There is more and more talk about flexibility in the workplace, but what does flexible working really mean? The phrase may conjure a vague sense of a home office and reduced hours. However, flexible working does not mean part-time or temping, while it means much more than simply working remotely.
In fact, its
scope is so broad that it can mean something different for everyone. This article explains the key areas involved
in flexible working.
The time when
work starts and finishes can be adapted to personal preference. Rather than
pushing through a prescribed 9am-5pm day, ‘flextime’ or ‘flexitime’ allows
employees to work at any time of day or night. This has obvious benefits for
parents or carers who need time for other responsibilities during the day. But
it also allows for the pursuits of hobbies or leisure activities which would
not easily coincide with a traditional working day.
Importantly, it also means
that employees can work at the times when they are most productive. Early birds can
make the most of their creative spurt first thing in the morning, while night
owls can start work later in the day.
There is also
scope for ‘annualised flexibility’ or ‘annualised hours’, allowing the employee
to choose what times of year they want to work. This can allow for some say in
the timings and duration of holidays. For example, a parent might want to work
involve ‘core hours’, a set amount of time to work each week, but with
flexibility about the rest of the hours. This allows the employee to work less
intensely in some weeks when, for example, they need to care for children or
dependents, but picking up the hours at other times of year.
of working day
A working day can
be reduced or extended (see below). A parent might want to work 9am-3pm, for
example. This example of a shorter day may well be beneficial for all workers. Recent trials in Sweden suggest a 6-hour work day improves mental health and productivity.
of working week
The number of days in a working
week can also be changed. There are two main angles for this:
involve fewer days at work but with longer hours per day so that the employee
can still complete a full working week.
The 4-day week.
This model for
the working week was pioneered by Andrew Barnes and is becoming increasingly popular. It works on the premise that
a conventional 5-day week includes time that is wasted when employees are
distracted or not concentrating. By reducing the length of the week, the same productivity is expected of the employee, but in a more condensed period of time. The model can be
summarised with the equation 100-80-100: 100% of the pay for 80% of the hours
and 100% of the productivity.
Where you work
Working from home can be a blessing for many people, especially for those with health conditions that require the use of special equipment. However, remote working does not necessarily mean simply swapping your desk in an office for a desk in the guest bedroom. For many, the buzz of an office environment can be motivating, as is the chance to socialise with colleagues during breaks. Working in libraries or other communal working spaces is a possibility, which can be particularly appealing when this means reducing the commute and being closer to home.
Ways you are assessed
Rather than looking at hours accrued, the focus can instead be on the outcomes of your work. This can complement flexitime particularly well: working the necessary hours to get the work done without the requirement to work any long than is necessary. This project-based style of assessment often requires constant communication between workers and employers, collaboratively setting targets and adjusting them if needed.
This model might also mean that annual appraisals and performance reviews become unnecessary, because constant conversations and goal-setting provides the basis for mutual feedback without needing to follow traditional assessment structures.
Flexibility in the workplace is itself a flexible concept. It is a mistake to think of it purely in terms of reducing working hours, although this is a part of it. Location, assessment methods, annual and daily timings – every aspect of the working life can be open to flexibility. The term ‘flexible working’ encompasses all these possible alternatives and in turn allows the individual or the company to make use of a unique combination of these, customised to their specific needs.