A recent Vodafone survey of medium and small businesses has found that by the end of 2016, 75% of companies worldwide had already fully adopted the concept of flexible working. The UK is among one of the leading countries to have accommodated the change, with the statutory right to flexible working being available upon request to all legally employed workers with at least 26 weeks service from the June 2014.
To benefit from this entitlement, employees need to apply with a request addressed to their employers in a reasonable manner. This entails employers restraining from making value judgements and considering each claim solely in terms of the impact on the business, giving everyone in the company, from childless workers to parents and carers, the same right to request flexi-time.
Given the fact that developments within the law, economy, and most business sectors seem to be advocating for the benefit of non-standard ways of employment, flexible working has been hailed by many as the future of work in the UK, a reality to which both employers and employees will soon need to adapt. The UK’s labour market remains one of the most diverse when it comes to the range of working patterns.
But just because flexible working is a privilege that has been made largely accessible, it doesn’t mean that companies are effectively embracing it. Managers are still struggling to differentiate between requests that seem to be a matter of preference and genuine necessity, that, although not directly influencing the business, are nevertheless sending a message (not always positive) about the team and their attitudes towards work in general.
Strict flexible working policies in place that help employers to communicate clearly the underlying principles and objectives of human resources practices are what companies need to avoid the overuse of the statutory rights without violating them or the worker’s friendly culture they strive to create for their employees. Below we point out the key assumptions managers and executives need to look at when creating this policy.
Creating a flexible working policy
Set obligations: trust and transparency are not only important in the office, they are also the sustaining foundation of a successful relationship with remote employees. According to LSE’s Dr. Esther Canonico, from the very beginning employers have to make it crystal clear that flexi-time is a privilege that can, if needed, be curtailed. It is important, however, that these restrictions are explained so the workers have a full understanding that it’s there for their benefit. For example, helping them to understand what their obligations are and how performance will be measured if they choose to limit face-to-face time in the company.
Remember the importance of the day to day communication: getting hold of WFH employees may potentially be harder since the chances they’re persuaded to pop out for a coffee or lunch with colleagues are close to none, it means managers need to establish a more systemic way of sustaining a conversation with their staff. Experts believe that having both micro and macro approaches in place, which include daily checkups and post-mortem meetings after longer projects, will provide employers with an assurance that the job is being done while limiting the feeling of isolation WFH employees often struggle with. Note that employees working mainly from home are twice as likely to report communication problems with their managers than office workers.
Try holding training sessions on WFH: consider setting up a training session for newcomers to help them understand how the flexi-time policy operates in your company and requirements of WFH employees. The session can be useful in explaining the advantages and disadvantages of the model that for obvious reasons will look different for junior staff, who are just starting to learn about the company’s code of conduct.
Don’t cannibalise your culture: creating a company’s culture doesn’t end with providing free snacks and other workplace luxuries, it also doesn’t end with letting your staff work from home. Creating a friendly yet vibrant culture that promotes a feeling of camaraderie is especially crucial when your staff are allowed to be absent from the office. Arranging semi-annual, or even quarterly, meetings for all team members to spend time together, similar to engaging them in videoconferences, will make it easier for everyone to think of themselves as fellow colleagues, instead of just abstract avatars on Slack.