Flexible Working – Challenges and Benefits

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Flexible working has both challenges and benefits.

Flexible working undoubtedly has much to offer both employee and employer: a work life balance; staff retention; team engagement; reduced office space needed; and more.  But, it is not without challenges – for both employee and employer too: supervision; productivity; engagement (yes it swings both ways!); and more.

What are the ways employers benefit from allowing flexible working arrangements?

There’s plenty of research as well as anecdotal commentary about the benefits of flexible working for employees – more of this below – but it’s not a one way street.  Employers may find that offering flexible working arrangements can help them too.

Some examples:

  • Being known to offer flexibility will improve the employer’s:
    • staff retention
    • diversity
    • engagement
    • ability to attract top talent
  • Reducing commuting time with hybrid working arrangements is good for the environment – which goes to your ESG profile
  • Flexibility will improve productivity
  • Happy employees don’t raise grievances
  • Empowering employees to manage when and where they work will support them to manage their mental health and wellness, as well as more efficiently managing their work and home commitments

Let’s face it, a happier, more productive workforce means a better bottom line for the business, which is a Good Thing.

What are the ways employees benefit from flexible working arrangements?

It’s the flipside of the employer’s benefits:

  • improved mental health and wellness
  • flexibility to manage where and when you work
  • improved management (read: juggling) of work and home commitments
  • better opportunities for progression and promotion in that you feel valued and more likely to remain with the business to reap the rewards that come with longer service

Improved mental health and wellness alone can make a huge difference to productivity and performance. No one performs better in the long term when they are stressed and under pressure, or feeling guilty that they aren’t doing well enough at work or at home. You might have a period where you’re doing fine working long hours whilst juggling childcare – burning the candle at both ends – but there’s a point at which you will end up burning out.  That serves neither you nor your employer, or your family.

Working for an employer that has processes in place to catch problematic signs early can make the difference. Even better, of course, working for an employer that recognises that everyone has their own needs and limits means you never get to the stage of needing interventions in the first place.

Reduced commuting can be very attractive for your workforce.

What are the challenges about flexible working?

There are some clear challenges to flexible working arrangements.  Take asynchronous working – how do you deal with your team working at different times/days/timezones?  Communication and technology really come into their own here. Not all roles will be suited to flexible working, but we have a statutory framework that requires employers to come within at least one of 8 set reasons to refuse flexible working, so employers can’t just refuse without demonstrating that they’ve thought it all through.

Being trusted to produce while not physically in the office should be earned.  You can expect to need to show that you are producing what’s required even when you aren’t under your boss’s beady eye.  Communication is key.  There are lots of apps in this space, so the tools for sharing and communication are readily to hand.

If they aren’t ready to work unsupervised, it might be assumed that more junior staff would be less able to work remotely, but with a bit of creativity, decent tech and – yes – trust, it’s possible to facilitate flexible working and maintain development of junior staff. So just because you’re junior or new to your industry, shouldn’t mean that you can’t work on a flexible model.

Micromanagers might struggle with hybrid/remote working, so employers should be alive to those who may need additional training or assistance to become more adept at non-traditional forms of work and management. Equally, junior staff need to demonstrate that their communication is top notch – we talk of juniors learning by osmosis but you need to find other ways to achieve that when you aren’t physically with your colleagues.

To take a possibly unfair stereotype, let’s look at the example of the clash in styles between an older senior manager, who operates in a very much paper based manner, and a graduate on their team who uses tech for every aspect of their life.  To make a flexible working arrangement work – say a hybrid working pattern – both will need some input and guidance to find compromises.  If the clash becomes a grievance – from either employee – they could have age discrimination claims, constructive dismissal claims, and more. So communication (again) is key.

With trust and productivity being critical to successful flexible working, it’s important to introduce or bolster appraisal processes and performance management.  Annual appraisals won’t be sufficient to catch issues before they become big problems. Regular catch ups on an individual and team basis are essential.

Need more help?

If you need more help with the subjects covered here then do reach out to our expert online employment law solicitors. You can email us at employment@qlaw.co.uk or call 03300 020 863.

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