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What is flexible working?

Every year, flexible working patterns become increasingly common  – but just what does ‘flexible working’ mean, exactly? In this post, we dive into some of the different patterns you can use to help your team balance their commitments between work and home.

‘Flexible working’ is a term used to describe any working pattern that differs from the traditional, ‘set’ working hours. It generally means that a company has agreed to tailor their employee’s hours to accommodate an out-of-work commitment – child-care responsibilities, for example, or a course of higher education.

The right to request a flexible working pattern is enshrined in UK law, so if you receive a flexible working request then there are certain steps you are legally obliged to take.

But that does not mean it’s something to be worried about – flexible working patterns can benefit employers just as much as employees. Allowing your team to strike a healthy work/life balance means they stay fresh throughout the week, and helps them stay more engaged when they are in the office.

The many shapes of flexible working

‘Flexible working’ is something of an iceberg term – 90% of its bulk is hidden under the waterline.

Flexible working can come in many, many different forms depending on how your team member would like to structure their working day, and the best arrangement will vary massively depending on the company and the employee.

Below, we take a look at some of the many different patterns of flexible working that can be used, and touch on some of the scenarios they might be best suited for.

Part-time working

The easy one. Under this pattern, team members are simply contracted to work less than the standard five-day working week.

Working from home, or remote working

This working pattern gives team members the opportunity to spend all or at least part of the week working from their own home. This arrangement has become increasingly common over the last few years, as the ‘information economy’ becomes more prominent and more and more companies move their work onto cloud-based systems.

Job sharing

Another (slightly more off the wall) option is to let one full-time position to be shared between two people, who can split the working time between them as they see fit.

The most high profile example of this pattern has been made by Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley, who share the Green Party leadership between them.

Compressed hours

Using this arrangement, employees agree to compress their working hours into fewer working days. For example, instead of working eight hours per day for five days, they could work ten hours per day, but only Monday to Thursday. This pattern can be a great solution for people who want to combine their work with another project, such as education, training or a passion project.

Flexi-time

Flexi-time allows team members to work their agreed number of hours at times that suit them. This could be a good option for employees with child-care responsibilities who want to be able to help with the school run and make up the time by working later in the evening.

Annualised hours

Under this pattern, the team member agrees to work a certain number of hours over the course of the year but they also have a lot of flexibility about when that work takes place. Sometimes the employer will set out some ‘core hours’ that they need the employee to work each week, but otherwise they are free to work flexibly or in a situation where there is extra demand.

Staggered hours

This arrangement is a little like a flexi-time arrangement but doesn’t quite go so far – instead, it might involve the employee coming into the office an hour later than their colleagues and leaving an hour later as well.  

This is a great option for parents who want to help with child care either in the morning or the early evening.

Phased retirement

Phased retirement is designed to allow team members approaching retirement age to reduce their working hours gradually, with the end objective being to transition from full time employment to full retirement. This is a great option for people who aren’t ready to leave work for good, but would benefit from working fewer hours for health reasons.

However, it’s always worth remembering that reducing an employee’s hours will have a pro rata effect on their pay and holiday entitlement.

To finish

The patterns of work that we’ve outlined above are just a few of the different ways you can accommodate your team – but there’s no need to feel limited by them. Instead, encourage your team to make suggestions about how they would prefer to structure their working week in order to be more effective. You might well be surprised at the advantages a little flexibility could bring.

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