Creating a flexible working policy for your business? Here’s what to consider.
If you’re tasked with setting up a flexible working policy from scratch, it can be hard to know where to start. As with any policy that affects people at work, the devil is often in the detail. So what are some of the most important things to consider?
Amy Flitney, Employee Relations and People Policy Specialist at Virgin Media O2, outlines seven considerations for your business.
1. Define what you mean by flexible working
Working flexibly isn’t simply home working. It’s about employees being able to make certain choices over when, where and how they do their job. Flexible working can incorporate anything from home working up to a certain number of days a week, to working flexible, compressed or reduced hours. It can include things like phased retirement plans. It might mean the option to job share. Or a shift from time-based work to project based work.
So you’ll need to set out what flexible working means in the context of your business and peoples’ individual roles. This is important because not everyone can work in the evenings to make up for doing the school run, for example. While others won’t be able to work from home because they need to be in the office or shop to fulfil their job description.
Having a hybrid or more flexible way of working doesn’t replace your obligations to consider statutory flexible working requests from your employees. You can find out more details about your obligations on the gov.uk website and on the ACAS website.
2. Decide how your policy will be implemented
Will you make it a formal part of everyone’s contract? Or will you use it more as a set of practical guidelines that people can work within? If you do decide to make contractual changes, you’ll need to get advice on what other obligations you would have here (like consultation), depending on what peoples’ current contracts say.
But a flexible working policy doesn’t have to be something that’s imposed. It could be a document that highlights the opportunities to work different hours or in different places, depending on what’s agreed between the employee and manager.
Our research into changing employee preferences at work shows there is a strong appetite for flexible working. Yet it also has to work for your business. Your policy will need to cover some specifics. Like making sure there are enough staff available to be there for your customers. Or that Mondays and Fridays, as an example, aren’t the only days that people decide to work reduced hours or work from home.
3. Align your approach to support the policy
If you’ve been allowing people to work from home during the COVID pandemic, you have probably covered this already, but you’ll need to make sure your health and safety obligations cover working in the office and remotely. You might also consider something as simple as making sure there is a meeting room or car park booking system in place for days when people come into work. It can make a big difference and help you understand how often people are using your office space.
What about the days when everyone is expected to come into work? Do you have the facilities in place to cope with high demand on a certain day – everything from meeting room availability to the toilet cleaning rota? And what are your contingency plans when some of those amenities can’t be made available?
4. Make sure there’s a level playing field
If you do allow people to work on the move or at home as well as the office, you’ll want to make sure nothing stops them from getting the job done. Do your people have a comfortable home office setup? Are their mobile devices good enough to do the kind of work they normally do on-site? What is their broadband connection like and do they have enough mobile data to work when there’s no wifi?
Not all businesses can afford to purchase extra tech if people choose hybrid working between the home, office and everywhere in between. You might look into whether you can provide an allowance for broadband and mobile contracts. Tech considerations also extend to your IT support. What if someone has moved 200 miles from the office and can work remotely but needs to come into the office to get tech help? Looking at all the what-ifs will help you as you pull together your plans.
5. Think about the impact on everyone
There is currently no UK Government edict to work from home in England. If employees are permitted to work off-site under your policy, then you’ll still have a duty to make sure they are safe to do so. If they aren’t, then you may need to insist that they come into their normal place of work. For some jobs – especially in the retail, entertainment or construction sectors – it’s hard for people to work anywhere else.
As we mentioned, it’s not just about working from home versus the office. Even if you let people leave at 3pm and return at 7pm, will the building still be open? Will the facilities be in place to allow them to continue working as normal? And, perhaps most importantly of all, how will flexible working actually work for individuals?
6. Talk to your people
Some people have found it hard to work from home. They may have missed the buzz of the workplace, lacked the technology to do their jobs, or struggled with feeling isolated. So while it can be good to build your policy around typical workplace roles or personas, nothing beats hearing what your colleagues have to say. You might want to sit down with each one, send out an employee survey or just ask a few people from around the business.
This also applies to managers and supervisors too. Do they understand your proposed policy? How easy will it be for them to implement it? Have they bought in to the potential benefits? Will they have enough scope (and backing from the business) to decide what flexible working should look like for their team? After all, leadership, boundaries and getting the job done are still essential. Especially when people have contractual obligations to meet.
Having a clear channel of communication up and down the organisation will mean everyone knows what’s required, the flexibility on offer and how to raise any questions.
7. Review your policy periodically
Checking in with your employees is important for a whole host of reasons. But particularly if you want to know whether your flexible working policy is as effective as it should be (if it’s not contractual). Being able to hear how things have changed might mean you need to update it from time to time. What has worked well (and what hasn’t) for people working away from the office? Does the ability to work different hours each day make a positive or negative impact on productivity? How does the policy contribute to better customer outcomes?
A flexible working policy is also an opportunity to challenge previous workplace norms. It’s not simply a case of pre- and post-lockdown work styles. This could be your opportunity to (re-)design work to better suit your business. And that might involve looking at what others in your sector, or those further afield, are doing to match flexibility with good business.
It’s clear that there’s no such thing as an off-the-shelf flexible working policy. Organisations are different. Employees are different. Expectations are different. However, being upfront with your people, getting them involved and making sure you have the right foundations in place are likely to ensure your flexible working policy becomes a success.