2014 saw a change in the law that might signal a significant change in the working practices of businesses and individuals all over the UK, as the government rubber-stamped plans for flexible working for all employees.
In a move to create a more responsive, agile workforce in the UK, the changes mean that business leaders could now face requests for flexible working from almost any employee and must give every request “reasonable consideration.”
So what does this all mean for businesses and employers? Is flexible working just another headache for small businesses to deal with, or could it actually create a win-win situation with happy employees and lean, efficient companies?
What has changed?
The Government legislation now permits any employee with over 26 weeks’ service to make an application to their employer to change their working hours, times or location for any reason. There has always been a cultural assumption that flexible working only applies to parents or carers, but this move challenges those perceptions and will make workplaces more fit for the 21st Century.
In simple terms, the following changes to the law have been made:
- From 30 June 2014, every employee has the statutory right to request flexible working for any reason.
- Employees must have 26 weeks’ continuous employment with their employer in order to be eligible, and must not have made another request in the last 12 months.
- The strict statutory procedure has been abolished and replace with a requirement that employers consider requests in a ‘reasonable manner’. This means employers must handle requests in a fair way while considering the impacts it could have on the business before making a decision.
What does that mean for businesses?
Many business leaders are always looking for smarter ways of working but worry that flexible working could impact on the company culture and the level of management control. However, in reality flexible working can actually add more agility, control and even enrich and diversify culture if managed properly.
Many companies adopting flexible working practices actually find they are able to increase the efficiency and productivity of team members. Flexible working is all about enabling each individual to work in the way that is most productive for them, and giving individuals an infrastructure that allows them to work from home, outside office hours or when they’re out an about means they respond more quickly to customer problems or opportunities and provide an all-round better service.
For company culture, giving individuals the trust and freedom to work in a way that suits them can create a workforce that is motivated, committed and loyal. Eliminating the cost, stress and wasted time of commuting can make a life-changing difference to employees that they may value more highly than a pay-rise, and will only enhance your reputation as an employer when it comes to attracting talent.
Of course out of sight doesn’t have to mean out of mind, and with the right infrastructure to allow teams to collaborate, your business can create an enhanced sense of community between colleagues wherever they are. And crucially, that could potentially mean anywhere in the world, as you’re no longer restricted to a talent pool within a commutable catchment area from your premises.
All of the above can also translate into lower costs for your business. Improving staff retention results in lower recruitment costs, and that is even before you have factored in the reduced absenteeism that comes from allowing people to fit work around their life. Smart businesses that have embraced flexible working also have significantly reduced costs for premises and utilities, allowing hot-desking when people do choose to go into the office.
From speaking to hundreds of small business leaders, it has been interesting to hear how many share the same challenges and concerns about flexible working, but those that have really embraced it see it as a potential competitive advantage in today’s increasingly fast-paced business world. Of course it won’t necessarily work for everyone, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but by being open and transparent with your employees, giving them the tools and infrastructure they need to do their jobs flexibly and measuring their output against objectives, you will give flexible working the best chance of success.
Bostjan Bregar is the co-founder and CEO of The 4th Office, a structured cloud workspace that enables teams to collaborate remotely. For further information or a free trial for your business go to www.4thoffice.com.