What is flexible working and how does it benefit business?

Giving people more freedom to work the way they want can be a win-win for companies and employees alike. Here’s how flexible working can work for you.

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Flexible Working
What is workplace flexibility?

What is workplace flexibility?

Workplace flexibility describes work arrangements that give employees greater control over when and where they work. It can include things like:

  • flexible hours

  • working from home

  • job sharing

  • condensed working weeks (a 9-day fortnight, for example)

  • part-time work

The idea is to create a work environment that helps people balance their work and personal lives, while also boosting productivity and job satisfaction. It can be a win-win: by offering work flexibility, employers can attract and retain a more diverse and skilled workforce. And employees get to enjoy a better work-life balance.

Since the COVID 19 pandemic, an increasing number of companies have introduced different types of workplace flexibility, with even high-profile corporations adopting flexible and remote work policies. And this isn’t without reason.

According to a survey by Gallup, around 8 in 10 employees are working hybrid or remote, while an AT&T study predicts the hybrid work model to grow from 42% in 2021, to 81% in 2024. With the trend towards flexible working only set to grow in the coming years, companies are becoming increasingly eager to understand the benefits of workplace flexibility and to find the flexible solution that’s right for their company.

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Flexible working vs hybrid working

Flexible working vs hybrid working

Flexible working and hybrid working are both popular ways for employees to achieve a better work-life balance, but they’re different in their focus and scope.

Flexible working encompasses a range of work arrangements designed to give employees greater control over when, where and how they work. This can include flexible hours, part-time working, job-sharing, alternative working schedules and unlimited time off. The key feature of flexible working is that it gives employees the freedom to work in a way that suits their individual needs and preferences, while also enabling them to do their work effectively.

Hybrid working on the other hand, is a combination of working from home and working on-site. In a hybrid work arrangement, employees can choose where they work on any given day, depending on their schedule and their preferences. The idea is to provide the best of both worlds: the ability to work from home when people need to, while also having access to the resources and collaboration opportunities of a workplace.

While both flexible and hybrid working offer employees more control over their work schedules, flexible working is much more wide-ranging. So which to choose? Ultimately, it depends on the specific needs and preferences of individual companies and employees.

Flexible schedules: pros and cons

Flexible schedules: pros and cons

Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of flexible schedules can help you decide whether they’re right for you and your company.

Advantages of work flexibility

The benefits of flexibility in the workplace can be felt by both employees and employers, such as:

  • Attracting candidates: Many workers are seeking a better work-life balance and the opportunity to work in a way that suits their individual needs and home or family commitments. Offering flexible work arrangements, like flexible hours, remote work, or job sharing, can make a position more attractive to candidates. In fact, according to a survey by Remote, 77% of employees want a job with flexible schedules.

  • Widening the talent pool: Employers who offer flexible working can attract a wider range of candidates. These can include people who may not be able to work traditional hours, like working parents, people with disabilities, or people living in remote areas.

  • Employee wellbeing: Numerous studies show that work flexibility can help reduce stress and improve overall employee wellbeing. Workers can manage their work and personal lives better. And they can cut the cost of travel, which can lead to lower levels of burnout and better quality of life.

  • Improves employee engagement: Employees who feel their employer supports their work-life balance and wellbeing are more likely to be engaged and committed to their jobs. According to a survey by FlexJobs, 82% of employees say they’d be more loyal to their employer if they had the option of a flexible work schedule. And 65% said that having workplace flexibility would increase their overall job satisfaction.

  • Boosts motivation: Research shows that work flexibility can improve employee motivation, particularly for workers who feel they have control over their work schedules and work environment. This can lead to increased productivity and better job performance.

  • Staff retention: Offering flexible work arrangements can help improve employee retention by increasing employee satisfaction and creating a more supportive and accommodating work environment that meets people’s needs.

  • Allows employees to work when they're most productive: Alternative working schedules allow employees to work during the times of day when they’re most alert, which can lead to better job performance and increased productivity. The International Workplace Group found that 85% of businesses reported increased productivity as a result of implementing flexible working policies.

Disadvantages of work flexibility

While work flexibility can provide numerous benefits, it’s not without its drawbacks. Some of the disadvantages of work flexibility include:

  • Perception of unfairness: Not all employees will be able to take advantage of flexible working hours. Frontline workers, for example, may need to be physically present at their workplace to do their jobs, while other employees may be able to work remotely. This can lead to feelings of resentment.

  • Blurring the boundaries between work and home: Workplace flexibility can make it difficult to separate work from non-work, leading to an "always-on" mentality that can negatively impact mental health. Without clear boundaries between work and personal time, employees may experience burnout, stress and reduced job satisfaction.

  • Lack of structure: Employees on alternative working schedules may find they need more self-discipline and self-motivation to manage their time and get their jobs done.

  • More admin: Putting in place and managing flexible work arrangements can mean more admin for managers and HR. This can include creating policies, procedures and schedules, managing requests for work flexibility and making sure people are getting their work done while working flexibly.

  • Negative impact on workplace culture: Flexible work arrangements can reduce the time teams spend face-to-face. And if this is poorly managed, it can have a negative impact on workplace culture. Remote workers, for example, may feel isolated from their colleagues and miss out on social interactions. This can lead to reduced motivation, engagement and job satisfaction.

Implementing a flexible work schedule

Implementing a flexible work schedule

Introducing work flexibility can be a major shift. Here are some tips for doing it successfully.

  • Have a clear policy: A policy outlining who can work flexibly, when, where and how, can help set expectations and clarify the rights and responsibilities of both employees and managers. The policy should cover issues including eligibility criteria, types of workplace flexibility available, communication requirements and performance expectations.

  • Invest in the right technology: You may need to invest in new tech to make your flexible work arrangements work. Think video conferencing, cloud-based document management systems and collaboration tools. Before you introduce any sort of flexible working, make sure your company has the right technology to support it.

  • Keep a record of hours: Flexible working hours can blur the lines between work and personal time, making it difficult to track how much someone has worked. Some companies solve the problem by tracking hours worked using time and attendance software. This can make sure your organization is compliant with labor laws, as well as helping to prevent burnout.

  • Measure employee performance: You need to know how well your flexible working arrangements are working. Performance measurement can help assess the effectiveness of flexible working and identify areas for improvement. Make sure you have clear performance goals and expectations for employees, as well as ways of tracking and evaluating their performance.

  • Communicate effectively: Communication is critical for successful work flexibility. Make sure that employees and managers have clear channels for communication, and that they’re comfortable using them. Encourage regular check-ins and make sure communication is open, transparent and respectful.

By laying the right groundwork and monitoring progress carefully you can make a success of workplace flexibility and reap the benefits of a more engaged and productive workforce.

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