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25 July 2023

The New Flexible Working Act is here! What now?

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The new Flexible Working Act has now passed into law. What does this mean for your company, and what can you do to prepare?

Flexible working laws have already been in place for some time, but as of next year millions of employees will have the right to request flexible working from day one of any new job.

You can start preparing for these changes right now. Here’s our tips.

It’s not one size fits all

Some people have a very specific picture of flexible working. This usually involves the employee working remotely every day of the week, only coming into the office when specifically asked to. This doesn’t fit into the workplace culture of a lot of businesses, which is why managers often want to dismiss flexible requests out of hand.

But flexible work (also known as flexiwork) doesn’t have to look like this, and in fact that’s not what the vast majority of employees actually want. This is why it’s critical to listen to what the request is saying.

Flexible working arrangements can look like any of the following:

  • Flexitime

Here, you choose a core set of hours (traditionally eight) that the employee can fill whenever suits them best. For example, some employees may prefer an earlier start and an earlier finish. Usually, this will be within a specific set of hours, but some companies may let the employee work whenever they wish, as long as the hours are logged.

  • Staggered hours

Staggered hours are quite similar to the above, but the employee will work at a set time. This means you have employees working at different times, but you know who is working when.

  • Hybrid work

Instead of full-time remote work, this setup means that employees can come into the office on some days while working remotely on other days. This approach relies on a functional hybrid working environment (like having good internet access) as well as remote working tools.

  • Part-time working

This involves working reduced hours, typically for fewer days or for shorter days. With part-time, pay will reflect the reduced hours.

  • Job sharing

This is a variant of part-time work where multiple people split the workload and the hours of one job role.

  • Four-day week

Unlike in part-time work, a four-day week pays the same as a traditional working week. The employee would be expected to maintain the same level of productivity in less time.

Someone’s asked you for flexible working. Now what?

Whether they’ve been working for you for several years, or only one day, you now must treat any flexible working request seriously. If you can’t fulfil it, you must provide clear reasons in writing as to why not.

You can start handling flexible working requests before an employee even sends you an email. Take a look at some of the options above. Are there any that you can offer as a perk without requiring a specific request? Likewise, are there any that you really can’t offer under any circumstance? If so, why not? This might vary from role to role and department to department. The key hybrid working meaning is that there is no one size fits all solution.

For example, your payroll team will likely handle a lot of sensitive data, so a hybrid working solution may not be suitable for them. But that doesn’t mean that staggered hours, or a four-day week can’t.

Make sure your managers are briefed on this change in requirements, and that they know not to promise anything your company cannot offer. Managers should also be provided with ways to assess if a flexible arrangement is working, so they can feed that back to you.

You should handle every request as quickly as possible. The whole process needs to be completed (including an appeal) within three months. Even disregarding your legal obligations, the longer you leave this hanging, the more likely your employee’s engagement will take a hit, hampering their productivity while they feel stuck in limbo.

Denying an employee's reasonable flexible working requests out of hand is almost always a surefire way to completely put them off working with you. Always treat a request like a conversation. You genuinely might not be able to give the employee everything they want, but you might be able to find a compromise elsewhere.

How to make it work

If someone is asking for a flexible working arrangement you’ve never accounted for before, then a trial period can be a useful tool. Set out a certain period for the employee to test out the new arrangement and for everyone to be certain it’s working as intended.

Investing in workforce management tools can make rostering and scheduling a lot simpler, even with multiple flexible arrangements. Many remote working tools are also useful when used by in-office employees, so getting people trained up on them early will boost your productivity too.

Likewise, investing in multiskilling training can ensure you have coverage of necessary skills regardless of who is on shift when.

Building flexible working into your systems now will make your organisation a much more attractive prospect, one that can pull in some great talent into your recruitment pools.

While working with employees to create hybrid working arrangements that work for you and for them is an even more strict legal obligation, that doesn’t mean you can’t reap a range of benefits. Investing now will make for a much smoother road in the future, one that leads to the kind of employee experience that fosters a loyal workforce that will happily stick with you for the long term.

 

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