There are numerous studies to suggest that flexible workers are more productive and engaged. However, many businesses are still unsure about the impact of new legislation allowing all employees to request the right to work flexibly.
Many companies already recognise flexible working as a powerful business tool – particularly when it’s not just managed as an accommodation to women with families for example, but when its power and impact is harnessed wherever it makes good, solid business sense.
Others are concerned about how to manage requests as they don’t know what criteria to apply to their decisions, or how to measure the impact. Regardless of how much a business embraces flexible working now, the legislation is ultimately a good thing, as it simplifies a policy that previously lacked clarity for employers and employees alike.
On 30 June, the government extended the right to request flexible working to all employees rather than just those with parental responsibility for children aged under 18. Employers have a statutory duty to consider all requests, but importantly there is flexibility to refuse them if there is proof it will negatively impact the business.
So what does this mean for businesses? Below are a series of tips on how to manage new requests for flexible working and make it work for your business:
Trial with select individuals or groups
If the new legislation prompts a handful of new requests, give it a try over a fixed period with an individual or select group. Monitor the results; consider feedback regularly from colleagues and clients on progress, and have one-to-ones with those working flexibly to monitor their engagement and performance. Also, be prepared to fine tune it. As with most new processes, ongoing refinement is key. If the trial period works, you have the metrics and learnings that can be applied if you decide to roll out the policy more widely across the business.
Set business goals
A common misconception around flexible working is that it primarily benefits the employee. This isn’t the case if you set clear and measurable business goals and outline clearly what is expected of an individual when working flexibly. For example, could you get them to deliver a special project that they will work on from home to achieve better focus? Can working flexibly or from home be used to channel their creativity which might be impaired by much of the day-to-day activity they are immersed in when in the office?
Consider and clearly convey what your expectations are on timing, quality etc and make it clear you expect them to ‘check in’. By agreeing this up front, it helps to prevent personal attitudes or unconscious bias from hampering a flexible working policy, or stifling the untapped potential of an individual who could perform to a far higher standard with greater control of their work life.
Forget about presenteeism
Work is an activity – and there’s no reason why it should be linked to a specific place.Our work/home lives are now more fluid than ever. And our careers are a marathon not a sprint – we’re all in it for the long haul so it’s important that work works for us. For younger generations, 24/7 connectivity means they don’t necessarily perform at their best when restricted to doing so within certain time constraints in fixed locations. Remember that everyone is different and they need to find the best style of work to suit them in order to feel in control of their own career. This control is empowering and in itself prompts a greater level of productivity and engagement.
Of course you do still need flexible workers to be in the office sometimes, so make sure they use the time effectively for collaborative activities; harnessing the power of the wider team when they are all in one place. This also helps flexible workers feel connected and engaged with their colleagues.
For a flexible working policy to work, regardless of how widely it is rolled out, your managers and team leaders need to be able to monitor its effectiveness and have adult conversations about what works for the business AND the individual in question. It’s not a case of them having conversations around whether someone is ‘sufficiently deserving’, as the decision should be firmly focused on the business case rather than the personal circumstances or reasons for the request.
Managers also need to be able to make changes if it isn’t working and ensure these changes are communicated across the business. You must ensure managers are well resourced and have a thorough understanding of the policy – you may need to consider extra training to support them.