Flexible working: what works

What’s the best way of managing homeworking or job shares? We look at the latest in good practice in flexible working and ask for your experiences.

flexible working

 

It’s the Holy Grail for today’s employers: what makes for successful flexible working practice? With flexibility in work and work-life balance issues regularly topping polls of what employees most value in their working life, the key to doing it well and keeping everyone happy is the information everyone wants.

Many companies offer flexible working, but then do not manage it properly or at all while an increasing number realise the importance of having practices in place which ensure it is done well. Below we give a summary of research into good practice in flexible working, but we are also keen to gather views from employers and employees about what you think makes for good working practice and also what your own personal experience has been like.

8 Steps for Successfully Implementing Flexible Working

According to the Flexible Employment Options website, run by the University of Staffordshire, there are eight key steps to successfully implementing flexible working:

What kind of work is it?

Take into account the type of work an employee does: the more independently a person works the easier it will be to implement flexible working. There should be a strong business case for flexible working to ensure consistency and to explain any rejection of a request. If a request is rejected, consider a compromise solution. There may be hidden benefits to a company in flexible working, such as reduced payroll costs. Explain to staff clearly all the implications of flexible working, including in the case of reduced hours the impact on National Insurance payments.

How will you measure success?

Ensure there are clear ways of measuring the success of flexible working, based on performance and results.

How will it impact other team members?

It is important to consider the impact of flexible working on other colleagues, and how it might affect team dynamics. Let everyone who may be affected by a person working flexibly know in advance.

Communication

Avoid isolation of flexible workers. Ensure important meetings are held when flexible workers can attend and that regular communication is in place. Deal with any issues arising about isolation and communication as quickly as possible.

Avoid resentment

Deal with any potential abuse of flexible working quickly to avoid resentment building among colleagues.

Review regularly

Review flexible working patterns regularly. Make sure to take into consideration the success factors, the rest of the team, and any other issues which may have arisen since implementing flexible working.

Treat flexible workers the same

Someone working flexibly should have the same chances of promotion as any other member of staff, but staff working reduced hours need to be aware that it may take them longer to build skills/experience.

Different kinds of flexible working

The Flexible Employment Options website lists examples of good practice in different forms of flexible working.

Homeworking

Homeworking is particularly useful for tasks such as planning, report writing, preparing for meetings, research and data entry. There are many advantages in working from home, including reduced sickness leave. But disadvantages include upfront costs of setting someone up at home, potential IT problems, isolation and communication difficulties. It is important to get everyone on board, from board members down, when implementing home working policies. It is also important to identify the kind of staff and the kind of work which will respond well to homeworking.

Both employee and employer must have clear objectives laid down before homeworking begins. Agreements need to be made on how to handle enquiries if a colleague is working from home, when and how to contact them, etc. Health and safety checks need to be done on the employee’s work station at home, IT needed for remote working needs to be installed and to counteract isolation, employees need to be kept in regular contact with the office, including having regular meetings with colleagues. It is good idea to pilot a homeworking scheme before it is fully implemented and to include regular monitoring and evaluation, for example, through staff surveys on job satisfaction and an assessment of work produced. For employees, it is recommended that barriers are set up between work and home life, such as having a separate office for work, to ensure employees don’t overwork.

Flexitime

Managers’ main concern over flexitime is over abuse. However, if reviews focus on work objectives and performance abuses should be easily spotted and dealt with. In general employees on flexitime will tend to settle into regular patterns of working. Good communication channels need to be established and changes to hours need to be discussed in advance. The needs of the workplace should take priority.

Job shares

There are many potential benefits to operating a job share, such as having two people’s experience in one role. However, there may be concerns about what to do if one job share partner leaves [you need to be clear whose responsibility it is to find a replacement], it can be difficult to monitor individual performance which can lead to morale problems, it may increase the amount of supervision required, managers may overload the team with work on the basis that there are two people doing the job instead of one and if there are problems between the two partners or they may have different ways of working which may result in delays in work being done.

Middle managers are vital to ensuring job shares work effectively and other staff also need to be on board. It also needs to be made clear if any particular jobs are not suitable for job shares. In many cases, some overlap between the two job sharers is a good idea as it improves communication. Job share candidates should be judged on their individual merits. If the most suitable person for a job is a job share candidate they should be offered the job, but if there is no suitable partner, the job should be offered on a full-time basis. Bank holidays should be split on a pro rata basis. Training may need to be joint or, if a job is split down any particular lines, it might be possible for one job share person to do specific training related to their responsibilities. The main issue in job shares is compatibility between those involved and good communication.



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