Never before has there a need for flexible working and especially the need to work from home. With a growth in technology allowing for meetings to occur around the world and from anywhere, are we likely to see a change in employers policies regarding choosing more flexible hours or location?
There has always been confusion surrounding what flexible working is. Essentially, it allows employees or contracted staff to cover their required hours but over a more flexible time, so over the day or week to help cover their parenting responsibilities. It also can offer the benefit of working from home (if your job allows). It does not usually include part-time or job-sharing, this would depend on your employer’s policy.
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The Pros & Con’s of Flexible Working
From experience unless you have worked for an employer for a few years, it’s written into your contract or you freelance, flexible working could feel like a dream. It is still relatively a new concept bought in when more women wanted to return to work after having children. Suddenly, as Mum’s, we started seeking jobs that would allow flexibility without losing the pay.
Suddenly, the mid-noughties saw women having children later, concentrating on their careers and then returning to work within a year. My own experiences meant that I have had friends and colleagues contact me for advice over the years; some even taking legal action against their employer. It is still to this day complicated, with lots of Mum’s having to take any minimum wage job to meet their mortgages and it’s even more of a burden if you are a single parent. However, I am ever hopeful that due to recent events, things are changing.
My Own Experience
When having my daughter in 2007, the rules concerning maternity leave, pay and rights were shifting. You could have a year off, nine months of ordinary leave and three months additional leave. It caused a lot of confusion at the time. Lots of my family members were telling me that I had to return to work or ‘payback my maternity pay’. But more parents were using child care, both parents were working and flexible working hours was something you could ‘apply for’ but only if you had worked for your employer for a year and you could only make one application a year, so if it’s declined you had to wait!
It was new to so many employers that the lines blurred between what was required and what wasn’t. It caused a lot of confusion myself included. I spent my maternity leave being underpaid due to an administration error. At the time, my HR manager had to search the internet for my rights as I worked in a very male-dominated workforce, and there was no maternity policy! There was also no flexible working policy, and I felt that at bear minimum employees should apply to work around their childcare.
I left my employer within months of returning from leave. Unfortunately, I had various issues during my maternity leave, after and on my return to work that were not dealt with professionally.
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Flexible Working Now
That was nearly 13 years ago, and I was shocked recently to learn that one of my friends took her employer to a tribunal because she requested flexible working hours and didn’t deal with the request effectively. She won her case, but it surprised me that with so many families now having both parents working, employers can’t see the benefit of flexible working.
On googling ‘flexible working’, I received over 21k hits! Mostly negative. I thought I would share some of the reasons I believe we could benefit from becoming a little more ‘flexible’. This covers remote staff, part-time, flexible full time and anything in between. There are many pros and cons to flexible working; I can’t believe it’s still not common practice.
1. Family – No more taking unpaid leave, using up annual leave or making up hours, with a little flexibility in our working schedules we could take that gym class, attend our daughters’ assembly and collect them from school. Not only this but with organisation, employers would be able to make arrangements.
2. Increased feeling of personal control – The introduction of Zoom, skype, Microsoft teams, emails and social media has meant that as individuals, we have communication on the go. This gives a bonus to being in control of our schedule. Meetings don’t have to be office based, a quick skype or Zoom call, which gives us added power over our work environment.
3. The Dreaded Commute – Avoids traffic and the stresses of commuting during rush hours. You know how it is, you rush out the door at 7.45 am makeup half done, coffee in hand while munching on a banana. You hit the main road and ‘boom’ a 30-minute commute turns into an hour. Working from home or starting at 10 am instead of 9 am means that you could be at your desk faster, logging on to those all-important tasks at 8.30 am.
4. Environmental Considerations – Reduced consumption of employee commuting time and fuel costs. With ‘eco-friendly’ being an essential part of the workplace, employees are being rewarded at some companies for car sharing. Perhaps the bigger picture is with effective management of employees that could work from home or come into work less.
5. Happy Employees are Productive Employees – We all want to enjoy our jobs, whether it be time away from the kids, to keep our skills relevant or to have adult conversations. An employee working 40 hours a week, with an hour, commute each way isn’t going to feel empowered and productive as someone who works three days in the office, two days at home.
1. Team Environment – In team-oriented departments, teams still need to meet, which requires set guidelines. Some people take advantage of the flexibility and use that as an invitation to work from home, which means watch Netflix with their email screen open. There needs to be an extensive amount of trust, perhaps using a management board like Trello or Microsoft teams, for example, to keep staff motivated when not in the office.
2. Management Team – Some managers, who are used to seeing when their staff members come to work, watching what staff do all day at work, and knowing when people leave for home, have trouble adjusting to the new management style, requiring trust. Hands-on managers (micromanaging) don’t adapt well to having employees away from the office; they often feel out of touch or struggle to keep track of their tasks.
3. Other Colleagues – Office-oriented people sometimes view their work-at-home colleagues as slackers because they can’t physically see their productivity. It is common for employees who work at home to be seen as less productive; this isn’t true always true. But I think internal employees often feel that they are sat at home wearing PJ’s, munching on popcorn while watching Netflix. This isn’t always the case.
4. Availability – Compressed workweeks can make client handovers complicated—clients expect service five days a week during business hours and can be fussy when an employee isn’t in on Friday. It can be challenging for clients to understand that at 2 pm, you suddenly become unavailable or that on a Monday you won’t answer their email. Some companies cope well with this by including an email footer.
5. Job Types – Not all jobs can be flexible. Jobs that require customer-facing responsibilities only allow certain types of flextime. Whole days working from home are not an option.
Overall, the advantages generally outweigh the disadvantages, and a good manager can handle the difficulties. In recent times things have changed with companies now having opportunities for staff to work remotely, have a flexible schedule and have more flexible working arrangements. Some employers now have a flexible working policy, so this is advantageous to most prospective employees who are keen to find employers who now offer more flexibility in their approach to work.
**Updated January 2021
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