Flexible working is not as widespread as you might believe, according to recent research from My Family Care and Hydrogen. Their recent survey has revealed a significant disconnect between the number of people who would like to work ‘flexibly’ (more than half of the respondents), compared to the number who actually do (only a third).

Given the widespread acknowledgement of flexible working (more productive employees, better customer staff, a more agile workforce) this is somewhat surprising. Especially when you consider that over half those interviewed said they would happily sacrifice a 5% salary increase in return for the opportunity to work more flexibly.

flexible working

So, what does it take to make flexible working work in practice?

1. Get it out in the open

In the recent survey, over a quarter of employees said they were reluctant to even raise the issue with their manager, in case it affected their chances of promotion or made them look less committed to the business. If flexible working is to deliver the goods, the business needs to get it out in the open. Senior leaders need to make it clear that it’s an approach they actively want to encourage, line managers need to talk about it openly with their teams and success stories need to be shared across the business.

2. Get line managers on board

Pronouncements about how the business embraces flexible working don’t always translate into reality on the ground. This is often because line managers are not fans. They are worried that juggling a myriad of different working arrangements will take up too much time and are uncomfortable with the concept of managing people they can’t always see. Part of the problem is that organisations often assume line managers will automatically understand how to manage flexible working and leave them to get on with it without any support.

The truth is that managers may need help in understanding the different types of flexible working, redesigning work and job roles and managing dispersed teams. If you can equip managers with skills they need – and help them see how flexible working can have a real impact on the effectiveness of their team – they will soon become converts.

3. Focus on communication

Flexible working arrangements sometimes fail to fulfil their potential because they haven’t been communicated properly to the team. Colleagues are resentful if they see someone going home at lunchtime every Friday, for example, because no-one has been explicit about the fact their peer is compressing their hours and starting at 8am every day. Team members feel uncomfortable contacting a colleague who is working from home because they’re not quite sure what they are doing and whether it’s OK to disturb them.

If flexible working is to operate successfully, everyone needs to be clear about what their colleagues working arrangements are and how the lines of communication will be kept open. Even if a team is scattered and working different hours, it is usually still possible to organise a daily ‘huddle’ or weekly team meeting via Skype or GoToMeeting to make sure everyone has an opportunity to update on projects and keep in touch.

4. Exploit the technology

Technology that can support flexible working is now widely available. Cezanne HR, for example, has a collaborative calendar which can help managers plan to staff and see where everyone is. Many companies have access to platforms such as Zoom, which make virtual meetings or conference calls easy to arrange. Documents and files can be stored safely in the Cloud, allowing people to access the information they need from wherever they may be.

HR software systems like Cezanne HR also come with internal social platforms that allow people to engage in virtual ‘chat’ and collaborate on projects. These tools on the people management software are now accessible for even the smallest of businesses and can do much to aid communication and support a more flexible approach to work.

5. Build trust

Lack of trust can seriously undermine any flexible working programme. Managers (and indeed colleagues) are suspicious about whether someone is doing any work when they’re at home. Employees feel they are not trusted to get on with the job and are worried they will miss out on interesting projects or vital information because they are not always ‘visible’.

The key to building trust is for managers to set clear objectives for their team and agree on regular check-ins where both parties can monitor progress and discuss any issues. Organising quality face-to-face time is also important, particularly if people are working remotely for much of the time. If everyone is clear about what’s expected of them, how success will be measured and what support is available, flexible working is less likely to come off the rails and can be a winning arrangement for both parties.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.