A functional culture of flexible working needs a bit of work – but a written flexible working policy helps a long way.
Flexible working looks set to become the norm. Companies that lag behind in implementing a good flexible working policy for their employees will be seen as increasingly undesirable places to work (as well as being outperformed by more agile competitors).
There are a bunch of benefits to allowing flexibility – not least when it comes to talent retention and employee motivation. But flexible working done right is not something to be taken lightly. You need rules. And performance tracking.
Let’s look at how to create a great flexible working policy.
Reasons for having a flexible working policy
Very few organisations who actually practice flexible working or have a flexible working culture have a set policy. This is a mistake.
Now, a lack of policy doesn’t mean the business leader hasn’t thought things through. But it does mean they haven’t clearly communicated it yet to the rest of the business.
Having a clear but simple policy will allow a level footing. In the eyes of your policy, all employees should be equally valuable and deserve the same treatment when it comes to flex working.
Also – did you know that employees who have worked with you for at least 26 weeks have a right to make a statutory application for flexible working? Your business is required by law to consider requests reasonably, and only turn it down if there is a business reason for doing so.
“Business reason” actually equates to a fair number of things, but we would strongly caution against trying to “find” a reason to turn down their request. It’s better to have a policy in place.
The benefits of flexible working
Remember that flex is a conversation, and will require the employee to rethink their own areas of responsibility and potentially make concessions of their own. Figure out what the deal-breakers are for them and then work on from there.
Flexibility drives performance – both by enabling the best candidates to work more efficiently, but also by exposing poor performance. Because your business will have to focus solely on output as a measure of success, those that have got by on obscuring their output (probably not deliberately, in our experience most people fall into bad habits by accident) will have fewer places to hide.
Flexible working breeds loyalty. If nothing else, professionals are aware that it might be tough to find another job that matches their needs, but there’s more to it than that. Creating a flexible working structure demonstrates that your business is dedicated to creating a positive working culture (a key element in hiring the top 10% of candidates).
Be clear on how flexible working performance is measured
You’ll also need to think hard about how you measure performance. If you haven’t already, discuss some new and measurable goals with the employee and work out a valid timescale for delivery.
If you have worries about productivity with a flexible schedule (which actually very rarely manifests) this is the most practical way to assuage them: make sure that both parties walk away with clarity on what’s expected.
When you follow up you’ll be able to tell whether your fears were unfounded or not (a useful aspect of flex for business is that it makes currently unproductive employees easier to identify).
Creating a flexible working solution for your existing employees may take some time (the law gives you three months to figure it out) and perhaps some intellectual effort but we think the future benefits will easily outweigh these immediate costs. When properly and thoughtfully implemented the model drives performance, and you should trust that it will do the same for your business.
Structuring a flexible working policy
A flexible working policy doesn’t need to be lengthy to be effective. To help you get started, here are some policy statements that could suit growing SMEs who already have a flexible working culture in place and just need to clarify these behaviours.
Every organisation will have a different rhythm and we encourage you to work through your flexible working policy with a representative sample of your team.
There are 4 key areas to consider:
- Remote working
- Core hours
- Mandatory appointments
- Good practice technology and tooling
Whatever you choose as your policy in each area, be sure to justify your decision with solid rationale.
Getting the basics of your Flex Work policy right
But before you start – make sure you at least have the very basics in place. In essence – make sure your policy is fair, universal and
- Flexibility works both ways – It comes with time-management and scheduling responsibilities that the professional will need to commit to. Professionals are almost always aware of this (nobody wants to be bad at their work and everyone wants to make a strong start to a new job) but many businesses seem to view flexibility as a zero-sum game. It’s perfectly fine to negotiate, to make a counter-offer and attempt to reach a compromise that works for everyone.
- Flexible working policies should apply to everyone. Be consistent – this can’t be a perk just for a few. Apart from the logistical nightmare you’ll create for your business, it’s also going to lead to significant resentment among the rest of your staff. If you’ve got to the stage where you’re discussing it with some people, you should already have evaluated the needs of your existing staff and begun implementing flex for the company as a whole.
What to avoid in your flexible working policy
Working from home Fridays
This is a common yet contradictory policy. It somehow implies that working from home is a lesser task than working from the office. The worst interpretation is that we’re all so exhausted by Friday that we deserve a break – which somewhat ruins the integrity of the “work” in the working from home policy!
It also assumes everyone’s working rhythm is the same ie: you’ll want to do tasks that don’t require face to face collaboration on a Friday. This doesn’t allow for the variables of individual workers. Some professionals may excel at independent strategy work when by themselves at home, with a preference for doing this at the start of the week. Others may use the home environment for working through more routine work and may prefer this mid-week.
Work from home policies for senior employees only
In this scenario, high performance is rewarded by opportunities to “work from home”. This creates a hierarchy and cements an assumption that “work from home” indeed means have a rest.
For flexible working, culture trumps policy
This is an area of business culture where the winds are already changing. The best thing to do is trim the sails and try to build up speed.
You can download a draft flexible working policy here >>