How to implement flexible working successfully

Coach Oliver Hansard has worked with many employers who know that flexible working is something employees want, but may struggle to implement it. Here is his advice.

close up of man and woman in flexible working meeting


The new year brings with it the prospect of new resolutions to change life for the better. Many parents reached the end of the year stressed out and in need of much greater work life balance. But how do they get it? Here Oliver Hansard of Hansard Coaching makes the case for greater flexibility at work as a benefit for both parents and the employers they work for. But despite this, things will only shift when more and more people make the case for it. The important thing is to ask for what you want and for employers and managers to have a clear plan for how to make it work.

Adrian worked as a commercial director in a media sales company. Almost simultaneously he became a new father and moved house out of central London to the Essex countryside and so extended his daily commute by an hour.

In order to soften the blow of this longer day and the pressures of parenting a new born, his line manager allowed him to come in a little later, leave a little earlier provided he was in communication whilst travelling and finished the day’s work after putting his young son to bed.

These arrangements worked in three dimensions without impacting Adrian’s productivity: he was available as if he was in the office; he became more loyal to the business; and the fact that he wasn’t always travelling at peak times meant he was able to minimise his travelling costs just at a time when money was needed for new baby equipment!!

In my role as a coach, I’ve seen flexible working succeed in a range of business sizes and verticals. Yes, sometimes employees can take advantage, but more often than not it works for all concerned, improves the culture of the organisation and makes individuals more loyal both to their boss and their employer.

My experience has taught me that making flexible working work is just as much about the manager as it is about the individual concerned. I have always worked on the basis that a good manager knows if one of their reports is delivering because of the outputs they observe and not because of their observation of them in the office. Of course, being present with your team is important but not necessarily a requirement all the time. Managed well, everyone can be productive regardless of where they work from.

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Here are some ideas I have seen put into practice that have helped flexible working schemes succeed:

  1. Try it out – test and learn in a structured way and see if it works both for you and the employee concerned. It should always be on a trial basis in the first instance; only agree to a permanent change once everyone is comfortable.
  2. Assume success – trust is key in any employee/employer relationship, so trust everyone concerned to make it work.
  3. Only some roles suit flexible working so be realistic on when it is appropriate and manage expectations about what is likely to work.
  4. Give the individual specific tasks that can be performed remotely on the day(s) in question. Clarify your expectations and the outputs as this gives everyone (including other members of your team watching) reassurance that the right work really is getting done.
  5. Give the line manager support and encouragement to make it work.
  6. Review on an ongoing basis;  and deal with issues promptly and honestly.
  7. Lead by example, work flexibly yourself, be effective and tell everyone how it works for you.
  8. Consider team meetings in person, say, at the beginning of the week, and then a remote check-in at the end of the week to measure progress. This is a particularly good model in a sales context or where a short-term, time-pressured project is in progress.
  9. Make the rules clear and hold everyone to them; measure the impact whenever possible.
    In essence, build a flexible working model that is good for your business; get this right, celebrate your success and repeat. You may be surprised at the positive impact on your culture just as much as your team’s productivity.

Be prepared

Of course, all employees have a legal right to ask to work flexibly; it is inevitable that you will be asked so be prepared.

  • Think through in advance which roles might be suitable and which roles will not and have an objective and credible reason for both.
  • Have a plan to deal with these types of requests and, in particular, make sure you deal with them in a non-discriminatory way.
  • Don’t leave yourself open to a claim that the decision not to agree to flexible working was a result of sex, age or disability. In fact this is where a trial can really help all concerned to understand what is practical.

Whilst an employer can refuse to agree to flexible working when there is a business case to, but, done well, flexible working pays dividends through efficiency, productivity and worker happiness, and I can’t think of a better business case than that.

*Oliver Hansard is a Business Coach and Founder of Hansard Coaching.

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