Get ready, flexible working is the new normal

Covid-19 has rapidly changed our working practices and thrown businesses into new realities of how best to address flexibility to improve work-life balance; change is long overdue.

Organisations recognised that by introducing flexible and remote working practices, they can improve the employment relationship. This will reduce overhead costs and tap into a wider pool of diverse talent.

What the research is telling us

Prior to the pandemic only 25% of the UK workforce had in place flexible working arrangements.

Research conducted by Hansen Ross Media & Direct Line Life Insurance finds that in post-pandemic, it is likely that 70% of employees will have in place some form of flexible working agreement. This will most likely form a mix of working from the office and working from home, with 2 days a week at home being the most popular arrangement.

If you spoke to workers pre-pandemic about home working, most would say that they liked the idea, but they would be concerned about the reality of it. Namely, would they be able to do it, how would they feel without close contact with their colleagues, would they be lonely, would they get distracted, would their manager and colleagues trust that they were actually working.

As a result of being required to work from home due to coronavirus, both employees and managers will have increased confidence that they can do it, with a few tweaks here and there (see our last article about virtual colleague relations)

The benefits of flexible working

Employees and employers can reap huge benefits

For employees:

  • Engagement and enjoyment of work because of greater satisfaction
  • Saving significant time and money on commuting
  • Increased feeling of trust and accountability
  • Increased time for friends and family
  • Being able to prioritise wellbeing with more time for exercising and being able to make healthy meal choices at home

For the business:

  • Being able to attract top talent by accessing a wider pool from different geographical areas
  • Improved retention, attendance, productivity, and employee engagement
  • The potential for significantly reduced overhead costs for office space
  • Diversifying the workforce
  • Reducing negative environmental impacts of office spaces and commuting

Flexible working, the legal bits

Flexible working covers anything from part-time hours, compressed weeks and job sharing, to remote working, home working and even career breaks.

Requests can be formal, where the changes would cause an amendment to the written contract, or informal where it is an agreement in place between the manager and the employee.

Legally, all employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment, regardless of parental or caring responsibilities, can apply for flexible working.

Employers have a duty to consider a request in a reasonable manner and within 3 months. Given the current climate it is best to deal with requests promptly.

Employers can only refuse a request for flexible working on a number of specific grounds.

If the employee has been working this way during the pandemic, and depending on what they have requested going forward, you should carefully consider any refusal, as this could amount to constructive unfair dismissal and / or discrimination if they have a protected characteristic.

The right to request flexible working only applies to legally recognised employees, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t consider requests from other workers.

Handling requests

In this new era of work, I suggest the following to handle flexible working requests:

  • Prepare for a 45% increase in the number of flexible working requests
  • Utilise your HR team or an external consultant where you do not have an internal team
  • Recognise and accept that the world of work has changed and if you don’t change with it, your business risks being left behind
  • Consider offering employees the option to continue working on a flexible basis, rather than waiting for formal requests to come in (informal agreements are still legally binding)
  • Ensure policies and procedures are in place to underpin fair, compliant and best practice processing of requests (Acas offers guidance on flexible working and a Code of Practice)
  • Train your managers in how to handle flexible working requests
  • Ensure that there is consistency in the way you handle all requests; it is important to minimise risks of contradictions

For more information or expert support on flexible working, contact us at Lotus HR today.