The Covid pandemic caused untold disruption to the working world for two years. From live events to office politics, employers and employees have had to rethink the expectations they each have – what the job needs, what’s a fair way of working, and how to balance the needs of the business with the right to a stable and fulfilled personal life.
Now, two years on, for the majority of businesses, some form of flexible working is now standard operating procedure. For many companies the benefits of offering flexibility to the workforce were already apparent long before Covid.
Having a diverse team can make flexibility more relevant and suits the workplace better. A team can vary in terms of age, location and experience. Some will have children or other caring responsibilities, so working remotely and giving staff the freedom to work hours that suis their routine can really work and ensure an employer adapts to their diverse team.
Meeting business needs through flex
While many companies feel comfortable devising their own flexible working policies, there are some factors that need to be considered, and not just in relation to remote working, but also job sharing, part-time hours, compressed hours, flexitime or staggered hours.
While Benefits Expert’s readers will know all too well of the regulatory requirements involved in requests for flexible working balancing the needs of their staff with business needs is a more challenging task.
Clearly there are many ways in which employers can offer flexibility without giving up too much control. A key mistake made by many organisations is to agree to reduce an employee’s days or hours, renegotiate salary and then believe that flexibility has been successfully implemented. Unfortunately, that is not flexible working: it is more akin to asking an employee to do a fulltime job in less time.
This approach can alter the dynamic across teams. The employee may feel they’ve been set-up to fail while colleagues might feel overstretched by having to take up the slack, which creates resentment.
It’s also important to note that communicating flexibility can also be a headache in that it creates a disconnect between what is communicated versus what is understood in a newly defined role. So, clarity is crucial. Rolling-out a flexible working plan or strategy does mean a mindset shift and does mean redefining roles to be more effective for this way of working.
When it comes to redefining job descriptions, there are a range of elements that need to be assessed before agreeing the type of flex an employee requires.
Some roles are such that an individual needs to be in the office or at a specific site or location. Businesses must consider how this can be adjusted to allow for remote working. This will also allow employers to get a clearer picture on location dependent employees, which could prove useful when assessing social distancing desk policies.
This focuses on stakeholder responsibility and the exact nature of the role. It’s important here to assess whether the job maintains the same level of work that follows the same patterns or deadlines, or whether it is more interchangeable on a weekly or monthly basis.
Availability and predictability
Does that employee need to be team-facing at all times? If so, how quickly do they need to engage or respond? As a manager, they may control the flow of work or may have to pivot quickly to focus on a new task, which may require team meetings.
Assess if the role can be segmented to allow for colleagues to take on new responsibility or shared with a peer. This could be an opportunity to support and nurture employee development.
Like so much else in business, whatever flex solution suits your business, making sure employers and staff are all aware of the expectations, rights and responsibilities makes all the difference.
Worth the effort
From our own experience, we’ve found considering the above factors is worthwhile in accommodating requests for flexible working. While the headlines are often focused on mandatory calls to return to the office by some employers, it’s worth remembering that flexible working existed long before the pandemic. It has worked and can work in a way that suits employees, employers and clients/customers, if done correctly.
Paul Beare is ounder of Paul Beare Limited, part of the IR Global network