viable alternative for companies, particularly SMEs, looking to cut costs, and today’s innovative security solutions ensure that all work applications are protected and there is no crossover between an individual’s professional and personal information.
In addition to the practical aspects of flexible working, technology is also vital for facilitating relationships and managing employees remotely. Maintaining a cohesive culture can be difficult when employees are working different hours and from different locations, limiting face-to-face contact and opportunities to stay up-to-date. Internal communication tools, such as instant messaging and video conference platforms, can help companies overcome these challenges.
As flexible working practices continue to develop, collaboration across the business is also more important than ever. For example, the IT department is an HR manager’s best friend in making sure that the required technology is in place. Similarly, line managers are integral to supporting flexible workers day-to-day and may need additional training to enable this. While HR can plan the strategy and processes, there is a mutual responsibility for creating a culture that extends beyond the office walls and traditional nine to five.