Flexible working for your business

First published 30 January 2019 • Updated 07 June 2019

Flexible working for small businesses

As an employer you may wonder, ‘Should I offer flexible working?’ Flexible working counts as an employee benefit, but one that need not cost you anything or attract any tax, and may even save you money. It can help you attract and retain the best people and make your business itself more flexible, productive and resilient overall.

Flexible working takes many forms, and most roles are suited to at least some form of it. If you want to explore the options for your business, here is what you need to consider.

What counts as flexible working?

The term ‘flexible working’ applies to any working pattern that differs from the standard working day. Its aim is to enable employees to tailor their work schedule around their personal life in a way that helps them to perform at their best.

Some employees may find it more difficult to be at the office during rigid hours. Parents in particular may struggle with childcare issues and need to be home at certain times or on certain days. Other employees may have transport issues, or may simply prefer to start and end their day later or earlier.

The most common forms of flexible working arrangements are:

  • Working from home
  • Weekly or monthly hours (rather than daily) enabling day-to-day flexibility
  • Compressed hours (working longer hours for fewer days)
  • Time off in lieu
  • Self-rostering 
  • Job shares

Not all types will be appropriate for all jobs – for instance, a warehouse or shop floor role can’t be performed from home. Nevertheless, almost any role can incorporate some degree of flexibility without negatively impacting the business.

Why is it good to offer flexible working?

The obvious benefit of flexible working is that it makes the lives of a company’s workforce easier. A contented workforce is generally a more productive one, and flexibility can be one of the greatest benefits for many people – even more than a higher salary. This makes flexible working an excellent recruitment tool, and can be even better for retention. For example, when workers start a family they may find that flexible working becomes essential for them – and without it they may be forced to look elsewhere.

There are plenty of other direct benefits of flexible working. The flexibility cuts both ways, in that it can enable your business to operate outside of normal office hours. This can increase your hours of productivity, or enable you to seize opportunities that you might otherwise have missed. You may even be able to scale your workforce up or down in response to changes in demand or workflow.

Flexible working also makes it easier to deal with unexpected circumstances. For instance, if you have home-working arrangements in place then the office can continue to function even during transport crises, or when people are too ill to travel in but still well enough to work.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of flexible working is that it can be tailored to suit your business and your workers. You can break out of the 9-to-5 box and create working arrangements that truly reflect the nature of your business and its goals.

How do employees request flexible working?

Employees can request flexible working in one of two ways:

Statutory

Most employees have the statutory right to request flexible working, provided they have worked for you for 26 weeks or more (and don’t belong to one of the groups who aren’t entitled to make a statutory request). The right to make a request doesn’t mean the request has to be granted, but it does mean that the employee cannot be penalised in any way for making the request.

Making a statutory request for flexible working is legal process with the following steps:

  • The employee makes a written request (only one statutory request can be made every 12 months).
  • The employer considers the request and must provide an answer and proposed arrangement within three months.

Non-statutory

Even if an employee is not entitled to make a statutory request for flexible working, they can still make a non-statutory request. There is no set procedure here, but you as an employer may wish to set up your own scheme with its own processes to make things more formal.

How to manage flexible working successfully

So you’ve decided to offer flexible working. Here are a few tips for setting up a system that works.

  • Keep staff informed
    Make sure that everyone knows what is expected of them in terms of output and performance
  • Monitor activity
    Set up a way of tracking daily activity no matter where or when employees might work
  • Manage schedules
    Create a central database or calendar where people can log what they are planning to do that day and whether they have any meetings or client calls.
  • Streamline communications
    Try out instant messaging tools – these can be a more efficient form of communication than phone calls and emails.
  • Keep up a dialogue
    Maintain regular and clear communication between employees and managers.
  • Maintain discipline
    Be vigilante for employees abusing the system, e.g. failing to work their full hours or being unavailable when on duty
  • Don’t let staff become isolated
    Hold regular short meetings and status updates so that employees continue to feel part of the office even when not physically present

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About the author
Nick Green
Nick Green
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for Unbiased.co.uk, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.