If there’s one thing digitalization has given the workplace, it’s freedom. Thanks to portable technology, many employees can now arrange when and where they do their jobs in order to balance personal and professional needs. Flexible work arrangements provide huge benefits for employees and companies alike, but they also challenge HR to respond.
Flexible working has been around for years, albeit on a much smaller scale. Earlier, employees’ flexible working requests would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. These days, everyone wants in on the game, and companies are under pressure to normalize flexible work practices across the entire organization. It’s up to HR to provide the right structures to make flexible working efficient, fair and easy for employees and managers to follow.
What Is Flexible Working?
Work can be flexible in two ways: by schedule and by location. One of the most common examples of schedule flexibility is flexible working hours (aka “flextime”), when employees choose the starting and finishing times of their work days within agreed limits. Another type, compressed work weeks, enable employees to work a standard 35-40 hours per week in fewer than the traditional five-day work week. Other examples of schedule flexibility are shift work, part-time jobs and job-sharing.
Location-flexible policies allow employees to work outside the workplace: remotely from anywhere, or partly in the office and party from home, on a regular or as-needed basis.
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The Benefits Are Driving Growth
Alternative work patterns are on the rise, thanks in part to flexible working rights in countries like the UK. In Europe, between 50 and 90 percent of employees can now take advantage of flexible working practices. In the U.S., nearly 30 percent of employed Americans have the option to work at least partly from home. The numbers keep rising, and with good reason. Myriads of studies show the benefits of flexible working for companies and employees. Organizations gain access to a larger talent pool when they can hire people in other locations. A flexible working policy can even lower overhead costs by reducing office space sizes and utility costs. Employees on the other hand can save time, reduce transportation and child care costs, and work when they are most efficient. For both sides, the most valuable benefits of flexible working are often greater employee engagement, increased productivity, and less absenteeism and turnover.
HR’s Leading Role in Flexible Working
From advocating for a flexible working policy through to creating the structures around such a program, HR plays a leading role in the success of flexible work arrangements. Setting up these practices is a multi-step process and it will differ for each organization.
Here’s a roundup of best practices:
1. Do a needs assessment
Depending on the size and type of company, some of the flexible working models mentioned above may fit. Others may not. Start with an organizational assessment to determine which ones will meet your strategic needs best.
2. Define a flexible working policy
A policy should provide clear guidelines on and procedures for how the arrangements work and who can take part. They should state, for example, if jobs with flexible hours will apply to all staff, or if employees who want this benefit need to submit a flexible working request. Finally, of course, HR needs to ensure that the policy is legally compliant.
3. Train managers
Managing flexible workers is crucial to the success of a policy. But it’s different than managing people in a traditional work setting. Arrange training for managers on topics like overseeing remote staff, managing virtual teams, and evaluating the performance of remote employees.
4. Use a tracking tool
The perception of fairness is sometimes a concern with flexible work practices. How can organizations ensure that home-based, part-time or employees with flexible working hours are really doing their jobs? By making attendance tracking easy and accessible, that’s how. Provide a self-service tool that lets employees log their attendance and absences, and lets managers keep track of this data.
5. Establish communication tools and norms
Good communication is a major success factor in flexible working. So, first off, ensure that everyone has access to team collaboration software for instant messaging, remote conferencing, project management and document sharing. As HR managers (and flex employees too), make sure you also have an accessible tool to keep track of employee data. It’s also good to encourage managers to set up communication rules, such as daily or weekly “check-ins” with individual employees, and monthly team meetings (virtual or in-person). This helps keeps everyone in touch, on point and accountable.
6. Raise Awareness
Finally, HR needs to raise awareness among staff of their right to request flexible working hours or location, and the advantages that this policy brings. You should also highlight this benefit as part of your employer branding strategy.
For most companies, flexible working is no longer an option. It’s a must-have. Applicants and employees now expect to have more control over their working hours and locations, and the technology is there to enable it. HR managers can provide the solutions to make flexible working a success.
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