Flexible Working Guide – What Should You be Doing?
So we’ve all been doing this thing called flexible working for a while and now it’s time to write a policy.
But where to start?!
Don't start with a policy
Your starting point should not be your policy. That might sound counterintuitive but bear with me!
Flexible working is about flexibility for both business and employees. Business needs are pretty clear and consistent – employee needs are not. They require knowledge of individual circumstances and appreciation of peoples’ lives outside of work. Because we are all different, that means there is almost zero chance of two people needing the exact same thing.
It’s why I always advise against the (lazy) decision to move to a 4-day week. Because 4 days won’t suit a lot of people any more than a 5-day week does.
Talk to people
Your starting point should be your people. Gathering feedback using a tool like The Happiness Index is the best way to extract a flexible working policy as you understand what people need. You’re trying to answer three key questions:
Where do they want to work?
When do they want to work?
And how do they want to work?
Once you have the answers then you can start to draw conclusions about what your policy might need to include. Find out what worked during lockdown. Ask questions like what did they like, what didn’t they like, if they could have changed one thing what would it have been? These questions are key to getting the policy right!
What works for you
Once you have gathered the data, you can start to map that to your organisations’ needs. The advice here is simple. Be flexible!
It sounds obvious but you need to open your mind to what people are asking for and not get caught up in the details at this point.
The things you do need to figure out are your core working hours, when people need to be available for customers and where people are based. A note of caution on being available to customers – don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t assume that your customers need you 8am to 8pm. How many calls do you get post 5pm? Is it worth shutting down what your employees need for the sake of missing one call?
We often see that businesses end up providing more coverage for their customers than less!
Type of flexible policy
Once you know what your employees need and what your business needs, you’re ready to compare the two and decide what you will offer.
Then you can start drafting your policy.
Identify the things people have asked for and then translate them into their technical terms headings:
compressed hours (same hours in fewer days)
annualised hours (totalling hours over the year and applied at the employee’s discretion)
remote working (working away from the office)
hybrid working (working sometimes from the office and sometimes from home)
part time (less than full time hours)
flexible hours (varied start and finish times)
job sharing (two people doing one job).
These form the core of what you can offer in terms of flexible working.
The next thing is eligibility, meaning who can ask for flexible working. There are two schools of thought here.
The first is making everyone ask. This is the employer-led permission based way of doing it where the employer retains all control as they can refuse requests. Note that there is a process you must follow legally (refer to ACAS) and if requests are refused, you must justify why.
The alternative way of doing this is the all-in, fully committed, trust-in-the process way. Which means announcing your new flexible working policy and letting your people come to you with what they plan to do. It goes without saying that is what will increase engagement the most. Demonstrating trust from the very beginning is key to making this work.
How will people communicate their flexible working pattern? Do you need it in writing? Are there timelines attached? Or can they just start? You need to detail what you expect from people and what the process is to reach implementation
Consider whether there will be a trial period for new arrangements.
Consider whether you need to update your employee contracts. Changes to hours impact on holiday entitlements and potentially to travel benefits, amongst others. You will need to have thought this through and have an answer that works for everyone.
Other good practice things to include in your policies are which aspects of law your flexible working policy relates to and how to escalate any issues.
Now you have a policy, it’s time to think about implementation.
We recommend giving it to teams to work through. Engage your people managers from day one and remember to support them with training. Share the draft policy and get them to work with their individual teams on what will and won’t work.
Let your teams figure out how they will communicate, when they will collaborate and where and when they will see each other. Let them tell you what they need.
Be prepared to invest in technology that makes it easier for teams to collaborate such as shared file storage, video conferencing and comms platforms if you don’t have them already.
Implementing something like this is exciting but it is a cultural change and that means it needs time. You need to be clear on the benefits and commit to your policy for a reasonable amount of time in order to see these through.
You also need to be ready and willing to tackle any problems as they come up. Keep talking. It needs people to be honest and speak up about what is working and what isn’t. Remember that not everyone will speak up in a public environment so this must be a subject of 121s and anonymous feedback, too.
Communicate & Celebrate
Be public with success stories and be even more public with your practice. There’s nothing worse than an organisation that says one thing but does another. It’s deeply disappointing to join an organisation where that happens. So practice what you preach and work flexibly yourself. Model it from the top and give people licence to do the same.
Your biggest signal of intent will be new recruits. Currently only 15% of job adverts, even post COVID, have flexible working included in them. I cannot stress enough the new talent pool you unlock if you reiterate your approach to flexible working on your job adverts. For those that need flexible working, it’s the first thing they check. Demonstrate real commitment by including how open you are to different types of flexible working from day one.
Celebrate the wins! Where it’s working, find out why. Where it’s not, figure out why. Be open with your problem solving and encourage people to talk about how to overcome issues.
Commit to it
Flexible working done well will increase make your people happier, your business more productive and your workforce more diverse.
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