How to get over your flexible working fears

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    Katie Mather

    Katie Mather UKBF Newcomer

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    What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the words “flexi-time”? Does your blood run cold? Are you suddenly imagining phones ringing in an empty office at 4pm on a Friday? Perhaps it’s time to rethink flexible working. After all, if your employees are enjoying a flexible working schedule, it means you can too.

    Flexible working – more than flexi-time

    The way people work is changing. Thanks to collaboration apps like Slack or Chanty and project management tools like Monday and Trello, it’s easier than ever to be totally connected with your team wherever you are.

    This has led to an increase in the number of people looking for flexible opportunities within their workplace. If they can just as easily complete their roles remotely from a nearby workspace, or even from the comfort of their home office, it becomes harder to see the necessity in asking their physical form to be present at work every single hour of the week.

    Physical absence isn’t the only way flexible working manifests within a business, however. There are plenty more opportunities to offer your employees a flexible working life in many different ways. Citizens’ Advice offers some of the following definitions for a little inspiration:

    • Compressed hours – the same working hours, in fewer days
    • Changing hours – the same working hours, fitting into different schedules
    • Self-rostering – working hours scheduled around your team’s preferences
    • TOIL – time off in lieu
    • Job sharing
    • Staggered hours

    Overcoming flexible working squeamishness

    One of the main benefits of flexible working is the reduction in sick days and lost hours, but there are plenty of peripheral positives too. Allowing your team to work flexibly shows a strong elements of trust and empathy in your working relationship. 

    Enabling your team to enjoy a better work-life balance can also boost morale, whether they’re using their salvaged hours to spend more time with their families, catch up on Netflix or study for a work-based qualification. It’s obvious: a happier employee is a harder-working employee.

    Parents have the right to request flexible working with a view to meeting their children. “The problem is,” says James Morre for the Independent, “Employers have the right to turn them down.” In face, the TUC says 30% of all requests for flexible working are turned down.

    “Flexi-time is unavailable to over half (58 per cent) of the UK workforce, according to research released today by pollster GQR for the Trades Union Congress. The number rose to nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of those in working-class occupations,” he says, offering a somewhat bleak outlook for any of us hoping that flexible working could be the answer to our productivity prayers.

    So why is it so unattainable for so many working people in the UK? 

    For a lot of employers, the reason is simple: flexible working just isn’t as easy in practice as it seems in theory. Dan Cullen-Shute for Campaign rather dryly comments:

    “...the one major downside of launching a flexible-working initiative is that, well, the people who work for you are likely to start working flexibly.”

    He then describes (less sardonically) why he thinks some employers find it so hard to make flexible working work for them.

    “We rarely work as individuals… We’re a bunch of teams bound together by – if we’re lucky and work really hard – an exciting culture, a desire to do something brilliant and systems that make all of that happen. Systems that, for decades, have been built on the people you need sitting next to you.”

    The thing to take away here, really, is that we’re so accustomed to working in a busy office that any changes to that dynamic seem scary and ultimately, unworkable. But isn’t one of the main elements of success an ability to adapt? Does a person really need to be sat beside you if they’re easily reachable via video chat?

    How to become more flexible

    Implementing flexible working needn’t be a long, drawn-out process. For many employers, it begins with an employee coming to them to request flexible hours, or a part-time restructure of their role.

    The main hurdles you’ll have to take into account when changing your office to a flexible wonderland are laid out by Monster as getting buy-in from your CEO and board of directors. Then you’ll need to speak to your whole team about your plans. Ask them what they would find beneficial about flexible working, and what might be concerning them about it.

    Then, it’s important to get buy-in from your management team. Share with them your flexible working vision, and support them in producing structures that prove productivity and efficiency will not take a knock. Get them excited about the positives, and be honest about how you might tackle any abuses of the system. 

    From here you’ll be able to work together with your management and directors on creating robust flexible working guidelines with goals and targets to make sure everyone’s expectations are accurately managed.

    Review these guidelines regularly and catch up with your team to see how it’s working for them regularly too. This is new for everyone. It’s vital to remember at this point that all progress and adaptation takes time, especially if it’s worthwhile. Good luck!