There’s plenty of evidence that flexible working, including varying/reducing working hours, and working from home either occasionally or regularly, can have a positive impact. Staff gain an improved work-life balance, feel more control over their work and their life, which is good for wellbeing, and they can also feel more valued and trusted by their employer. Productivity can go up, absence levels can go down, and money can be saved in salary and office space.
But many managers still have concerns about implementing flexible working, despite the well-documented business benefits. Perhaps there’s a worry about quality, productivity without supervision, and customer service levels? The good news is that some concerns are more about perception than reality, and most potential issues can be managed well with some thought.
Lack of supervision
This is something that worries managers when employees work at home. But actually, the evidence suggests that often people are more productive in that environment. Setting clear objectives and moving to a mindset of measuring performance against deliverables rather than time spent can help with this. Making goals and tasks as specific as possible and ensuring very regular catch ups can both ensure the employee is staying on track and the manager is feeling reassured that enough is being done.
Lack of availability
Managers can be concerns that staff who reduce their hours might not be available enough for being contacted, by colleagues or customers. Yes of course there are some roles where having ‘cover’ during the whole of the working week is important. But these can usually be worked as a job share, or a few part time roles, with some creativity.
And there’s also an organisational mindset – if an example is set from above that it is fine to not be available all the time, that example will be followed. Perhaps encourage employees to put their working hours on their email footer, for example, and get senior managers to do the same, setting a tone of your employees not being expected to be available all the time. The business benefits of that kind of culture can far outweigh the minor inconvenience of someone not being available instantly.
Innovation and working together
Something many employers found challenging during lockdowns or when large proportions of staff were either completely or mostly at home, was that the idea generation and positive thinking generated in a group environment was missing. And that is important. But if you acknowledge that it is crucial and beneficial, you can take steps to ensure that is recreated.
Arranging regular get togethers, requiring even homeworkers to attend the office sometimes, ensuring that flexibility doesn’t end up meaning no one is ever in the office with colleagues, arranging creative thinking sessions on video conference- these can all help replicate that benefit.
Detrimental working environment
Those working from home can easily suffer from a detrimental working environment. Sometimes they don’t have proper desks, chairs or suitably height-adjusted display screen equipment, all of which is a risk to health and can cause or exacerbate various conditions. Remember as the employer you have just as much responsibility for health and safety for employees working at their own home as you do when they work in the office, so ensure risk assessments are done and that staff working from home have appropriate equipment and workspace.
For those staff who work regularly from home, there is a risk of work and home life overlapping, leading to no proper distance or break from work. Sometimes employees ‘graze’ their emails with no definite working hours, and never switch off. Make sure staff know they are not expected to be available 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and are educated about the need to take breaks from work while they are working from home.
Working when unwell
Check that staff look after their own health when working from home. If someone is not well enough to go into the office they often take a day off as sickness absence. But if someone works (or can work) from home, and only need to make it to their home office or even the sofa, they may work despite not being well enough to do so, therefore not taking time to recuperate. Ensure managers are clear to staff that they are not expected to carry on as normal when sick just because they work from home, and make sure staff understand that their health is a priority.
Isolation and team bonding
If flexible working involves a lot of working at home, staff can suffer from feelings of isolation and from a lack of social interaction. It’s crucial to make sure they definitely feel part of the team, and have plenty of opportunities to meet with team members and spend time in the workplace as well as just at home.
Similarly, staff who work part time hours/flexible hours can all struggle with not feeling part of the team. Make sure these employees are included in team meetings and team events. Sometimes this might involve video conferencing options or similar, and be careful about arranging team awaydays or get togethers not to exclude staff who have family responsibilities or childcare difficulties.
Many of the concerns managers may raise about flexible working are not nearly as significant as they may perceive them to be, but with some planning, you can make sure all the potential negatives are considered, and steps taken to reduce their impact. There is no doubt that having a flexible working culture in a small business brings huge benefits, and taking the time to plan will ensure you can embed a flexible working culture successfully. If you’d like some advice how to implement flexibility without compromising on quality, do get in touch.