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Flexible working is something we talk to our clients about regularly. It is often met with uncertainty and concern over losing visibility and control. But this isn’t a perk, this is a new way of working that is a smart business move. 
 
Here's some compelling statistics from a report run by the CIPD (Chartered Institute for Professional Development): 
 
12% of people have changed their careers/profession due to a lack of flexible working options within the sector. This represents almost 4 million workers. 
71% say being able to have a flexible working pattern is important to them. 
Employees highlight flexible working (53%) and remote working (53%) as key when considering a new job, second only to the importance of pay and benefits (77%). 
46% of people would like a 4-day week. 
39% of people would like flexitime or ad hoc opportunities to work from home. 
A study by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that individuals with a high sense of control over their lives reported better mental health and overall well-being compared to those who felt they had less control. Allowing your colleagues to have choices with flexible working practices will promote this feeling of choice. 
 
Let’s face it, there’s only a few ‘bad apples’ in the workplace who need closer management. Why tie everyone into restrictive work practices just to control the few who make things difficult. 
 
Now, some of our examples below are large, multinational firms (which is where most of the research is readily available) with greater resource than many businesses, however, many of these ideas can be adopted with some small adjustments to suit an SME. Not forgetting, these are the organisations that are leading the way with a strong employee value proposition – why can’t all size of business offer flexible perks too?! 

Variety in Flexibility 

As with most practices now, there is not a one-size fits all approach. We are recognising that every team member is unique, and their needs are diverse so we must consider variety for our people to hold on to our talented teams. 
 
It doesn’t have to be about working from home, for example, Microsoft promote ‘3-dimensions’ of flexibility – work site, work location and work hours. 
 
Consider these options below: 
 
a) Time Flexibility: Allow colleagues to choose their own hours or set core hours but allow flexibility on either side of those. Google encourages individuals to choose their own working hours as long as they complete their work on time. It’s an adult-to-adult relationship which promotes trust. But if that’s not a viable option, there’s many others; consider banked hours and provide time off in lieu to allow team members to take the time when they need it. Or offer a flex holiday scheme to enable people to choose whether they want more or less holiday for the year. 
 
b) Physical Flexibility: Enable remote work or working from various locations. Where this is possible, it again promotes trust and allows individuals choice. Many work environments are open plan and promote collaboration but there are times when people need focussed, quiet time to drill down into the detail and some individuals work best when they have time for inward reflection, away from distractions. Furthermore, allowing the variety over work locations enables people to fit work around personal needs – for instance, travel to see a family member. More and more organisations allow people to work from anywhere as long as they have internet access and are achieving the work. 
 
c) Career Flexibility: Offer sabbaticals or career breaks. Vistaprint offers a four-week sabbatical. Known as the "Vistabreak" and whilst that is paid, and not an option for all businesses, many people would jump at an opportunity to take a break from what they are doing to pursue their dreams regardless of being paid or not. This can be a useful communication piece if the business is looking to make some short-term savings without being at the detriment of their teams and maintaining morale. Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust has a ‘retire and return’ programme, so that people who are retiring are offered to come back in flexible roles. 
 
d) Role Flexibility: Implement job shares or multi-role opportunities. Some of the team want a piece of all the action and would like to take on two jobs within a business to develop skills in different areas and maintain their interest. This can provide job enrichment and promotes flexibility in skills across the teams and could serve well if there’s jobs which do not require full time hours. Similarly, some roles are suitable for job-sharing and can enable the role to continue full time to suit business needs whilst fulfilling the part time wishes of colleagues. 
 
e) Flexibility for Personal Pursuits: Allow colleagues to pursue personal interests or side businesses. Consider vouchers so they can purchase books or media to learn something new and permit the learning during works time for a couple of hours a week. One of our client’s has an someone embarking on a Masters degree completely separate to the work he is doing for the company and has an additional 8 days unpaid time-off to manage his studies. You could go further than all this and give people the option to take paid time-off that allows them to pursue their interests and hobbies. Some firms do this as it provides for an engaged workforce. 
 
All this demonstrates that there are many ways to make flexibility a standard practice and avoid rigid procedures therefore rewarding the teams and gaining their commitment as they can achieve more of their own personal goals in life. 

How to make this work 

Lead by Example 
Senior leadership should model flexible working to foster a supportive culture. Leaders should practice it and as Business Owners you can set a positive example. Engage with your teams about their commitments and activities outside of work and show your interest in supporting them and their diverse needs. Make sure they know the flexibility the company can offer and discuss it with them to find out what will suit them. Remember, no one size fits all. 
 
Focus on Outcomes 
Focus on outcomes, not hours spent in the office. Bums on seats does not mean work is being done. Have you ever been in work but not actually at work because there’s other things you need to tend to at home? Everyone has needs to be addressed in their personal life that may be distracting them so if they feel they are trusted to do their role and have choices over their time, their productivity will remain high. 
 
Trust your team to manage their own work patterns. 
It will take some time if you are not familiar with flexible working so build the trust between you and the team and ensure regular catch-ups are in place so that the team feel supported and managers have a good understanding of their colleagues’ needs to strike a balance. Be sure that your team know what their objectives are and the timeframes of these, so they know when they are on track and manage their time effectively. In this way, it is down to the individual to manage their time effectively. 
 
Communicate 
Make it known from the point someone joins the company via the handbook or welcome letters/emails that flexible working is embraced by the organisation and you are fluid in your approach. The healthcare company Thrive Tribe make it known as one of their perks on the careers site and use it well to attract the best talent “Our flexible working approach encourages you to own the way you work, we don’t want anyone to have that dreaded Sunday night feeling.” Microsoft’s hiring managers discuss flexibility during the recruitment process which (as you’ve seen in the statistics above) is the second most important factor that is looked for when considering a job. Promote the ideas/options you offer in your Company and make it known throughout via videos, posters or simple emails – whatever suits the budget. Communication is key to engrain flexibility into the company culture and starts from a position of trust. 
 
Flexibility is 2-way 
It’s not all for the benefit of the team members. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that employees who are entrusted with flexibility are likely to have a greater degree of satisfaction, fulfilment and engagement at work. This will reward the company positively. Ask yourself the question ‘What flexibility do I have and how much satisfaction do I gain from that?’ As humans, we all want to feel in control and not be dictated to – imagine the positive culture adopting some of the flexibility practices above could bring about. 
 
Given people feel more at ease when they have choices, by making flexibility part of your culture, you will find it easier to encourage flexibility to meet client needs and promote team support during unsociable hours – flexibility works both ways. 

To summarise 

By implementing some of these approaches to flexible working options, you can create an environment where flexibility thrives, benefiting both the organisation and its people and attracting great talent. The big statistic to remember is that flexibility is the 2nd factor for someone when choosing a job, right after pay and benefits. It’s not something that can be ignored. 
 
By Chloe Lander – People Director, HR Download 
Tagged as: Flexible Working
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