Business First | What are the advantages of flexible working?

Is your business flexible enough for flexible working?

14 Mar 2016 –– News
Flexible working can be beneficial for businesses

Does flexible work?

Flexible working is something of a buzz-word these days. It’s something that many people want, or even need, but that many businesses are worried about deploying.

Or in some cases, don’t know how to deploy. In short, many businesses are not yet sold on the advantages of flexible working.

In fact, research has found, that despite the fact that British workers want to have flexible working options, only 6% of job adverts offer it.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working can take many different forms, but not everyone is aware of what they are, and even businesses that do offer their employees some form of flexible working options often don’t offer their staff all of the varieties available.

This may be due to the fact that the right for employees to request flexible working (and for employers to have to seriously consider these requests) is relatively new. But statistics suggest that employers should consider offering it on a wider scale if they want to attract and retain the best staff.

Part-time working

Part-time working is the most commonly found type of flexible working in the UK. It will probably be found in most organisations.

The government definition of a part-time employee is ‘someone who works fewer than 30 hours per week.’ Employees who choose to go part-time will receive an equivalent reduction in pay.

Annual hours

In some roles and on some occasions it is possible to annualise an employee’s hours. This effectively means that an employee can work less time during quiet periods and make up their hours when it is particularly busy.

Given that some jobs have busier periods (during or pre-Christmas, at the end of the financial year etc.) this can help employees to have a healthier work-life balance and employers to cope with the peaks and troughs of workloads.

V time

V time is a term for voluntarily reduced working hours. Under these circumstances an employee would request a voluntary (and generally temporary) drop in working hours. This is usually to accommodate a period when they need more time out of work for non-work-related events. This could be a bereavement, looking after an elderly relative, or any other occasion that demands an employee has more time off work for a temporary period.

These agreements tend to include clearly defined periods of time that involve set dates for the employee to return to their usual working hours.

Term-time working

Employees who are contracted to term-time working are allowed to work their contracted hours during term times only. This can be appropriate for both full and part-time staff.

Employees working under such agreements will generally take holidays only in school holiday periods. This can be of great help to staff with young children.

It is often advised that staff working under these schemes save up to five days’ annual leave to allow them to retain an element of flexibility.

Flexitime

Flexitime is a very common form of flexible working; perhaps the most common form. Flexitime enables a company’s employees to vary their start and finish times.

There are often some limitations to flexitime, which might consist of:

  • The necessity for an employee to work core hours (e.g. 10am-2pm) and arrange their working hours around those times;
  • A limit to the number of hours that can be carried over in an organisation that uses time off in lieu;
  • A set period during the day during which an employee can work. For example: a working day of 7am – 8pm, and staff must complete their contracted hours between these times; and
  • A system for recording the hours an employee works

Home working

Home working allows employees of an organisation to work from home, either on a regular or ad-hoc basis. In such instances, the business’ office remains the main workplace.

Employers and employees should be aware that home working should not be viewed as a way for employees to manage care responsibilities at the same time as working.

It does, however, mean that employees can eliminate time spent commuting from their day, take children to, and collect them from, school, and take time off during their lunch period.

Home working might not be appropriate in some jobs. For it to be a viable option for employers, employees need to be self-motivated and have exceptional time management skills.

Home working can also raise health and safety and/or technology issues which should be evaluated and addressed before home-working is agreed to.

If home working is made available on an ad-hoc basis, it can prove useful when employees need time away from the rush of the office to focus on a particularly pressing task, for example.

Compressed hours

‘Compressed hours’ is the term for an agreement which allows an employee to compress their weekly contracted hours in to a shorter period.

If, for example, a member of staff works a 40-hour week over five days. This could be compressed in to 10 hours per day over four days. Or, 11 or 12 hours per day over three and a half days.

The advantage for the employee of working compressed hours is that they are able to take time off during a normal week, but still work full hours and retain their full salary.

The disadvantage tends to be that it can be stressful to work a very long day. Employers must guarantee that employees utilising this method of flexible working still take their statutory breaks.

Job sharing

Job sharing is a term for a situation where two people share the responsibilities, benefits and pay of one full-time role.

Job sharing is possible across a wide range of roles and has been found to be effective on all levels – from junior positions to chief executive level.

What are the advantages of flexible working?

flexible working has been found to improve the work-life balance of employees, and as a result, increase productivity in the office or workplace of the organisation that offers its staff the opportunity.

In fact, according to a Unison study, flexible working practices yield business benefits for both the organisation and the employee and play an important part in attracting new staff.

Businesses have long been aware that happy employees are more productive. Providing staff with the option to utilise flexible working only increases the happiness, and as a result, the productivity of an organisation’s employees.

However, it must be remembered that with great power, comes great responsibility. The performance of employees who take up flexible working must be monitored using the same KPIs they would fall under if they were working normal office hours.

Attract new staff of higher quality

As touched on earlier, only 6% of UK job adverts offer flexible working.

Karen Mattison, Chief Executive of Timewise, who carried out the study that found this to be the case, says:

“Businesses are missing out, as they consistently fail to realise just how important flexibility is to people looking for a new role. This often results in the best talent having to trade down, and take jobs way beneath their level of skill and ability.”

Providing the option of flexible working also creates a larger talent pool from which a business can recruit new staff. People who need to work outside of the usual 9-5 office hours are often just as talented and capable as those who work 9-5.

Staff retention

By offering employees the option to work flexibly around their personal commitments, organisations increase the probability of retaining valued and talented staff.

In addition to helping a business to keep hold of its valued staff and the productivity they bring with them, this reduces recruitment costs – it can cost up to twice an annual salary to recruit skilled and semi-skilled staff. It also takes time for new staff members to learn the job, so at first productivity is reduced.

Increased productivity

Employers who offer their staff the opportunity to work flexibly, whether from the traditional office space or from home, can often see a marked increase in productivity as a result of employees feeling that they have a better work-life balance.

BT found that productivity increased by 30% in employees who were able to work flexibly.

Offering flexible working has also been found, by Unison, to reduce sickness absence from 12% to 2%.

Flexible working linked to faster career progression

A study carried out by the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute found that:

“Flexible working arrangements are not only linked to higher feelings of balance and job satisfaction. Respondents in our survey who make use of flexible working arrangements are also significantly more likely to report having had two or more promotions over the past five years than those that do not (33% against 24%, respectively).

“In particular, three flexible work arrangements are linked to increased promotions; working compressed hours, job sharing and working from home for at least part of the week.”

Things to consider

If flexible working is something that you see the advantages of and want to introduce to your office, then it is best to consider the following factors first:

  • Which flexible arrangements will suit the business and which will suit the employee?
  • Is there common ground?
  • How flexible is your IT infrastructure? Can staff access necessary software and emails etc. via the cloud?
  • Are there jobs within your organisation that won’t be suited to flexible working? If so, will providing flexibility to only some of your staff damage morale?

How do I implement flexible working in my business?

If you decide to take the leap and implement a flexible working policy in your organisation, try following a similar process to the one outlined below to make sure that it works for both you and your employees.

  • Research – make sure you know the ins and outs of the various flexible working options and how they’ll work for you and your staff.
  • Inform and consult staff – see if flexible working is something your employees want and what ideas they have.
  • Create a business case – work out how the change should affect productivity and profits etc.
  • Run a pilot – use a group of staff/team/department as a guinea pig and see whether they and the business benefit from the process before rolling out company-wide.

Can my office space provider help with flexible working?

Most organisations, today, view office space flexibility as a strategic move. Offering your staff the option of working from home, hot-podding from a satellite location, or condensing their hours can help to increase productivity, but can also reduce overheads.

Flexible working can save costs on office space, supplies and utility bills. If you have two staff that work two and a half days a week, at separate ends of the week, why not get rid of a desk? Business First provide flexible office space for rent that allows your business to be as flexible as your workforce.

If you need modern and flexible office space and business solutions to help your business reach its goals regarding a flexible workforce, why not call or email today and see what Business First can do for you?

To enquire about flexible options at Business First's luxury serviced offices to let, email sf@businessfirst.co.uk or call 01282 330 330.