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 have 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.

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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

As it stands, employees in the UK must wait until they’ve been in a job for six months (26 weeks) before they can make a flexible working request that’s backed up by law.

However, there is growing support from professional organisations (including the CIPD who championed their own #FlexFrom1st campaign throughout 2021) to make the right to request flexible working a day-1 right, rather than having to wait 26 weeks. It’s gained so much traction in fact, that the UK Government has already conducted a consultation with a view to including it in a new Employment Bill which may be published  this year.

Although there’s currently no date for the Bill’s publication or even any guarantees it’ll be published this year, the debate about flexible working certainly shows no signs of waning. It’s for this reason that HR should be taking time to make sure their organisations are ready for any changes to flexible working legislations. Here are 5 critical action points…

• 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.

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