Flexible working requests may relate to working from home (either for all or part of the working week), a reduction in hours, working the same number of hours – but at different times of the day or on fewer days of the week – or working alternative days of the week, to name but a few.
The reasons for making a flexible working request need not only relate to childcare or caring responsibilities either, it could be to fit around project demands or provide a general work-life balance to enable employees to fit work around hobbies.
Following the national lockdown, many organisations allowed – or even encouraged – a flexibility that they previously may never have considered including allowing staff to work from home and/or to fit working hours around childcare responsibilities.
We wait with bated breath to see whether this results in businesses considering alternative methods of working following lockdown, but also whether there is a subsequent increase in flexible working requests from employees. Whilst these requests do not necessarily need to be granted, if the employee meets the criteria for making a formal request, this must be considered.
Furthermore, formal flexible working requests can only be declined on certain business grounds. If an employee has proven that their productivity has been unaffected, or even improved as a result of home working, it may be difficult for a business to justify declining a request for this to continue – nor may they want to decline it.
Flexibility in the workforce is not necessarily a bad thing for businesses though. It can help increase staff morale, make organisations an exciting prospect when attracting new recruits, and retain key employees by offering that ever elusive work-life balance.
Of course, there will be certain scenarios which have been permitted during lockdown that would be unworkable as a permanent arrangement – such as requests to work from home to enable you to simultaneously care for your children. This would inevitably mean that a person would be unable to dedicate the whole of their time, and attention, during their working hours to their job role as they would also need to devote time and attention to their child. Even if this has been accommodated during lockdown, a company’s response to a worldwide pandemic and business challenges never previously faced can be differentiated from the ‘normal’ working environment and business landscape.
Flexible working does not always work out though, and some employees may find it difficult to focus and maintain productivity whilst operating remotely, or working outside of the usual 9-5. In other cases, employees may be desperate to prove themselves and show that they are working and are equally – if not more – productive, which can often lead to issues with presenteeism or employee burnout.
The key to minimising the risks of the above matters can be rolling out open lines of communication and committing to having regular contact with colleagues and managers. For employers, it is vital to maintain close working relationships even if they are not working in the same location, or at the same times of day as colleagues, and to set out clear guidance on not only what is expected, but what is also not expected within the new working pattern.
By maintaining clear lines of communication though, managers can discuss what is working well and what can be improved upon to try and find that ‘sweet spot’ where both the employee and employer can truly benefit and thrive from the new working arrangements.
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