Flexible Working by Default

Last week marked a big week for UK workers, with Conservative MP Helen Whately introducing a flexible working bill in Parliament. The bill asserts that flexible working should be the default position for all employees, rather than it being up to individuals to request. This is a viewpoint that a number of organisations and myself as a manager, employee and human being fully support.

The history of flexible working

Flexible working legislation was first introduced in the UK in 2003, when the government gave parents with children aged under 6 or parents with disabled children under 18, the right to request a flexible working arrangement. There have been several amendments and additions to that initial piece of legislation since, and in June 2014, flexible working legislation was broadened out to include all employees, whether they are parents, carers or not.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working is defined as any working style that is different from the standard 9-5. This could mean different start and/or finish times (flexitime), working from home or another location which isn’t your main office building. Part time, compressed hours and job shares are also included with this definition. In essence, flexible working allows employees to work at a time and location that is mutually beneficial to them and their employer.

My first experience of flexible working was about 10 years ago, working in a department where the managers and senior members of staff got to take the department laptop to work from home.

Moving forward to my current organisation, I am pleased to say that everyone in my team now has a laptop or tablet and flexible working is the norm. The majority of us (myself included) are parents but moreover all of my team appreciate the ability to work away from the office at least one day a week. We are also a team that work at different hours, with early starters , later workers and others somewhere in the middle. I like to think I am supportive of the team needing to leave early or start later due to important commitments, and I often find members of the team logged on first thing in the morning or late in the evening. Essentially I have faith in my team to get the job done and Skype for Business or Teams allows me to contact them at anytime. Our weekly Team catch up now takes place on Microsoft Teams with members of the team dialling in from various locations and it works really well.

In many organisations however, the policy still says that permission must be given to work flexibility- as if doing so is something that a member of staff needs special dispensation to do. There are plenty of studies now to suggest that the ability to work flexibly actually increases productivity and from personal experience, I know I can be a lot more productive on more in depth tasks when away from office distractions. So in effect are we still asking staff to seek permission to be more productive?

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