In many countries, regulation is forcing the employer’s hand in providing greater flexibility, as legislators look to improve employee working conditions in such areas as parental rights. New figures from the charity Grandparents Plus show that currently, 20% of UK grandmothers provide at least ten hours of childcare a week. However, as the state pension age rises, the charity behind the research believes this will become increasingly difficult to sustain.
At present, anyone can ask their employer for flexible working arrangements but the law gives some employees the statutory right to request a flexible work pattern. This right applies to those with responsibility for a child under 17, a disabled child under 18 or a disabled adult who have worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks. Ultimately, while the employee has the right to ask for flexible working, the decision to grant the request lies with the employer, although all firms have a duty to consider such requests seriously and may only refuse for good business reasons.
For organisations without a clear policy on flexible working, employee demand may very well go unheeded, especially if it is not seen to be in the best interests of the business. Probably the most consistent barrier to flexible working requests being granted are long-standing management concerns around the inability to manage remote employees as effectively as when they are in the same location. Similarly, this can also prevent a flexible working strategy being created and rolled-out across the business in the first instance.
As the results of a 2012 report by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation’s flexible work commission have shown, this could be a mistake. The study, which considered the experiences of both companies and employer bodies in using a range of working practices, found that working flexibly can in fact help to reduce absenteeism, improve staff morale, raise productivity and enable businesses to attract and retain more talented employees.
As well as improving an individuals’ work-life balance, flexible working opens up the opportunity for businesses to operate more cost-efficiently. Using highly secure virtual meeting, training and conferencing solutions, firms can enable employees to work with colleagues, partners and customers remotely with no loss of productivity, in some instances significantly reducing office and travel costs.
In many cases, these high-definition technologies offer the next best thing to being there, by providing an online experience that’s as real as in person. They enable a virtual central location where all team members can work together and share information and project materials and even offer the functionality for managers to have full visibility of the output of staff based away from the office.
From meetings and content sharing to training sessions and presentations – all types of communications needs are met via a wide range of intelligent devices. When implemented as part of a good business continuity plan, remote working can also help to ensure that staff remain productive on an ad-hoc as well as a regular basis. Crucially, ensuring that the tools and procedures are in place to help business continue as usual can also benefit those with long commutes or problematic journeys, resulting in productivity gains for the employee and the business.
Keeping everyone motivated and productive is also likely to be beneficial from a client perspective, with deadlines being met and contact maintained. Similarly, rather than cancelling an important internal or external meeting, events can go ahead as scheduled using online collaboration tools. In the longer-term, rather than parents relying on grandparents to meet their childcare commitments, incorporating flexible working into their normal schedules could prove to be a more sustainable solution.
And when considering such requests, employers should consider that the need for flexibility beyond traditional 9 to 5 office hours often works both ways: with even the smallest businesses now operating and interacting internationally, many employers have come to expect a high degree of flexibility from their workforce – especially when there’s a big deadline looming or they need to engage with overseas colleagues or clients in different time zones.
Far from being detrimental or inconvenient for business, when supported with remote working technologies and open culture of collaboration, a good flexible working strategy can work in both the employee and employer’s favour.