What does the future of flexible working mean for HR in summary:

  • Thanks to changes in technology and the COVID-19 pandemic, employees today expect more flexibility in their work arrangements to achieve better work-life balance and productivity.
  • HR departments and people professionals face challenges in managing diverse schedules, tracking hours accurately, and ensuring compliance with labour laws in a flexible work environment.
  • HR technology, such as HRIS software and payroll systems, plays a crucial role in supporting flexible working by enabling efficient scheduling, time tracking, and payroll management.

Is the traditional office 9-5 dead? It’s seeming increasingly likely, with flexible working being an ever-present topic on popular HR forums and publications.

And it’s easy to understand why, too.

Whilst some degree of flexible working was already common in many sectors, the rise of collaborative technologies and the COVID pandemic accelerated the discussion on when and where many of us carry out our daily work duties. For many, flexible working is seen as a genuine alternative to the traditional ‘9-to-5’ workday and the conventional workspace.

But, while working flexibly has become easier in principle, there’s evidence to show it’s becoming a battleground within some businesses. Research from law firm GQ|Littler found that an increasing number of employees have been taking their bosses to court over flexible working requests being refused, with employment tribunal decisions related to flexible working rising by more than 50% in the past year alone.

commute work from home hr flexible working

Clearly, it’s something that employees are increasingly valuing as part of their employee experience – a sentiment echoed by our own research that found flexible working as the most used benefit by employees in 2021. So, what does flexible working mean for HR?

The right to request flexible working from Day 1

From the 6th April 2024, new flexible working regulations will come into effect across British workplaces. These will give employees the right to request flexible working arrangements from day one of employment. This is a huge change, as the old rule around flexible working dictated that an employee must have been employed for at least 26 weeks before making a request to work flexibly.

And flexible working doesn’t just cover the hours a person chooses to complete their contracted hours. It can also refer to working patterns or hours, including part time, flexi-time, term time, compressed hours and adjusting start and finish times, as well as location; for example, working from home.

This all has the potential to lead to major upheaval within the world of work. So, what can people professionals and HR teams to do ensure they’re prepared for this change?

Ensure you know what flexible working means to your business

This might seem like an obvious point, but it’s vital your workforce understands the different flexible working options in the context of your business.

For example, one aspect of flexible working has traditionally been based on an employee’s working hours and how the standard 9-5 working day can be adapted to accommodate their preferred work-life balance. Another is the option to work from home, at least part of the week.

You can help make certain that your staff are clear on the types of flexible working and what they entail by sharing information on the different ways of working via shared portals and workspaces, your HR software and your internal comms. And, speaking of information…

Make your flexible working policies and procedures clear and transparent

Your organisation’s formal policies and procedures are there to protect both your organisation and your employees. If they’re not up-to-date or don’t reflect the latest employment legislation, you could be leaving your company open to industrial action or tribunals; so, it really does pay to regularly check to see if they’re still fit for purpose.

If you need more information on the subject of workplace policies and procedures, the CIPD have an excellent online factsheet here.

When it comes to your flexible working policies and procedures, a key thing to remember is to ensure they’re easily accessible and totally transparent.

Having stated policies and procedures will not just set employee expectations, but help maintain legislative compliance that safeguards everyone getting a fair deal. It can also help the employees who are either unable or choose not to work flexibly feel less likely that their ‘flexible’ colleagues are getting a better deal than they are.

Using internal HR portals are a great way to make your policies and procedures visible for your entire workforce. Portals also have another clever benefit as they can make it easier for people to share information and work collaboratively, wherever they may be – truly enhancing the flexible working experience for everyone.

Click here to read our latest report and discover why HRs place in the c-suite is in danger

Focus on building trust within your business

Although flexible working might have become commonplace, it’s still the case that many managers seem to be struggling with trusting their employees to do their job in a remote or flexible working environment. For example, Ricoh polled 1,500 business decision makers across Europe and found that 65% did not fully trust their staff to do their jobs from home. Additionally, nearly two-fifths (39%) said they believed their staff do not work as hard or effectively at home.

For any flexible working arrangements to be effective, everyone in your business needs to have trust in the processes, your business and each other. You can read more about how to build trust in your organisation in our blog here…

Review your onboarding processes

Are your onboarding processes fit for a flexible workforce? It’s prudent to review if your onboarding policies and processes meet the needs of employees who’d work non-standard hours or in remote locations.

Of course, you’ll need to understand the goals behind your current onboarding activities and think how these goals can be met online or out of normal hours, rather than face-to-face. Thankfully, there are tools available to help with overcoming both the administrative and psychological challenges of remote onboarding – and these tools often come as standard with modern HR systems.

Ensure your HR system can cope with the rigours of a flexible working workforce

Your HR and payroll software should make the end-to-end process of implementing and managing flexible working practices in your organisation easy. In fact, it should be able to do much of the hard work for you.

From a staff management point of view, keeping track of who’s available and when can often be the trickiest parts of successfully managing a flexibly working workforce. So, having open team calendars – which often come as standard with many new HR software systems – are a great way to support vital staff visibility for your managers and maintain that all-important trust element we mentioned earlier.

Modern cloud-based people management software solutions should also be able to calculate entitlement to paid time off based on hours worked; as well as cope with requests to work additional hours. This means employees can be confident they’re being appropriately rewarded for the time they work.

Aside from making the life of HR easier, bringing hours worked and absence management together in a single HR system benefits your line managers too. They can easily check resourcing coverage before agreeing to time-off requests, or see who else might be available to cover for a sick colleague.

That all makes the entire end-to-end process of day to day resourcing simpler and reduces HR administration in the process, too.

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Paul Bauer author image

Paul Bauer

Paul Bauer is the Head of Content at Cezanne HR. Based in the Utopia of Milton Keynes (his words, not ours!) he’s worked within the employee benefits, engagement and HR sectors for over four years. He's also earned multiple industry awards for his work - including a coveted Roses Creative Award.

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