Flexible Working

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What does flexible working mean?

What does flexible working mean?

In the last few years, the way we work has changed dramatically, and people are working more flexibly than ever before. 

As of this April, flexible working will be further embedded into the modern working experience, as it will be a legal right to request to work flexibly from the first day of employment (as opposed to after 26 weeks in a role). So employers need to be prepared to answer questions from prospective and new, as well as their existing employees.  

But what does flexible working actually mean? 

In my role at Charlie, I’m responsible for making sure everybody in the team is happy and engaged. So I’m always on the lookout for progressive initiatives that make work better for employees and are viable and sustainable for business growth and success.

So if you’re a startup or small business wanting to better understand how flexible working and how it could apply to your team, you’ve come to the right place. 

When an employer and employee find a working practice that works well for both of them, there are huge benefits for both sides. And flexible working can be just that

Working flexibly means your employees could reduce the time and money wasted on their commute, or be more present for their family, or find new ways to fit personal goals and aspirations around their work.

In return, you’ll have a more engaged, rested and fulfilled team who are happier in their roles and with their work-life balance. And they’re likely to be more productive, communicative and loyal because of it. 

Flexible law change in April 2024 means that understanding flexible working is essential. Employers who cannot confidently respond to flexible working requests will not only be on the back foot, but also be seen as out of touch. Whereas those who offer more flexibility are attracting the best people

Think of this page as your go-to reference for flexible working — you’ll find everything you need to know at a glance and links to more articles exploring elements of flexible working in more depth (hybrid working, how to refuse a flexible working request, pitfalls of remote working etc.). 

Definition of flexible working 

Flexible working is any way of working that better suits an employee’s needs. Working from home or having flexible start and finish times, for example, are types of flexible working. 

Flexible working supports and champions the idea that employees are productive and more fulfilled when they work outside of the traditional ‘9-5’  — acknowledging their needs as individuals and helping them have a better work-life balance. 

What do flexible hours mean? 

There are many different ways to work flexibly, so you need to explore which works best for your business and your team. In no particular order, these are the most common: 

  • Annualised hours - where total contracted hours are worked over the year, allowing for flexibility as long as the annual hours are met. 
  • Compressed hours - full time hours over fewer days, without any reduction in pay.
  • Flexitime - flexible start and finish times, as long as core hours are worked and the agreed total working hours over the accounting period (a month, for example) are met.
  • Staggered hours - where an employee has different start, finish and break times to the rest (or most) of the team.

Working staggered hours is a little like flexitime but doesn’t quite go so far. For instance, an employee might start an hour later than their colleagues, and push their finish time back an hour later as well.

For this reason, staggered hours are a great option for parents who want to help with childcare in the morning or late afternoon. 

  • Home-working - working all or part of contractual hours from home. 
  • Job-sharing - where a full time role is divided between two part time working employees. 
  • Overtime - when additional hours are worked on top of standard full time hours at an agreed rate.
  • Part-time working - working anything less than full time. 
  • Term-time working - when working hours are reduced during school holidays. 

What are compressed hours? 

Working compressed hours has become increasingly popular, as it gives employees more time away from work but with no reduction in their take home pay — especially appealing when the cost of living is so high. 

So what are compressed hours?

When someone works compressed hours, they work their full time quota over fewer days. This is typically done weekly or fortnightly — a five day week over four days, or a ten day week over nine. So the working days are longer, but an employee has three days off work on the other side, rather than two.

At Charlie, we trialled a nine day working fortnight back in 2021, and implemented it as a permanent change across the whole organisation nine months later. 

Everyone at Charlie now works a nine day fortnight, so we’re big champions of this way of flexible working. 

Working compressed hours can be a great solution, as it regularly gives employees time away from work to focus on other things, but without the worry of bringing in less income.  

Hybrid working in the UK

Covid necessarily caused a massive shift towards remote and hybrid working, but it’s another form of flexible working that’s really taken hold and is now very much a fixture of modern day working life. 

Hybrid working is when someone works some of their time remotely (usually but not always from home) and the rest from their employer’s premises

Between 2019 and 2022, the number of people working from home doubled, and in 2023 ONS reported that 44% of UK workers were now working remotely — with 28% of those being hybrid. 

At Charlie, we’ve fully embraced hybrid working

So we know that having a hybrid working policy for your small business means having clear rules, while maintaining enough flexibility to adapt to change. 

Flexible company office hours 

Very much tied into hybrid working is the idea of flexible company office hours, where members of the team are not expected to come into the office unless they choose to

Employees might opt to come to work in person on particular days, or work part of the day from the office and the rest from home, or only come in whenever they have face-to-face meetings. 

As well as giving members of your team flexibility of space, flexible office hours also give them ‘flexibility of place’. When no longer beholden to a daily commute, employees can choose to live outside of the area where the business is based — which in itself may be regarded as a perk of the job. 

If you’re still on the fence about when and how your team comes into work, then our blog on how to decide your company’s office hours should help. 

Refusing a flexible working request 

As of April 2024, an employee can make a flexible working request from their first day on the job, which means you may have to get comfortable with refusing the odd request. 

You see, someone might request a form of flexible working that doesn’t suit the role or feels incompatible with the business, and you’ll have to explain to them why

As the employer, you’re legally obligated to respond to any flexible working request within two months, but it’s good practice to come back to an employee as soon as possible. You also need to explain the reasoning behind your refusal, so that they understand the business decision behind it. 

Offering an appeal is an important part of rejecting a flexible working request, as it allows the employee to follow-up and discuss their application further. You never know, you may be able to come up with an alternative that suits you both. 

For more on refusing a request for flexible working, have a read of our blog. 

Pitfalls of remote working

There are a lot of positives to flexible working, but as a responsible employer it’s also good to be aware of the possible pitfalls. Then you’ll be able to spot any potential problems early and nip them in the bud:

A flexible working policy

Small businesses that offer more flexibility will attract the best people, so setting out your ambitions and expectations in a flexible working policy is vital. 

We’ve created a free flexible working policy template for you to edit and use from today:

Flexible working is here to stay.

So, encourage your team to talk about how they’d prefer to work and what might make them more effective. And if you’re unsure of viability, offer a trial period. 

You might well be surprised at the advantages a little flexibility can bring.

CharlieHR builds software to help small businesses thrive. From tracking time off, running performance reviews or keeping tabs on employee engagement, Charlie provides everything you need to manage your people – all in one place.

You can try it free today by clicking here.

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