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Flexible working got a boost during the pandemic, but it would be sad if that boost was simply limited to remote or hybrid working. There are many other ways of working that could be beneficial to both employees and employers.
When it comes to flexible working, much of the talk in the last few years has been about remote working. Indeed remote working has become almost synonymous with flexible working and, due in part to the sectors worst hit by Covid, part-time working has decreased. At the lower paid end of the scale there is pressure from the Government for people to increase their hours, although this is not backed with any kind of realistic move to provide the better care infrastructure needed to support it.
Yet there are many other forms of flexible working that employers can and do use. They include flexi hours – where you can vary the times at which you start and finish the day. Many employers have either done away with core hours over the course of the pandemic or have restricted them to the middle of the day. They have seen that people can be trusted to get their work done through flexing their hours around other aspects of their lives, such as school pick-ups. When it comes to children’s sickness this can mean people take less days off sick, for instance.
Some argue that part-time hours are not an example of flexible working, even though flexible working legislation was generally used by parents and carers to reduce their hours when it first came in. They say things like the four-day week, which is being piloted widely and whose results we anticipate with interest, can run into problems because it is in fact less flexible than other forms of flexible working. For instance, if everyone works the same four days and you have a particular challenge on another day might you feel less able to ask for flexi hours? Often, however, the four-day week is adopted by employers who already have an open and flexible culture and may be implemented in different ways in different departments or organisations. What the four-day week does is recognise that, for many, time is a premium and that people cannot be expected to work at high levels of productivity with the intensity that comes from modern life and juggle other responsibilities without sufficient time for rest.
Other forms of flexible working include annualised hours or term-time only. Like many forms of flexible working, these will not work for all sectors or even all departments or roles, but they definitely warrant further investigation. Term time contracts are generally associated with the education sector. Yet many businesses have a slower period over Christmas and the school summer holidays as people go away and out of office messages ping across the country. And many parents struggle with covering school holidays and have to take unpaid parental leave, which they can ill afford in today’s economic climate. Why not enable people to work more intensively during the school term – when they can [subject to wraparound care] – and allow them the time off when they need it most? That way some could maybe work more days in term time, if it worked for them. They would also have less worry about organising holiday cover.
We know from our polls that many parents leave this until the last minute because they are often relying on a complex tapestry of friends, family and unpaid leave. What’s more, they would have regular rest periods – crucial in today’s turbulent times. It needed mean having the whole of the summer off – several people I have spoken to who do this pattern work for a week or so during the holidays. But having the time to switch off entirely does help them to return refreshed. That has to be a good thing all round.
While a particular form of flexible working might not suit one business or job, it is important to be open to new ways of working and to train line managers to manage those through good communication, engagement and forward planning. Candidates certainly want it and it may have benefits that employers might not even have considered. Flexible working got a boost during the pandemic, but it would be sad if that boost was simply limited to remote or hybrid working. There are many other ways of working that could be beneficial to both employees and employers.