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Making a choice about flexible working

With even the UK government getting behind flexible working, now is the time to start seriously considering it as an option for your business. But what are the benefits and which industries does it really suit?
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The pros

One of the major positives of flexible working is that your employees will be very grateful for it. Who doesn’t want to be able to set their own hours or have the ability to work from home if they choose? Flexible working has a direct link with staff satisfaction. Not only will staff be willing to put in more work and time, but flexile working also means employee retention rates are likely to increase too.

No one knows an employee better than they understand themselves, and everyone has their own unique working style. Some are perfectly suited to the 9-5, while others don’t take to it so well. Flexible working means we can adjust someone’s hours and schedule to get the best out of them, which is exactly what a business wants.

It’s also a great option for recruitment, and flexible working is the perfect way to attract new talent. Whether it’s because of kids or hobbies, some of us would rather not – or simply can’t – do the usual office hours. Some freedom in when your staff are able to work will allow you attract a bigger pool of skills and abilities, ultimately helping your business in the long run.

The cons

However, flexible working isn’t all good news. You have to keep in mind that while employees might know themselves well, they won’t necessarily pick the right option. If you’re going to allow workers to choose their own hours, you need to monitor them for any falls in productivity. Some people need the office environment to keep them focused.

Communication is another key issue raised by flexible working, with limited availability for face-to-face contact. There’s also the logistics of planning a meeting between seven people, all of whom are at home. Obviously you can pick set times every week when everyone needs to be in, but that can be time-consuming and doesn’t solve the problem of getting everyone together quickly.

You’ve also got to consider whether offering flexible working to employees may cause resentment among your staff. Not all roles can be done from home or have flexibility with hours, so you might have a situation where it’s only possible to offer some freedom of choice to a section of your employees. This could lead to those who can’t do it getting annoyed or feeling like others are getting special treatment.

Which businesses does flexible working suit?

Flexible working is a broad term, but there are some industries that it simply wont suit, such as restaurants or call centres. A restaurant needs to have a full staff to run and it needs to be open at certain times. A call centre is the same – its efficiency is entirely based on quiet and busy times.

On the other hand, more creative roles can really benefit from flexible working. If you’ve hired a designer to create you a website, you just need your site completed by a specific deadline. It doesn’t matter if they’re working at 3am or doing it from halfway across the world. All that matters is that the job gets done. As mention before, if someone knows they work better on their own terms (and can prove it) you should be strongly considering letting them take control of their work.

The preparation for flexible working

Communication is one of the biggest issues to keep in mind. Always make sure you have at least two ways to contact employees, with one of them being a phone number.

You’ll also want to make sure there’s some kind of cloud storage being used. That saves everyone effort, especially for staff who might be working at home only once or twice a week. Using something like Google Drive means employees can keep everything in one safe space and easily share with others if they need to.

Meetings can take some coordinating under a flexible working setup. Make sure you keep a note of meetings that need attendance from certain people and ensure they’ll actually be around. This does mean spending a bit of extra time on looking ahead, but hopefully the benefits of flexible working will offset that.

On the whole, flexible working isn’t something to rush into, and it’s certainly not a working style that suits every business. However, if you invest some time and ensure you’ve got all your bases covered, it’s an option that can reap huge rewards for your staff, your workplace culture and ultimately your business as a whole.

Joshua Danton Boyd is a writer for the online accountants Crunch.

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