Flexible working: is it right for your business?

Kate Palmer - HR Advice and Consultancy Director

September 30 2019

After the decades-long reign of office cubicles and 9-to-5s, the 21st century was meant to be different.

Flexi-time. Work-life balance. Smarter, not harder.

But as of 2019, stats show that 72% of UK employees still want more control over when and where they work.

So are employers holding back on flexibility for good reason? Or should you embrace modern ways of working?

Let’s find out...

What does the law say?

The government defines flexible working as “a way of working that suits an employee’s needs. For example, having flexible start and finish times, or working from home.”

And after 26 weeks at a job, all employees have the legal right to request changes to their working pattern.

You can refuse a request if you have a good business reason, such as the extra costs flexible working might bring.

But if you refuse a request for invalid reasons and later face a tribunal claim, the employment tribunal will take into account whether you’ve followed the ACAS code of practice, which covers handling requests in a “reasonable manner”.

A “reasonable manner” means taking time to consider the pros and cons of each one, talking it all through with the employee, and offering an appeal process.

It’s a lot to think about. Especially when flexible working isn’t always a success…

The cons of flexible working

Take global media network Starcom, which introduced flexible working in 2018.

In a September email sent to all staff, it stated that “in recent weeks it has come to clients’ and our attention that on a Friday the office is noticeably empty."

It went on to warn that if Friday attendance didn’t improve, flexi-time would end.

The email highlights common concerns around flexible working. Do employees take advantage of it? And will you lose control over your staff?

Unless you have a strong system to check attendance and output, then it’s possible.

And it gets worse.

The average employee already spends 28% of their week on emails. What would happen to that figure if email was one of the only ways your staff could communicate?

Everything so far suggests flexible working harms a company’s output.

But is that really the case?

The pros of flexible working

Every employee is different.

Some people whizz through tasks in the morning before getting tired and distracted in the afternoon. Others are still bleary-eyed until their lunchtime chocolate bar.

And different demands at home, like the stress of a school run ending minutes before a shift starts, can affect work, too.

But if you let employees choose when they come in, they can work when they feel at their best, concentrate on the job better, and give you increased productivity.

Flexible working is also a big pull for jobseekers.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates said, “The competition to hire the best will increase in the years ahead. Companies that offer extra flexibility will have the edge.”

In fact, studies have shown that a third of staff members would rather get more flexibility than a pay rise.

And homeworkers save you even more money by paying for their own overheads like electricity, too.

So, should you introduce flexible working into your business? There’s only one way to find out…

Trial periods

The truth is that some businesses, and employees, are better suited to flexible working than others.

You just need to give it a try.

You’ll be able to see how flexible working impacts your work, and then make a permanent decision.

But a few pointers first.

The conditions and length of any trial period should be clearly set out in writing to stop any disputes later on.

You should use software like BrightHR to help you keep track of who’s in work each day, even if you’re not there yourself.

And you should regularly review results, so if flexible working isn’t working, you can end it and reduce long-term damage to your company.

Flexible working is a big commitment, so you need to make sure you get it right. Call Peninsula’s HR and employment law experts for free and get instant advice on 0800 028 2420.

Suggested Resources