As part of our series of webinars, we were joined by a panel of industry leading experts to discuss the significance of flexible working and changing employee expectations. The discussion covered a wide range of topics from best practices and operation models to the innovative approaches some organisations are taking. You can listen to the webinar in full here.

As part of the session, we invited attendees to submit their questions and our panel have given full responses below.

Kim Stringer, HR consultant at Crimson HR, specialises in implementing flexible working options within fast-growing tech/media SMEs. Jessica Larsen is the Director of HR EMEA for talent mobility specialists BGRS.

Q. Do you see any resentment towards employees working compressed hours from those paid the same and working full time?  Are there restrictions on what kind of roles can be effectively managed on productivity to cope with this?  If so, how do you manage it?

Kim Stringer: Sometimes there can be initial resentment from other employees, particularly if they have not been considered or communicated to properly. It is always advisable to consider the impact of compressed hours on both the employee’s workload and the impact on the wider team. The employee has requested a change and they also need to consider the ramifications of the change on all aspects of their job.

Often it can be difficult to manage work cover if too many people are on compressed hours or working from home. It needs to be looked at from an individual, employee and team perspective. In order to do this effectively, an impact assessment on the daily, weekly and longer-term impacts is always a good idea.

Jessica Larsen: We’ve found at BGRS, that it has taken a careful and thoughtful approach to both the options people have and how they access them, and how the programme has been communicated to the group in a way which supports managers. It operates on a system of high transparency and a commitment to fairness within teams. Where managers have communicated this openly and collaboratively with their teams it has actually had a positive impact in reinforcing the team culture. It takes an investment of time to communicate well and support line managers with training, and a commitment to support from HR.

Our compressed working hours are based on people working a committed additional period of time on the days they’re at work, allowing them to make up for time lost on days away from work. For this to work, and be accepted as fair, we have also had to work hard on respecting contracted hours so that we don’t fall into a long-hours culture which erodes the difference.

Yes, there are restrictions on which business functions are offered options in our policy.

Variables that we find restrict access could be that the function is too specialised to permit a reduction in resource, or that there isn’t enough cover internally to support a gap. It may also be that a role requires a level of constant availability such as in client-facing positions.

Q. On the basis that roles often don’t fit part-time hours, should we not be looking to change how we design roles so that they fit the flexible working options that millennials will expect?

Kim Stringer: Technology has helped massively with enabling flexible working options such as remote working. This will naturally suit some types of jobs but not others. Some roles, types of people and levels of expertise require more supervision and a consistent approach. Job descriptions and organisational structures as well as communication routes could be reviewed to allow more flexibility, anticipating employee demand. 

A lot more sectors, like technology and media, are employing freelancers who enjoy that flexibility and we can perhaps learn from the approach they take. They work alongside permanent employees who can see first-hand the benefits of flexible options. Typically professional freelancers have more experience and require less supervision and their skill set and approach to work are different to the average employee. It’s much easier to negotiate flexible working as a freelancer unrestricted by the usual employee terms and conditions.

Jessica Larsen: This is a great question and I think that HR practitioners have a unique opportunity to add real value to an organisation by approaching organisational design with this foresight. Questions like – how are we doing work today? What activities are likely to be automated, reduced, and simplified? Which functions will need to adapt to the changing needs of their customer profile? What types of work are driven more by critical thinking and do not need to be bound by location or time?

The answers to these questions can allow us to design more flexible roles in practice and unlock cost reduction potential. We need to challenge the typical thinking of the 40-hour working week – this is just a made up concept after all!

Q. We still seem to be talking about flexibility being outside the norm, and in many cases a problem that needs to be managed. Do you think that one day, perhaps when millennials are in charge, that flexible working will be the norm?

Jessica Larsen: I think that when flexibility is being driven by business need and the bottom line benefits are more widely recognised then the focus will shift profoundly. It will no longer be a question of whether we enact a flexible policy but when. In the meantime, in the talent market, it is providing a fantastic opportunity for organisations to differentiate themselves.

Kim Stringer: While flexibility is not the norm yet, it has changed massively over the past ten years. If it continues to change in this manner we will see it far more a part of the mainstream thinking.

Q. Do you think that more proactivity in promoting and accommodating flexible working creates an opportunity for better diversity and inclusivity in organisations?

Jessica Larsen: Definitely. I think that while there is a legal entitlement for statutory flex requests in the UK today, making a declaration of a culture that promotes flexibility goes a lot further in normalising this entitlement. We’ve seen it create a more welcoming and workable culture from employees who need flexibility – who are often those with dependents. Attracting a wider talent pool is a huge driver for us in broadening diversity in this way.

Kim Stringer: Yes, however, it needs to be realistic and pragmatic, well thought out and workable for everyone.

You can listen to the full webinar here

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