The way a modern office is run these days is a completely different beast to the trends we saw a decade ago. Similarly, employees are also choosing to work in a different way, both at their desks and away from them, ensuring flexibility and a better work and home life balance.
Flexible working has become a huge subject within every single employment sector, and more and more businesses are choosing to offer this to their employees, gaining benefits and increased productivity as a result.
According to a 2018 survey by YouGov, around 9 out of 10 people surveyed (within the UK) aren’t working the standard Monday to Friday, 9am until 5pm traditional hours. This shows you just how prevalent flexible working has become. Within that same survey, 37% of those surveyed, working full time, said they would prefer to change their hours to a 9am until 4pm working pattern, giving them an extra hour to fulfil any commitments they have in their personal life.
The whole point of choosing a flexible working pattern is to be exactly that – flexible. The standard 9-5 doesn’t allow full time employees to go and do their grocery shopping outside of busy hours, it doesn’t allow them to pick their children up from school, and it makes arranging appointments, such as dentist or routine doctor’s appointments, quite difficult. All of this adds up to a stressful situation, causing them annoyance whilst sat at their luxury office chairs. When they return home, they’re tired and irritable as a result.
The idea of working to live and not living to work has raised its head in a big way, but flexible working gives the perfect piece of middle ground.
What is Flexible Working?
Flexible working encompasses a wide range of different working patterns for those sat at their office chairs, but the similarity is that all these patterns differ from the rigid 9-5 working patterns of old. Flexible working also encompasses remote working patterns, e.g. hiring freelancers or other workers who live perhaps nomadically, from anywhere in the world, or maybe freelancers who just from home. These employees aren’t typically employed in the same way as flexible workers, e.g. they don’t enjoy the same benefits, such as pensions, healthcare, annual leave provision etc., and provide a service to that business for payment only.
Remote working is a good option for many businesses, but for those who want to build up a team of employees who are loyal to the business and who work solely for that business, flexible working patterns are a good idea. We have covered remote working in detail in a previous post, but for the purposes of this guide, we’ll be focusing solely on flexible working.
The same YouGov survey we mentioned earlier found that 4 out of 5 of those surveyed working flexible said they enjoyed it because it allowed them to juggle their working commitments with their family life, whilst many students said the same about juggling their studies with work. Put simply, flexible working gives a balance that rigid working patterns whilst sat at bespoke office desks simply don’t allow.
Check out this infographic for good overview of just how popular flexible working has become.
Types of Flexible Working
Before we get into the nitty gritty of what flexible working can bring to the business and its employees, we first need to explore the various different types of flexible working you can choose from. It completely depends upon business needs, its office space planning, and the requirements of the employees, as to which you might choose to offer, and it’s entirely possible to offer more than one type to different employees.
- Job Sharing – This is a situation in which two employees do one job, but split the hours between them. This can be in a variety of different ways, e.g. it could be a 50/50 split, one could work more hours than the other, and it could also be sharing a day, or splitting the week in half. It really comes down to service need and what is best for the employees in terms of how to arrange this particular type of flexible working pattern.
- Home Working – In some cases a member of staff could work from home for part of the week and then work in the office for the rest. They could also work from home for the entire time, and check in with the office on a regular basis. Again, this depends on the type of business involved and service needs. It’s likely that this type of employee will need to attend regular catch ups in person, usually brainstorming and touching base at the conference table.
- Part Time Hours – This can be any number of hours, but will always be less than the full time hours for that organisation.
This can be by working every day and less hours, or it can be by working less days overall. There are many different ways to arrange this type of flexible working arrangement.
- Compressed Hours – When working compressed hours, an employee will still work their full time hours, but they will cover them in less days, and therefore have one or more days off during the week. Breaks need to be taken during these long hour days, to ensure health and wellbeing of the employee. Breakout furniture is a good idea here, for much needed time outs.
- Flexitime Hours – Flexitime is, as the name suggests, working flexible hours across the day. Within this scheme, there are core hours, i.e. times when the employee has to be in the office, but they can choose when they start and finish. They also have to ensure they work their set number of hours across a week. A lot of monitoring is required with flexitime, and also a large amount of trust. Staff may also be called in to sit at the meeting room seating for important discussions, but this will be an ad-hoc situation.
- Staggered Hours – This is when every employee has different times to start and finish work, to ensure the business is always covered. For instance, one member of staff might start work at 8am, with another starting at 9am, and they finish at 4pm and 5pm respectively. These hours might also swap and change on a rota basis.
- Annualised Hours – This is a very flexible working pattern involves a lot of choice in terms of when to work. In this case the employee would be given a set number of hours that they need to complete across the 12 months of the year, but there is a certain amount of choice of when they are done. There may be core hours which fall each week or each month, depending upon the needs of the business, and there could be times when the business stipulates they have to attend, e.g. when there is a large demand at work due to staff taking annual leave, or important meetings at the boardroom table need to take place.
- Phased Retirement Schemes – This particular type of flexible working is a little different, but it is worth mentioning it for completeness’ sake. In this case, an employee will be nearing retirement age, but they want to start to reduce down their hours and gradually work towards retirement. A plan would therefore be drawn up and part time hours implemented until the date the employee has decided to retire.
As you can see, there are many main types of flexible working and within them there are subcategories and different ways to organise the method. It is down to the business and employee to come to a mutual agreement in terms of how it should all work, but a business needs to put their service needs first, and they are well within their rights to refuse a request if it doesn’t meet needs – a little more on that shortly!
Making these decisions are very difficult for some businesses, because whilst it’s important to be fair and transparent, it also all comes down to business demand. A little like choosing the best high quality office supplies to go for, the PRO's and CON's need to be weighed up carefully.
Benefits of Flexible Working For A Business And It’s Employees
Every situation in a working environment has its PRO's and CON's, but there are certainly more upsides to offering flexible working that downsides. For completeness’ sake we will discuss them both, but in this section, let’s focus on the benefits that offering flexible working has for a business and its employees.
Benefits of Flexible Working For a Business
Offering flexible working methods means that a business is able to take a direct look at their business needs and arrange their staffing levels around it. In addition, any cost savings can be looked and perhaps new purchases made, such as a new 8 person conference table for catch ups and important meetings. The final decision on whether to move forwards with a flexible working request is made by the business itself, so in this case total control over staffing is available.
On the flip side of that argument however, this is the perfect opportunity to increase morale. We all know that there is a very real link between employee morale and profits, because when staff feel they are valued and cared for by their employees, they are always going to work harder. As a result, productivity is up and so are profits too.
When employees are able to achieve a better home and work life balance, they are happier, healthier, and less stressed.
This has a further direct impact on productivity too. Motivation is also on the rise, and you’ll probably notice more ideas coming your way from those boardroom chairs, and creative solutions to problems which have long remained unsolved.
It’s entirely possible for a business to save money by offering flexible working arrangements too. If a member of staff wants to cut their hours down to part time, you’re going to save on wages. That could be spent on recruiting another part time member of staff to backfill the hours, or it could be spent elsewhere. The final decision depends upon the level of work and how many staff you currently have, but there is a definite possibility to save cash if you make a sensible decision based on the information you have to hand.
Of course, this could also be a great opportunity to change everything up and bring in a new spell of success!
A change is as good as a rest, and purchasing some new, urban office furniture, offering new working opportunities, and looking at creating a more collaborative atmosphere could be the huge productivity driver you need.
Let’s sum up. The benefits of offering flexible working for a business are:
- Increased employees morale, which leads to a boost in productivity and therefore profits
- Employees are more motivated and less stressed because they have a better home and work life balance
- Motivated employees are more likely to come up with innovative ideas and solutions
- Possible cost saving opportunity, depending upon service needs
- A good chance to change the office environment and opt for the best office furniture for your new needs
Benefits of Flexible Working For Employees
The main benefits of flexible working arrangements for the employee in question are quite clear. Firstly, that employee is able to have a better balance between their work and their commitments at home. This could be due to a young family, an elderly parent, perhaps studies, or it could be that they simply want more time to be able to fit their other commitments into their time, without having to do everything at the weekends or late in the evenings. This gives an employee more time to spend with loved ones, and that in itself is mood boosting and better for overall health.
Flexible working offers a less stressful alternative to full time, rigid hours, and allows that employee to perhaps avoid the morning and evening rush hours on their commute to work, perhaps save cash on commuting and lunches at all if they are working from home.
If an employee does choose to work from home, they will need to purchase modern office seating and perhaps cheap modern office furniture to create a productive and focused environment in which to do their work.
Let’s sum up on the benefits of flexible working for the employee.
- A better home and working life balance
- The ability to fulfil other commitments outside of work without feeling stressed or rushed
- The ability to spend more time with loved ones
- A less stressful and healthier way to work
- A possible cost saving on commuting if working from home
- The ability to miss the rush hour traffic
Potential Drawbacks And Challenges, And How to Overcome Them
Everything has a downside and flexible working is no different. There are certain challenges which these types of working arrangements can bring to the fore, but the majority of them can be overcome with a little creative thinking and a few guidelines put into place. If staff need to move around the office, you could also think about purchasing modular office furniture, which is not only lightweight, but very durable for the long-term too.
A study by Deloitte and Timewise highlighted a few of these potential challenges on the side of the employee. In this survey, 30% of those surveyed said they felt they had less status at work because they chose to work flexibly. This is thought to be down to an unfair stigma attached to flexible working, i.e. they aren’t working as hard as full time workers. We all know this to be false, but the stigma seems to be sticking. In addition, 25% of those surveyed felt that they were likely to miss out on promotions because of their working arrangement. In this case, businesses need to ensure that they remain fair to both flexible and ‘regular’ workers.
A business which doesn’t offer flexible working arrangements may find it harder to attract new talent, because today’s workers want a greater balance between work and their other commitments. In addition, if you refuse to even consider these options, you risk pushing your current employees out, perhaps to an employer who is more likely to offer them the types of hours they want.
Here at Calibre Office Furniture, we can certainly see the major benefits that flexible working can bring to both sides.
The biggest challenges of flexible working really come down to control. For instance, if a member of staff if working from home, how can you be sure that they are actually working and not watching Netflix or doing the housework? In addition, if their home Wi-Fi connection isn't working well, how are you supposed to communicate? Safeguards need to be put in place, and employees need to check in with the office on a regular basis. The frequency of this can be discussed and decided on between the office and the employee, but they need to be contactable during working hours, and there has to be a large amount of trust that they are actually doing the work they’re supposed to be doing and not being distracted by other activities.
Flexitime working arrangements can be difficult because there is the chance that several staff will choose to arrive in to the office later on a particular day, leaving the office short for the first hour or two. Their core working hours are covered, but in this case, an employee is able to arrive at work at 10am rather than 9am, provided they work their set hours over the week. Again, there needs to be safeguards in place to ensure this doesn’t occur and a plan to cover the office across the entire working day. How this is achieved depends upon the business and its working hours.
Put simply, every single flexible working arrangement needs to ensure that the business is covered and its needs are met.
Let’s sum up on these potential challenges.
- Staff may feel they are unfairly treated compared to full time workers – It’s important for a business to treat flexible workers and their ‘regular’ workers exactly the same
- The office cannot be sure that a member of staff is actually working when they aren’t in the office, e.g. working from home or working from a co-working space – Trust has to be firm in this case, and staff need to regularly check in with the office and be available for catch ups
- Communication issues may be a problem – Again, regular catch ups and constant work hours availability needs to be in place
- Flexitime may leave the office short on staff during certain parts of the day – Safeguards need to be put into place to ensure the office is always covered to an acceptable degree, outside of core working hours
Flexible Working According to UK Employment Law
Whenever you make a change to someone’s contract or working pattern, you need to be sure that you are operating within employment law. Stepping outside of these boundaries puts you at risk of that member of staff reporting you, with potentially damaging consequences arising. In addition, ensuring that you remain within UK employment regulations and law ensures fairness across the board, so no member of staff feels they are being unfairly treated or alienated because of the hours they choose to work.
In our next section we’re going to talk about the actual process of considering an application for flexible working and how to either refuse it or implement it. For now, let’s cover the basics of flexible working in the eyes of the UK’s legal system.
- An employee is able to request a flexible working arrangement provided they have been working for that employer for a minimum of 26 weeks, on a continuous basis
- One request can be made per year only
- The application must be submitted in writing, and specific guidelines must be adhered to in terms of considering the application (more on that shortly)
- An employee doesn’t have to give a reason why they are requesting a flexible working arrangement, but if they feel they are being disadvantaged in their current working arrangement due to a specific belief, their sexuality, any disability they may have, their race, age, gender, or religion, they must say so, as this will be investigated differently
- A decision must be made within three months of receipt of the request in writing
- The employer is able to turn down the request, but they need to have a reason which pertains to the business, e.g. the request doesn’t meet business needs, it will cause extra cost to the business, reorganisation of work between current staff isn’t possible.
The employee can ask for the specific reason
Check out this video by Acas for a little more information on some businesses which offer flexible working and what they think about it.
When an employee requests a change to their working hours, e.g. they want to work in a flexible manner of some kind, the process to follow has to be adhered to. If it isn’t, that employee can take the matter further, and the business will be found to be breeching employment law by not considering the request seriously.
How to Implement/Request Flexible Working
Now we know that anyone who has been working for your business for more than 26 weeks is able to request a flexible working arrangement, it’s important to know what to do if you do receive that written request on your designer office desk!
As we have just mentioned, failure to follow the specific process can lead to consequences, and it will certainly have a very dire impact upon the morale of that member of staff, and perhaps the entire office.
The basics of the process are:
- The employee submits a request for flexible working
- The employer considers the request and makes a decision in no more than 3 months
- If the employer decides the request is fair and acceptable, they inform the employee and make arrangements for the new system to begin, also amending their employment contract to reflect the change
- If the employer refuses the request, they must write back to the employer and give a business reason
- The employee can either accept the decision or they can appeal
Let’s look at the process in more detail, from start to finish.
Employee Submits a Request For Flexible Working
If an employee wants to request a flexible working arrangement of any kind, e.g. dropping their hours down to part time, working from home, flexitime, or any other option, they must ensure they have been working for the business for more than 26 weeks, and they must put this request in writing. This is known as a ‘statutory application’, and it is the start of the formal process which must be adhered to. The employee must also ensure they haven’t made a request in the last 12 months, as only one request per year can be made by law.
The request letter can be an email, but it has to be in writing, regardless of the method. The letter has to state the date, a sentence explaining that it is a ‘statutory request for flexible working’, details the proposed working arrangement, and a date they request the arrangement to begin. The employee should also add in details of how they think the new working arrangement is going to affect the day to day running of the business and ways to deal with it, e.g. how to cover the time they are not there. If they have made a request previously, they should include details of when this was, and if no request has been made before, this should also be stated.
Finally, the letter should be signed.
This request should then be sent to their direct manager. If the employee changes their mind about the request, they can withdraw it at any time, without any issues. This should be done via writing once more. The employer can also assume the employee no longer wants to pursue the request if they miss more than two meetings to discuss the arrangement, without having a good reason to back up their absence. In this case, the employer must write to the employee and tell them that they have assumed the request to be withdrawn.
The employee would then have to wait one year before making a repeat request.
Employer Considers The Flexible Working Request
Once an employer receives a letter from an employee, requesting a flexible working arrangement, they should acknowledge receipt of the letter and inform the employee that a decision will be made within 3 months of the date of the request. This can be longer in some cases, but it needs to be agreed with the employee if this is going to be the case. Again, this all needs to be documented in writing.
Whilst considering an application the employer must treat it fairly and be open minded. Remember, refusing an application without good reason could detrimentally affect morale within the office, leading to very negative effects on productivity and, in the end, profits. It’s always best to look at each request from a ‘how can we accommodate’ this standpoint, than a negative one. If the request genuinely doesn’t make sense business-wise, e.g. it is going to cost the business more money, the workload simply can’t be shared out amongst existing staff in a fair way, or the request is going to leave the office staffed to a level which is considered too low, then the employee should be informed of this and the reason given.
Whilst it is always best to try and accommodate requests wherever possible, an employer should never feel under pressure to have to agree, if something genuinely doesn’t make sense. It is for this reason that a business is given 3 months to decide, to ensure that a fair and sensible decision is made.
Scenario 1 – The Employer Agrees to The Flexible Working Arrangement
If the employer considers the request and agrees to it, they should write to the employee and inform them of the decision.
The letter needs to be dated, and it needs to include the following details:
- A summary of the changes which have been agreed
- A date when the new working system will begin
- Informing the employee that their employment contract will be altered to reflect the change, and that this will be done no more than 28 days after the approval of the request, e.g. no more than 28 days from the date of the acceptance letter.
The employer should then make the necessary contract changes and put into place the new working arrangement in time for the agreed date. Other staff members who the arrangement affects should also be informed, e.g. close office members, and if any office furniture changes are required, these should be done before the date of commencement.
Scenario 2 – The Employer Rejects The Flexible Working Arrangement
On the other hand, if the employer looks at the request carefully and in the end they decide it simply isn’t feasible they should follow this process:
- The employer should write to the employee informing them of the decision, and the letter should be dated accordingly
- The letter should include the reason for rejecting the request
- Whilst employees don’t have a statutory right to take the decision to appeal, it makes sense to offer them this option anyway.
The reason is because this helps to soften the blow of the rejection in some ways, and allows the employee to see that you have dealt with the request in a fair manner
- If an appeal occurs, this should be dealt with via the policies and procedures you have in place, and if any problems occur as a result of the rejection, these can be handled via the procedure for disputes and conflicts. In the end, it may be that the appeal goes to an employment tribunal, but ensuring it doesn’t get this far is better for morale within the office space.
Any reason for rejecting a flexible working arrangement has to be business-based, such as:
- The request will incur costs which will negatively impact on the business
- It is not possible to divide the work between existing members of staff fairly
- It is not possible to recruit new members of staff for this work
- The request is likely to affect quality of work, or will negatively impact upon customers
- The business is already considering staffing changes at this time
Ensuring this procedure is adhered to will calm the waters and ensure that the process is fair and transparent. In this case, if a rejection does occur, the employee will be able to look back on the process and see what it was considered fairly. In most cases however, employers will try and accommodate requests wherever possible, due to the huge benefits of flexible working in the modern day office.
We’ve covered a lot of information over the course of this guide, but it is all very important information to know if you’re going to cover all bases of employment law. Remember, flexible working is a fantastically beneficial way to enhance morale within the office and ensure that staff can achieve a positive home and work life balance. High morale impacts on productivity and pushes extra profits your way, so it’s always better to try and look at how you can accommodate flexible working requests, rather than looking upon them negatively.
More and more businesses are choosing to offer flexible working arrangements, and many are finding this is one of the main reasons why prospective future employees are attracted towards a business too. Of course, it all comes down to the whole package, such as the office environment, incorporating stylish, contemporary office furniture, and the working methods you offer.
For your current employees and those of the future, perhaps this is something you should be thinking about?
Thank you for reading!