Essential flexible working guidance for managers (2023)

Modern employers need to be embracing flexible working, so to help with integration into the business, many now provide flexible working guidance for managers. By providing a good working guide on flexible working, which details recommended and approved approaches and practices, managers in organisations will be better able to deliver a consistent, fair, and equitable approach to flexible working.

A good guide will bring clarity around the different types of flexible working, and how to agree on a flexible working pattern, which meets the needs of both the individual and the organisation.

In this article, we explore the whys and wherefores of flexible working to help you embed robust, flexible working practices into the heart of your organisation. But, before getting into the detail of flexible working guidance for managers, let’s learn more about the practice.

What is flexible working?

You may hear the term ‘flexible working’, but you may not be familiar with what it means. The definition of flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, for example having flexible start and finish times, or working from home.

Flexible working means different things in different circumstances, making it difficult to come up with one simple definition. As a general rule though, it’s about adjusting working hours and/or location, to fit around the employee’s life better, so they can carry out their duties well. It means working different hours, working remotely, a combination of the two, and/or hybrid working, which is when the person works partly in the office and part remotely.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of flexible working?

Requesting flexible working is now a legal right for all employees, but you may be wondering about potential drawbacks of flexible working for your organisation, and whether the benefits of flexible working are too weighted in favour of employees. So, we will explore flexible working advantages and the disadvantages so that you can see the bigger picture.

Advantages of flexible workingDisadvantages of flexible working
Better performance

One of the great advantages of flexible working is increased productivity. In a survey, 97% of managers said the quantity of work improved or stayed the same. 93% of managers said the same about work quality*. Quite simply, the advantages of flexible working mean that people perform better when they can work to a pattern which suits them, and/or when the flexible working benefits their lives. So, better performance really tops the list of advantages of flexible working, because it brings flexible working benefits to the employee and the employer.
*Source Flexible Working and Performance, Cranfield University/ Working Families, 2008

Communications challenges

Naturally, there are disadvantages of flexible working, and certainly one of the challenges, can be communications. When different people are working different hours in different locations, this can certainly lead to some problems, so it is important to have processes in place, and a robust centralised diary or rota, to ensure adequate cover, and the ability to meet and catch up. Staying in touch in business is vital, and technology like Zoom and Teams for meetings, and file sharing systems, really help to address the communication and collaboration challenges.

Greater satisfaction

Another benefit of flexible working is greater job satisfaction. This is because employees feel trusted to do their job in a way that brings flexible working benefits to them personally. As long as there’s good communication (vital), and employees are empowered to work their day, their way, there are unlikely to be many working problems.

Meetings and schedule differences

As mentioned, one of the drawbacks of flexible working can be the difficulty of aligning diaries. But good planning and robust practices, should mean that these differences don’t become an issue. It is just as possible to bring people together for meetings and events when working remotely, and with good planning and a ‘can do’ culture.

Greater retention and motivation

When employers extend a high level of care and respect to their people and trust them to work in a way which suits them best, they are likely to reap the benefits, through greater motivation and retention. Indeed, 75% of employers say that flexible working has a positive effect on retention and 73% say it improves staff motivation*.
*Source Flexible Working Provision and Uptake, CIPD, 2012

Home working ‘kit’
So, whilst remote working may prove more efficient in office running costs, one of the disadvantages is the responsibility of the employer to provide proper office ‘kit’ for home working. They may seem like problem but investing in proper office furniture for people working remotely is vital. They will need an office chair, a desk, perhaps a footstool, and ensure that their set up is correct, to avoid problems like back problems and injuries – not only detrimental to health but could also be costly to the company in terms of absenteeism, and potential legal action.
Less stress
Another advantages of flexible working is it often reduces stress levels. It allows employees to adjust their working patterns to better manage their responsibilities, if for example they have a young family or are caring for an elderly relative. Flexible working may also allow for avoiding the rush hour, or going for a run, or a walk-in nature during the day. It is likely to bring huge benefits not only to people’s health but also their productivity.
Person not suited to flexible working
One of the disadvantages of flexible working can be that it’s not for everyone. Different personalities need different things, and organisations may experience problems where perhaps people with extravert personalities are feeling isolated by working remotely. Similarly, people with introverted personalities can experience real issues if they feel uncomfortable contributing in online meetings or having their video switched on. This can really impact team morale and can make remote communications difficult.
Greater efficiency
The benefits of flexible working can include greater efficiency for businesses. For instance, many people choosing remote working may bring the opportunity to downsize the office space. Naturally, this is likely to reduce fuel bills and running costs, through less usage. Giving people the option to work part time is another of the advantage. It provides the opportunity to recruit people part-time. This can enable companies to recruit highly skilled and experienced individuals in a more affordable way, because of the reduced hours.
Low team spirit (in some occasions)
With people working all different times in different locations, one of the disadvantages of flexible working can be low team spirit. This includes having fewer opportunities for everyone to get together. However, being aware of such drawback, allows employers to plan team building, social events, and other gatherings, for re-connection, collaboration, and fun.
Attracting talent
Flexible working means that you are much more likely to attract great talent. The teams’ and organisations’ talent pool are widened because you’re not restricted by geography. This mean that your people don’t have to be close by – if they are working remotely, they can live literally anywhere! So, you open yourselves up to a greater number of high-quality people, who might otherwise not be able to work for you.

Flexible working guidance for managers

Because managers have a lot on their plate, it is considered best practice for organisations to deliver flexible working guidance for managers, to ensure flexible working is delivered in a way that is consistent, fair, and equitable.

Integral to any such guide needs to be the directive that the manager must find a working pattern that works for the organisation and the individual. The guide should recommend an exploration of the employees’ needs, and the organisation’s needs, to find working solutions which allows both to be met.

Flexible working guidance for managers must also include advice on implementation, such that flexible working reduces work-life conflict and minimises the likelihood of stress for individuals and teams. And your guide should show how to measure and evaluate flexible working practices, to ensure they continue to work well and benefit both parties.

Guidance like leaders modelling flexible working and having informal conversations about flexible working into meetings are important aspects of any flexible working guidance for managers. Done well, it can help embed a positive culture of flexible working, and benefit wellbeing and work-life balance for staff. It can also give the organisation a great reputation, leading to success in attracting new talent and retaining staff who might otherwise leave. Overall, it can help organisations to deliver robust practices to bring huge benefits to everyone.

Here is a quick flexible working guidance for managers

  • Gen up: As mentioned, all employees now have a legal right to request flexible working. So, it is vital that you are clear on the law, and fully understand what your company policies are in relation to it.
  • Skill up: You will need to model flexible working and promote it within your team. So, make sure you fully understand the benefits, the different ways of working flexibly, and that in every case, it works both for the individual and your organisation. Your organisation should provide support and training, but if they don’t, make sure you request it.
  • Start the conversation: Build discussions around flexible working into your team meetings, one-to-ones and appraisals. Some people may be unaware that it’s available and others may feel anxious about suggesting it, so take the lead, and start the conversation.
  • Promote a positive culture around flexible working: You may find resistance from some people who perhaps hold the view that flexible workers are somehow less productive or contribute less. Challenge this outdated thinking and call out any negative comments or behaviours, to avoid an unhealthy culture from developing.
  • Model flexible working: One of the best ways of promoting flexible working is by modelling it. If you work flexibly yourself, you make it clear that this way of working is normal and encouraged. Be open, talk about it and show everyone how well it can work.

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