The jury is out on whether or not companies are truly embracing flexible working on year on since the Government introduced new legislation giving all employees the right to request flexible hours.
A recent survey from Workingmums.co.uk[i] suggested that over a fifth of working mums have been forced to leave their jobs because a flexible working request was turned down. The survey of 2,300 mums also found that 38% of those still on maternity leave would not return to their jobs if flexible working wasn’t granted.
Another report in June from Timewise,[ii] highlighted that 14.1 million people in Britain want more flexibility in their working hours to fit in with modern life, equivalent to almost half the working population. However, out of 3.5m job adverts, Timewise found that only 6.2% mentioned a degree of flexibility and offered a salary deemed high enough to live on – the full time equivalent (FTE) of £20,000 or more.
It seems that some companies are struggling to integrate flexible working into their businesses and, as there is no statutory right for an employee to appeal if a request is turned down, perhaps there isn’t the urgency for companies to prioritise making it work.
Trust between the employer and employee is an essential part of flexible working however, it other factors are important too including good communication and robust processes and technology that enable people to works as productivity as if they were in the office. Larger organisations tend to be better equipped to do this, whilst smaller companies find it challenging.
One of the big issues is for smaller companies in particular trying to make flexible working run smoothly, is that they need visibility of when their people are available for it work. They need systems that chart exactly who is working, who is holiday, who may be sick or working flexibly and many simply don’t have these systems in place.
However, there are others simple things that companies and in particular HR professionals can do to make flexible working operate more effectively in their companies and much of my advice is focused on good communication.
1. Everyone needs to know what is expected of them when working flexibly – what are the expected outputs and how they can be contacted and how they will communicate.
2. Work schedules with expected timelines or deadlines for work to be completed need to be agreed in the same way as they would do if the individual were working in the office.
3. People need to know who is working from home and when. This should be visible and recorded in a centrally accessible electronic diary that should break down any barriers that prevent the employee being contacted.
4. Regular communication with the employee’s line manager and/or office should be maintained as this will ensure that the employee is in touch with what is going on and will enforce the understanding with those in the office that the employee is actively busy working.
5. If agreed tasks or activities are completed well, on time or ahead of schedule then regular feedback with praise can help with maintain a good working relationship with their peers. The same would apply if tasks or activities are not met as agreed to understand the reason why and assess if further support or assistance is required so they do not feel completely isolated.
6. By using the latest electronic instant messaging tools with presence awareness can be of great help with keeping in contact. The employee’s colleagues can chat with them instantly or by using a webcam without the need for speaking to them on the phone and see that the employee is at their PC throughout the day.
7. Don’t forget to include the employee on any electronic communication that includes work news, success/wins, activities, company news to ensure that they still feel part of the organisation and are not forgotten.
These are simple and relatively inexpensive processes to put in place. Successful flexible needs careful planning, consideration and processes, but above all, it must be championed and embraced by businesses.