Business Talk talks to Ksenia Zheltoukhova, an expert in flexible working practices at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, about what businesses need to consider.
Q: What are the key drivers behind businesses adopting flexible working practices?
A: Flexible working has in some cases become excessively associated with the needs of parents and carers requesting a change to their working arrangements. However, many employers have been proactively looking at opportunities to build on the direct and indirect benefits of flexible working provision. Today flexibility is one of HR’s strategic tools to support effective business performance.
Q: What do you see are the top three benefits of flexible working?
A: Firstly, the ability to attract and keep individuals who are interested in a good work-life balance and seek employers who can offer working arrangements that are tied to the outputs they produce rather than time they spend at work. It also opens up a much wider pool of talent, including those who wish (or need to) work flexibly.
Secondly, it enables better matching between business resources and the demand for services, and the ability to align workforce numbers with the ways in which customers access services, for example supporting 24/7 service provision.
Thirdly, cost savings. Flexible working can reduce real estate needs by introducing hot-desking or alternating work schedules.
Q: What are some of the potential pitfalls and how can these be best addressed?
A: Lack of trust is one of the key barriers to flexible working: attitudes of line managers and peers towards those working flexibly (e.g. from home) can prevent uptake of flexible working options. Communication about the benefits and realities of flexible working arrangements is essential to tackle any unsupportive organisational culture.
There is also a risk, also, that those who are not ‘visible’ in the office or are perceived as working fewer hours can receive poor performance ratings or miss out on development opportunities and promotions. Performance measures must be aligned to output, not hours individuals spend at work.
Q: Are there any legal or regulatory considerations that I should be aware of?
A: The ‘right to request flexible working’ was extended last year to include all employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment, regardless of parental or caring responsibilities. Employers have a duty to consider a request in a reasonable manner and can only refuse a request for flexible working if they can show that one of a specific number of grounds apply.
Individuals’ employment contracts may need to be amended by agreement to reflect teleworking or homeworking. If there is a trade union, it will need to be consulted to ensure that these workers are treated the same as other employees. In any event, employees should not be in any way disadvantaged because they are working flexibly.
The same rules for health and safety apply to home offices as to conventional workplaces, so employers need to ensure that the office space and equipment are safe and that homeworkers are sufficiently knowledgeable about health and safety.
Q: Should I allow employees to use their own laptops, tablets or smartphones?
A: Staff should be provided with appropriate equipment to work flexibly (e.g. from home). However, some companies are introducing BYOD (bring your own device) schemes, where employees are willing to work on their own laptops, tablets and smartphones. These schemes should be assessed for the same risks, such as security and organisational trust and culture issues. Clear policies should be available to staff on the use of own devices, such as data protection procedures, particularly if the device is lost.