Opinion

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Think of new flexi-work laws as an opportunity, not a millstone

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This feature was placed by Regus 

How are the new flexible working regulations different?

Until now, only people with parental responsibility for a child under the age of 17 (or a disabled child under 18), and people with caring responsibilities for an adult had a legal right to request flexible working.

From 30 June, anyone can apply for flexible working, if they have 26 weeks’ continuous employment when they apply.

What types of flexible working are covered by the new regulations?

They cover working hours, working time, and working location – so it’s not just when people work, but where they work. Examples include job-sharing, part-time work, compressed hours, flexi-time, home-working, or doing their job at more convenient locations, such as satellite offices, business centres, or a combination of different locations.

Will employers be deluged with flexible working demands?

The amended regulations don’t give employees the right to work flexibly, just the right to submit a request for flexible working. And they can only submit a request once in 12 months.

Employers have a statutory duty to deal with the request in a ‘reasonable’ manner and timeframe. But they’re not bound to agree to it. Obviously, ‘reasonable’ is open to interpretation, but the ACAS website has practical guidelines. 

Are the new Regulations good for business?

Employers often dread regulatory change, but there are some positives here.
Previously, they had to follow a laborious statutory code when dealing with requests for flexible working. These are replaced by the requirement to deal with requests ‘reasonably’. As stated previously, ACAS has already produced some user-friendly guidance on this.

But the bigger point is that flexible working itself is positive for business. At Regus we’ve seen convincing global evidence of this over a period of years. In research that we commissioned among 20,000 business owners and managers earlier this year, 74% said flexible working improves employee retention, and 72% think it attracts top talent.

Many employers already offer flexi-time etc; how do they extend this to flexibility over locations?

Flexible working hours are already embedded in our working culture. Flexi-location is a newer idea, made possible by mobile phones, tablets, wifi, and so on.
However, home-working has been found problematic because of the isolation and distractions. (Remember Boris Johnson’s jibe about home-working being an excuse to gorge on cheese from the fridge?)

So the more productive alternative is to work closer to home, but not at home – for example, using nearby business lounges. It cuts the commuting and is more conducive to work than home is.

At Regus we’ve facilitated this trend through our global network of flexible workspaces and office support. With our Businessworld programme, employers can give staff access to business lounges throughout the UK or globally, for a small monthly fee.

If a company lets people work at flexi-locations, is it responsible for health and safety?
The Health and Safety at Work Act still applies to staff working at home or flexi-locations. 

This is another reason why it may be preferable to give staff access to professional business lounges or business centres, rather than have them work in their cramped sitting room or a poorly-lit coffee shop.

How can business owners manage staff if they’re spread all over the place?

Employers can learn useful lessons on remote management from sales teams or other dispersed teams. For example:

  • Give all staff clear goals and agreed outcomes day-to-day.
  • Agree when people should be available by phone/email etc to customers and colleagues.
  • Aim for trust, and great team communications – using regular meetings, and all the possibilities of today’s tech, such as video-communications. Don’t just rely on email.

At Regus, we’ve seen from our own global customer base that flexi-work combined with good management can lead to big improvements in staff productivity, because it replaces the old-style culture of fixed offices, stressful commutes, clock-watching, and presenteeism. It really is worthwhile thinking of these new flexible working regulations as a business opportunity, not a legal burden.

Regus is the world’s largest provider of flexible workspaces, with business centres across 103 countries. 

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