woman working from home, flexible working

By Victoria Webber, Assistant HR Manager at Lovewell Blake

Agile, hybrid and remote are all words we’re hearing more often when it comes to the ‘new normal’ of work, what do they have in common?

They are all initiatives which are underpinned by flexible working. Without flexibility, these would not exist.

There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has thrown the country into the modern way of thinking when it comes to flexible working. Large companies are announcing the removal of office space creating a completely remote team whilst smaller organisations are starting to realise the benefits of a flexible workforce. Whilst this is a positive move for the working population there are many questions around how best to manage such arrangements.

When people think of flexible working they immediately jump to working from home, it is all we’ve heard about for the past year after all, but there are many forms of flexible working aside from homeworking. It’s important for employers to consider the alternatives to homeworking to incorporate flexibility into their culture, so, to avoid a two tiered workforce where some are offered flexibility and others are not. Other forms of flexible working include part time hours, compressed hours, term time working, flexi-time and job sharing.

Having employees on different working arrangements and different hours can have its challenges to manage but the benefits of flexibility completely outweigh these challenges. Key tips on how to manage a flexible workforce include:

Communication

This is something which needs to be proactive, not reactive. Make time during the working week to focus on communication whether it is with individual team members, complete teams or companywide. Take into account the best time to communicate key messages ensuring the majority of the workforce can receive the message at the time it is given and that those who are not available are provided with the information in a timely manner after. Use a variety of communication methods such as video calls, emails and group chats to ensure the information can be conveyed successfully. Failure to take a proactive approach to communication can result in employees feeling isolated, de-motivated and only receiving feedback when something negative occurs.

Train line managers

If flexible working arrangements are a new concept in the business then managers need to be trained on how to manage the new arrangements. You would not introduce new software and expect people to know how to use it, so you cannot introduce new working patterns and expect managers to know how to manage them. Flexible working requires a different approach to measuring employee performance rather than just seeing someone at work, this will be something managers need to get to grips with to know whether their employees are working well or not. Training of line managers is equally important in ensuring legal requirements of the business are met too from managing flexible working requests which require a statutory procedure to be followed, to ensuring discrimination does not take place, especially when those who need to work under a flexible arrangement are mainly women with caring responsibilities.

Measure performance based on outputs

Gone are the days where just because someone is visible in the workplace it can be assumed they are working. Note the word ‘assumed’, presenteeism is a key issue that affects productivity and just because someone is at work it does not mean they are working effectively. By changing the focus to outputs and results to measure performance it means managers will have a handle on how well their employees are working and it is also likely to increase employees’ productivity levels too as they understand what to focus on and how they will be measured. This approach removes the need for managers to work at the same time as all employees, which can be problematic when you have employees on compressed hours or job sharing across multiple shifts but still allows them to assess the results of the work being carried out. Setting clear objectives and outlining expectations are key factors in this management style.

Managing flexible working patterns well will reap benefits for the business. It’s well known that those afforded flexibility will be more motivated and perform better. Flexibility works both ways too, if the business can be flexible with employees then the likelihood is that employees will return that flexibility when needed. Flexible practices can lead to a resilient workforce that can tackle challenges thrown at them and continue to work effectively throughout adversity. A flexible culture will also help with recruitment, allowing the business to tap into a talent pool that may not be able to, or want to, work full time but can bring valuable skills to the table.

There is increasing pressure on the government to pass legislation making flexibility a day one right and expectations of the working population have shifted considerably towards flexible working. Getting to grips with managing flexible working patterns now will stand your business in good stead for the future meaning you can recruit, retain and get the best out of your top talent.


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