Flexible working has been a key phenomenon emerging from the pandemic. We take a look at what employers not only need to do to comply with the law, but how to embrace flexible working in a changing world of work.
What is Flexible Working?
Flexible working is a generic term that includes both a statutory right of employees to request different working arrangements, and more employer led voluntary policies and strategies to supporting employees to work in a way that suits their needs.
Prior to COVID-19, typical flexible working requests would be to work part time or altered start and finish times, but the global remote working experiment mandated by governments to reduce the spread of the coronavirus has created a flexible working revolution. A whole world of flexible approaches to work have emerged from hybrid working, permanent home working, 9 day fortnights, 4 day weeks, flexi-time and core hours to name a few. These options are not new and indeed some companies were well versed in flexible working already. The Coronavirus, however, has enabled a large proportion of employers to test out working approaches they previously would not have considered possible. And this has fundamentally altered the expectations of staff.
Who Can Apply for Flexible Working?
Once an employee has 26 weeks of employment with a company, they have the legal right to make a request to work flexibly. Providing they have not made a flexible working application within the last 12 months. This applies to employees, but does not extend to workers, for example agency workers. Download for Template Flexible Working Request Form
There is a misconception that an employee must have caring responsibilities to make a request for flexible working. Many employees who make such a request will do so for childcare or other caring responsibilities. But the pandemic has brought to the fore how important work life balance is and it is becoming increasingly common for employees to want to choose working arrangements that fit around their lifestyle. Companies must be careful not to discriminate based on the reasons for flexible working requests. Whether that be employees making a request to look after their children or care for elderly relatives, those requiring flexibility for religious reasons or for simply enabling an employee to fit in a new hobby picked up during lockdown.
When Did it Come into Force?
The right to request flexible working has been in place for almost two decades, but previously was typically isolated to parents and carers. This was extended in 2014 to include all employees with 6 months of employment history. But the change very much flew under the radar until the pandemic when flexible working became more mainstream terminology.
How to Make Flexible Working Work?
In the new world of work, looking at how to handle a flexible working request through a purely statutory lens is limiting. Of course, employers do need to comply with the legislation around flexible working which means considering all flexible working requests fairly within 3 months, and there are a range of fairly broad reasons that employers would need to ensure any refusal of a request fits into. However, in a post pandemic world, a flexible working application will not be a once or twice a year event for employers to handle because, as companies gravitate back to the office, employees will be considering what the working week looks like for them.
To make flexible working work for your business, rather than waiting for countless requests to hit your desk, developing a flexible working strategy is essential. What works for your business will be different to the business next door. Therefore, it is important to consider the options:
- Could you implement core hours e.g. from 10am to 3pm which would mean that staff are required to work during these hours, but can make up their working time whenever suits them outside of this?
- Are you open to accepting permanent homeworking arrangements which would mean you would have some fully virtual staff?
- Do you have expectations around hybrid working? E.g., is there a minimum number of days you would want staff to be in the office / at home?
- Do you want to go a step further and offer compressed 4 day weeks or 9 day fortnights?
Considering the options will enable you to build a flexible working policy that is right for your organisation, and will enable you to handle requests, develop practices and embrace the changing world of work.
It is important to note that any changes to an employee’s working patterns or hours is a contractual change. And this must be confirmed in writing. Download our Template Variation to Contract Letter
How Can Flexible Working Benefit My Business?
The media is littered with surveys and studies on what employees want in terms of flexible working, and how employers intend to handle this wave of change. It’s safe to say that flexible working is no longer a ‘nice to have’ for employers or reserved for trendy tech companies only. There are indeed many business benefits to be gained such as:
Recruitment & Retention: Offering flexible working options will be crucial for most organisations to attract and retain top talent. In a candidate driven job market employees are more likely to accept or leave one job over another based on the company’s approach to flexible working. So developing a clear approach to this will be a key recruitment and retention tool.
Diversity & Inclusion: Developing a flexible working culture will broaden diversity in your business – jobs that might have felt off limits for some employees due to the need to be in the office for long hours can feel more within reach, and therefore improve diversity and inclusion.
Productivity: Offering flexible working has proven to be directly correlated with employee engagement – enabling your staff to work in a way that suits them will lead to a happier and more productive workforce.