I had an argument with my friend yesterday – she’s a manager who looks after 40 staff and is struggling to accommodate everyone’s requests for flexible working arrangements. I, on the other hand, have enjoyed working for a company that actively encouraged its workers to work flexibly: within that organisation there were job sharing directors, people who worked from home, people who worked part time and casually, and people who worked in different states, at different times of the day.
According to the Wall Street Journal, “Seventy percent of Cisco Systems employees regularly work from home at least 20% of the time. So do 34% of workers at Booz Allen Hamilton and 32% at S.C. Johnson & Sons.”
So are flexible working arrangements useful, or the first step towards a company losing its productivity? How do you ask for a flexible working arrangement and does it mean that you’ll work more… or less?
So…What are Flexible Working Arrangements?
Flexible working arrangements fall into three main categories: when you work, where you work, and how you work.
When: Looking at the first option, when you work can be the most easily changed factor of a working contract and may involve making an employee’s billable hours more flexible to factor in things such as caring, commuting or study responsibilities. When you work also covers the best contract arrangement for the person/role such as full time, part time, job sharing or casual.
This also covers variable year employment – staff who are employed seasonally or working more hours during busy periods and taking time off in quiet times. There were also reforms in recent years which freed up the way employees could use leave periods, for example, parental leave, family or carer’s leave, study leave, cultural leave and career breaks.
Where: probably the biggest change to the modern workplace has been the advances of technology allowing us to work remotely, or from home.
How: This covers things such as job sharing, ‘annualised hours’ where you work a set number of hours per year, rather than per week and also initiatives such as ‘phased retirement’ where someone might go from five to three days per week as they move towards retirement, often returning during a peak period.
Why are Flexible Working Arrangements Important?
There are actual benefits for employers and for employees, and on the whole for business. Rather than impacting employers, there can be significant benefits to loosening the reins on the ol’ 9 to 5.
Benefits for employees (from Fair Work Qld Govt site)
- Now that most adult relationships take equal participation in the workplace, flexible working arrangements provide more time to do personal things such as attending to domestic or household responsibilities
- Working flexible hours may help with commute time
- Flexible hours may be beneficial to those who need to care for children or others
Benefits For Employers
- Having flexible working arrangements may attract a more diverse range of workers, often in different age groups
- Can provide the employer with the chance to extend hours of business if needed for busy periods; flexi arrangements work both ways
- Provides a low cost benefit that is valued by employees
- May provide a more efficient use of physical workplace amenities, through a spread of the hours when they’re used
- More employees working from home may reduce the need for expensive office space
How to Ask Your Boss for a Flexible Working Arrangement
Don’t feel guilty! If you have children or caring responsibilities it’s now the law in Australia to be given access to flexible work (since 2010), but as you know, often laws take some time to catch up to workplace culture, which can lag behind.
You don’t actually have to provide a reason to your employer, but if you work with them, you’re likely to get a better outcome, and your reasons for flexi work will be better understood.
If you have children or caring responsibilities it’s now the law in Australia to be given access to flexible work
Have a look at the Ways to Work site for some great tips on talking to your employer. Here’s a short summary:
- Try to give them as much notice as possible
- Aim to be flexible yourself
- Speak honestly
- Be willing to explore other alternatives with them
- Address any organisational challenges, and come prepared with solutions
- Prepare a proposal, highlighting the advantages to them
- Look for competitors or stakeholders in your (or related) industries that are already offering flexi arrangements as examples of best practice
What To do if You’re The Boss
- Remember that all employees should have access to flexible working hours arrangements
- Aim to be flexible. Workplaces with flexible working arrangements actively in place tend to have a better culture and often have better employee engagement
- Communicate with your staff to measure appropriate levels of output
- Appraise your staff via regular performance reviews
- Adopt a clear policy on working hours and communicate these to all employees
There’s No Turning Back Now…
The latest Regus survey of 10,000 businesses worldwide found that not only does the average commuter spend nearly half an hour getting to work every day, but 17% spend over 45 minutes getting to their workplace and back,” according to Smart Company.
There can be some downsides to flexi arrangements which need to be managed, such as having people trickle in throughout the day interrupting workflow, but in general, the overriding opinion of the business community is positive and with further advances in technology, flexible working arrangements will become more and more common, so businesses should jump on the bandwagon now and start introducing policies that help and support not only their workers, but productivity levels.