One of the biggest success stories for the average worker in recent years has been the widespread introduction of hybrid working and the ability to work flexibly. While it was widely requested prior to 2020, flexible working became the top priority for businesses across the globe as companies rushed to stay operational. This huge change in working life ushered in hybrid working by default for millions of office-based workers. In the time since, some industries have called their staff back into the office, and some have become more flexible in their approach. Some industries, such as IT, have been seeing businesses offer fully remote working and lots are now operating a hybrid working pattern.
Both flexible and hybrid have undoubtedly changed the working landscape for good – but how is it being implemented in 2022 after first being implemented two years ago, and how far can businesses take flexible working?
Working Flexibly vs Hybrid Working vs Flexible Working Requests
While there are many different flexible approaches to the new working week, they can all be looked at very differently.
Hybrid working is a term adopted in the last few years, focused on a mix of working from home and working from the office. This tends to be more regimented with agreed days in the office and remote working. This usually is the decision of the business.
Working flexibly looks at an employee’s choice to work remotely, or perhaps start earlier or later. In this instance, as long as an employee works their contracted hours, they have the choice or control over where and/or when they work.
Flexible working requests are a legal right and employees have a right to make a flexible working request if:
They have worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks
They are legally classed as an employee
They have not made any other flexible working request in the last 12 months
Employers must look at each request fairly, following the relevant Acas Code of Practice. They must also decide and inform the employee within 3 months of the request. It’s important for an employer to handle the request in a reasonable manner, otherwise the employee can take them to an employment tribunal. If the answer is no, the employer must give clear business reasons as to their refusal.
As we’ve already touched upon in our HR Insights session on Recruitment Accessibility and Removing Barriers, the evidence base for employers to say no to a flexible working request is harder. Based on the success of working from home during the pandemic, a business would have to find a good reason to reject the request.
Flexible working requests are also quite rigid when approved, which is different to working flexibly.
The Benefits of Flexible and Hybrid Working
If the work gets done, the business stays fully functional and operational, and customers are happy, working hours matter less and less. Flexible working should mean healthier, happier workers at the very least. It should also make it easier to attract and retain good team members, although many employers are offering this way of working, so there’s competition out there for the best people.
For flexible working that involves a hybrid element, overheads are reduced over time, as it means not every employee needs a desk. It might also mean businesses choose to lease smaller offices to accommodate a smaller workforce within the office. Short term, it means less energy used, less tea and coffee, and everything associated with having people in the office is reduced.
The benefits of hybrid working have been widely researched and most people thrived under the changes flexible working brought in during the pandemic. Common benefits seen have been:
Increased output – more freedom for your employees to create a better work-life balance often makes them more productive and better motivated
Reduced sickness days – flexible working means that people can work from home if they don’t feel 100%. Some may still work if they feel up to it, meaning more gets done, instead of a full day off sick.
Better wellbeing and mental health – team members that have the right to work flexibly often have boosted morale and experience better job satisfaction
Increased retention of staff: According to a research paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, hybrid work can reduce the quit rates by 35%. According to Glassdoor, the average employer spends £3,000 and nearly a whole month looking for a new employee.
How far can we take flexible working?
For companies conducting business in different time zones, they may wish to have people in the UK that work New York hours; instead of 9 am – 5 pm, it might be 2 PM – 10 PM. Consider then, business that don’t operate outside of the UK – could these hours work for both an employee that requests them and the business?
Some key considerations would be:
The cohesiveness of teams and the flow of ideas may be hampered by a lack of communication with fellow workers and team members
Hard to reach personnel might lead to a breakdown in communications, in turn affecting how well projects, meetings, and phone calls are coordinated, potentially impacting customers and business
If everyone is working different hours, then there is less time each day when meetings can be called – especially when different lunchtimes are added into the mix
Ensuring employees don’t feel disconnected from their team and co-workers, leaving them feeling isolated
As with all things, there are pros and cons to flexible working for both the business and the employee; the most important thing is that employees be allowed to work in the way that suits them best, but in a way that means the business is not adversely affected. Ultimately, flexible working can be taken as far as the business and the employees need, with the ideal being something that suits both.
There are some incredible benefits to flexible working for both employer and employee. Increased wellbeing means a happier, more motivated workforce and flexible and fully remote working means that the catchment area for employees is huge, making it easier to fill vacancies.
We can take flexible working as far as we need to, the only limit is our imagination.