One year on since the Government announced that all employees have the right to request flexible working hours, it’s not working out favourably for many people, says Adrian Lewis, commercial director at Activ Absence.
A recent survey from Workingmums.co.uk[i] suggests over a fifth of working mums have been forced to leave their jobs because a flexible working request was turned down. The survey of 2,300 mums also found that 38 percent of those still on maternity leave would not return to their jobs if flexible working wasn’t granted.
Another report in June Timewise,[ii] highlighted that 14.1 million people in Britain want more flexibility in their working hours to fit in with modern life, equivalent to almost half the working population. However, out of 3.5m job adverts, Timewise found that only 6.2% mentioned a degree of flexibility and offered a salary deemed high enough to live on – the full time equivalent (FTE) of £20,000 or more.
Adrian Lewis comments: “It seems that many companies are struggling to integrate flexible working into their businesses. Many smaller companies especially are declining requests and currently, there is no statutory right to appeal if a request is turned down. “To successfully offer flexible working not only requires a great deal of trust, it involves good communication, processes and technology so people can operate as productivity and seamlessly as if they were in the office. Larger organisations tend to be better equipped to do this, whilst smaller companies find it challenging.”
“Companies need visibility of when employees are available and working, otherwise it can be challenging to ensure things run smoothly in the office. A robust system is also needed that shows everyone who is on holiday, sick or working at home, as people won’t want to be contacted 24/7,” adds Mr Lewis. There is however, some practical ways that companies can make it work, whatever their size, and those that can introduce flexible working patterns are likely to attract the best talent as more employees start demanding it.
Here are seven practical top tips on how companies can embrace flexible working.
1. Discuss with employees what levels of activity or performance are expected from them when working from home – how they can be contacted and the expectations around communication.
2. Agree a proposed work schedule with expected timelines or deadlines for work to be completed the same as they would do under normal working circumstances as being part of the team/department.
3. It is important that the employee’s colleagues are aware that they are working from home and not off work. This should be visible and recorded in a centrally accessible electronic diary that should break down any barriers that prevent the employee being contacted.
4. Regular communication with the employee’s line manager and/or office should be maintained as this will ensure that the employee is in touch with what is going on and will enforce the understanding with those in the office that the employee is actively busy working.
5. If agreed tasks or activities are completed well, on time or ahead of schedule then regular feedback with praise can help with maintain a good working relationship with their peers. The same would apply if tasks or activities are not met as agreed to understand the reason why and assess if further support or assistance is required so they do not feel completely isolated.
6. By using the latest electronic instant messaging tools with presence awareness can be of great help with keeping in contact. The employee’s colleagues can chat with them instantly or by using a webcam without the need for speaking to them on the phone and see that the employee is at their PC throughout the day.
7. Don’t forget to include the employee on any electronic communication that includes work news, success/wins, activities, company news to ensure that they still feel part of the organisation and are not forgotten.