In a recent feature, we explored the benefits of becoming a flexible employer. Of course, you have read that and you know there are plenty of advantages in offering flexible working arrangements—so what is stopping you? If it is uncertainty over the HR implications, then read on, as in this follow-up piece, Simon Morgan from The HR Dept, shares some key tips to help you get off to a flying start…
According to a report commissioned by Citrix last year, the UK is on the verge of a flexible working “tipping point” – when flexible working, in all its guises, becomes more popular than 9-5 in an office.
While many organisations now recognise the business benefits of flexible working – increased morale, reduced absenteeism, lower costs, to name but a few – it isn’t without its challenges, particularly when it involves home working. Make sure your business is prepared.
Contracts of employment
If you agree to your employee’s request for flexible working, you’ll need to make a permanent change to their contractual terms and conditions, unless otherwise agreed. Because neither party has a unilateral right to revert back to the previous working pattern, it may be wise to offer a trial period.
Good communication is key to the effective management of flexible workers. There should be a clear understanding of when and how the employee will work, and this should be communicated to managers, colleagues and clients.
Where flexible working involves working from home or in remote locations for all or part of the time, agreeing a regular communications schedule will help to avoid people feeling isolated and unsupported.
The performance management of flexible workers must be consistent with that of full-time, office-based staff. Managers need to agree on objectives with their staff and be clear about how performance against those objectives will be supervised and measured. Regular review meetings should take place as well as an annual appraisal.
Employees who work flexibly may need help to manage their time effectively. The boundaries between work and home life can become blurred. Doing too much may lead to stress and potential burnout whilst doing too little will undermine trust and confidence in the working relationship. Managers need to set out their expectations and provide support.
Health and safety
Employers have the same health and safety responsibility and duty of care for home workers as for office-based employees. Always carry out a health and safety assessment when an employee starts working from home to make sure that workstations are suitable and equipment is fit for purpose. Electrical equipment should also be tested, certified and maintained. Where necessary, employees should receive training on how to work safely.
If flexible working arrangements involve working away from the office, you need to make sure that both your business and your employee are properly protected by insurance.
Check with your public liability and employers’ liability insurers that they cover employees working from home, and make sure that your employee knows to notify their household insurer as it may affect their policy.
Don’t overlook data protection when preparing for flexible working – the implications of a breach may be severe and far-reaching. Alongside mandating the use of usernames and passwords, confidential data should be processed securely and if appropriate encrypted and businesses should be able to manage and track the data whenever it leaves the organisation. Ensure staff are trained on the responsibilities of handling mobile devices and the security risks they present.
Flexible working can bring significant benefits to businesses and workers alike, but it does have to be handled properly. Make sure that your business gets it right by developing a flexible working policy, which sets out how you deal with all of the issues above. Don’t overlook the importance of training managers on flexible working – often it’s line managers that receive and handle flexible working requests, so they need to understand the how flexible working can benefit the business, and how to overcome the potential challenges of managing flexible workers.