So much has changed over the last year, particularly with how employers have had to quickly adapt to new working arrangements. Yet what might have been seen as a huge challenge at the time, has in fact brought new opportunities. With businesses now focusing on rebuilding and looking to the future, this article looks at the potential business case for introducing a more flexible and hybrid working organisational culture.
Definition of flexible and hybrid working
First, we need to understand what we mean by flexible and hybrid working.
Flexible working is a way of working which allows an employee to hold employment that suits their personal needs. To date, it has typically taken the form of part-time hours, job share, and even term-time working. However, with the pandemic, flexible working has evolved, and we are now in an era where employers adopt a more hybrid form of working which still provides employees with employment that suits their personal needs.
Hybrid working can be described as a work practice that enables employees to blend working from different locations, such as home, the office, satellite sites, or even on the go. It enables both employers and employees to have greater flexibility with work location, which may also better suit the personal circumstances of the employees, although hybrid working will not be appropriate for everyone.
There can be different forms of hybrid working:
- Remote first: where the role operates fully remotely. Any attendance will be in the main head office/premises and is usually necessary when the job requires a physical presence.
- Office, occasional: where the employee attends the office/premises occasionally but the main location for working is remote. The frequency of the employee’s attendance to the office/premises is usually agreed between the manager and the employee.
- Office first, remote allowed: where the primary place of working is the office/premises, but remote working is allowed. The frequency of remote working is then agreed between the manager and employee.
With any form of hybrid working, it is important that it can meet the needs of the business, just as it has been the case for a more traditional flexible working arrangement. Some organisations have chosen to implement hybrid working as a standard practice across the business. However, where it is not standard practice, it is recommended that if an employee asks to work a more hybrid working arrangement, that you consider this request through your normal flexible working process. You may therefore want to either adapt your existing flexible working policy to acknowledge hybrid working, as well as adapt any existing home working policy to incorporate hybrid working or create a new policy.
Is flexible/hybrid working a legal right?
The Employment Rights Act 1996 provides a statutory right for qualifying employees (who have at least 26 weeks of continuous service) to request flexible working. This can include a change relating to where they are required to work. So, to some extent, there is a legal right, but it is only a legal right to ask and not to have. Employers can decline a request based on business grounds if at least one of the eight statutory reasons for refusal applies.
However, in June 2021, a new Flexible Working Bill was introduced to parliament which proposes that all workers have a legal right to flexible working from day one of employment, rather than needing to have 26 weeks’ continuous service with an employer. The Bill, if passed, would require employers to include in job advertisements what flexibility is available as well as offer flexible working arrangements in employment contracts.
The benefits of flexible working
Legal responsibilities aside, flexible and hybrid working can bring many benefits to a business.
It should be recognised that now, more than ever, flexible working can play a crucial role in businesses responding to and rebuilding after COVID-19. Adopting a flexible work culture is crucial at a time when employers need to adapt to a new business environment, hold on to staff, widen the talent pool in which to recruit the best talent and ultimately respond to changing business needs.
We know from research available, that businesses can make a number of gains through the introduction of flexible working. For example:
- Increased morale and employee engagement
- Increased employee retention
- Improved productivity
- Lead to greater business outcomes
- Improved ability to recruit the best talent
- Allows businesses to adapt and respond to changing business needs, particularly post COVID-19
- Organisations may become more diverse and inclusive through expanding the talent pool by enabling access to talented individuals who may have previously been unable to apply, for example, due to inflexible set working hours or locations. Increased diversity can lead to the sharing of differing views and experiences amongst your workforce, which in turn can lead to greater creativity and productivity.
We have known about the benefits of flexible working for some time, but this year, following the enforced homeworking across the country due to COVID-19, we have substantial and current evidence that supports the view that it really is good for both employer and employee.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)
The CIPD has carried out research into the lessons that employers can take from the enforced period of homeworking, which came about because of the pandemic. The survey found that:
- 63% of employers plan to introduce or expand the use of hybrid working, combining time in the workplace with time at home, whilst 45% planned to introduce it full time, to five days a week
- 71% believed that homeworking had no detrimental impact on their employee’s productivity (specifically 33% reported it had improved, with 38% saying there had been no change)
- 46% of employees believed they had seen increased wellbeing simply for not having a commute, as well as having greater flexibility of their working hours (39%)
- 34% of the respondents believed that the enforced homeworking led to the creation of new ways in which to collaborate via IT, which in turn saw the development of their employees IT skills (23%)
- 33% felt that there was a reduction in distractions.
The CIPD’s Flexible Working Taskforce
The CIPD, along with the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, established the Flexible Working Taskforce to help increase the availability and uptake of flexible working across all sectors of the UK economy. Some of the members of the task force include Carers UK, the Trades Union Congress, the Federation of Small Businesses, and the Confederation of British Industry.
A policy paper on flexible working published in 2018 reported:
- 87% of people want to work flexibly
- Of young people, 92% wanted to work flexibly
- Flexible workers have a higher level of job satisfaction, commitment and are more likely to increase discretionary effort
- Those working flexibly are more likely to be engaged, potentially generating 43% more revenue and improving performance by 20%
- Flexible working can also lead to lower absence levels, as those with long term ill health conditions, disabilities and caring responsibilities are better able to manage their personal circumstances
- 9 in 10 employees consider flexible working to be a key motivator to their productivity
- The normalisation and support for flexible working can help businesses reduce the gender pay gap
- Flexible working can lead to more gender diverse leadership teams, which can deliver an 18% higher return on equity premium, with the global management company McKinsey calculating that improving diversity will add £150 billion a year to the UK economy by 2025
- 99% of all businesses believed a flexible workforce is vital to competitiveness and the prospect of business investment and job creation.
What could flexible working practices look like for my business?
It is clear from the evidence that many businesses are considering or already adopting a more flexible workplace. They recognise that it isn’t just in the interest of their employee, but it is in their interest too.
Flexible working can take many forms and given the last 18 months; we are perhaps seeing more variations to it than the traditional part-time hours.
With businesses changing the way in which they operate to adapt to changing customer needs and COVID-19, as well as improvements to UK infrastructure and improved technology, it means that employees and employers have many more options available to consider, which include:
• Hybrid working.
Hybrid working can take several forms as previously outlined.
• Part-time, condensed or split hours
This is where either the number of hours is reduced or structured differently so they operate over fewer days or across the working day outside the traditional 9-5 core hours.
• Term time working
Working hours that cover term time only; thus, allowing more working parents to have a greater work life balance.
Allowing the employee to manage their own hours of work based around their personal needs, but also against a work roster that has been devised to ensure business needs are met too.
• Job share
Recruiting two people to carry out the one role.
• 4 day working week across the board
There were calls in 2020 for the UK to consider introducing a four-day working week to create a society of shorter working time, moving away from a traditional 8-hour working day, 5 days a week. Clearly this would be radical for the UK, but there is nothing to stop an organisation carefully considering whether this could benefit it, especially at a time when businesses need to re-build.
If you need support implementing a hybrid working strategy, speak to one of our HR Consultants or Advisors today.
Alternatively, you can download our Hybrid Working Policy template to give you the tools you need for your hybrid or flexible working strategy.