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Why IBM called time on flex

Roz Wood
gig economy

With recent news that B&Q, Dixons and Tesco are running a pilot to encourage flexible working and on the other hand IBM has stopped allowing thousands of its US staff from working from home, Law At Work, Head of HR Consultancy, Roz Wood looks at the benefits and pitfalls as well as what to do when flexible working is requested.

In the UK in 2014, the Flexible Working Regulations were extended, allowing all employees to request flexible working hours and employers were required to consider all requests reasonably, including reduced hours, compressed hours or working from home. Some employers remain reluctant to enter into negotiations as they see flexible working as benefiting only employees at a cost to employers. However, adopting a less stringent working environment has advantages while failure to make allowances has the danger to cause resentment amongst workers and could give rise to a claim to an Employment Tribunal. Giving staff the option to work from home or rearrange their office hours, allows employees more time to manage personal responsibilities such as child care. This tends to strengthen loyalty to the business, reduce staff turnover and encourage productivity.

The reduction of overall running costs is often cited as one of the main benefits of flexible working for employers. With less office space required, businesses can consider options for hot desking, as well as shared equipment such as laptops and tablets. The culture of working late also tends to be curbed, so employers do not need to incur high overtime wages. KPMG, has revealed that it saved £4.7m during the recession by offering flexible working hours rather than making redundancies.

Orange Business Services, found that 50 percent of UK employees said being able to work more flexibly was an important factor when it came to choosing their next job. Therefore, employers will by default have access to a larger and more diverse recruitment pool if they offer of flexible working is on the table, allowing them to attract a higher calibre of candidates.

While flexible options might create a positive brand image for the organisation, there are also strong reasons supporting company’s like IBM’s decision to make a U-turn on the policy. Flexible working can result in a challenging culture where managers distrust staff and employees are not given opportunities for personal development. Certain industries may also find clients become disgruntled if they are not able to speak to their dedicated account manager at all times during the working week. Having staff working from various sites, can cause communication problems, discourage team building and result in certain employees being isolated from the wider company. If an individual is not easily motivated, then issues with productivity may arise and businesses may also find themselves having to invest in new technology, including computers and mobile phones, to maintain an open channel of communication between those working at various sites.

Employers should put in place a system for managing requests for flexible working to ensure there is a consistent approach. Employers are required to give due consideration to any request. An application can only be refused if there is a clear and valid business reason for doing so. If a request is allowed, plans should be agreed on a date and how the plans will be implemented to offset any negative impacts.

Considerations when employee requests flexible working;

1. What are the advantages for the business?
2. Will there be a burden of additional costs for the organisation and is this acceptable?
3. Will the change have a detrimental effect on the business ability to meet customer demands?
4. Will the change have a detrimental impact on quality?
5. Will have a detrimental impact on the performance of either the individual, team or entire business?
6. Will it mean other staff have an increased workload and can this be reorganised?
7. If the person has line management responsibilities how will staff cope in their absence?
8. Will there be enough resource to respond to business needs?
9. What is the cost of recruiting another staff member if the member of staff making the request is lost?
10. If additional staff need to be recruited, will this be possible?

Overall, despite the trials that such arrangements can sometimes bring, employers are advised to have a system in place to deal with requests and to consider a flexible attitude to flexible working.

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