No more 9-to-5? The pros and cons of flexible working hours

27 Nov 21 | Blog

Ever since the pandemic, remote work has become increasingly the norm.

For many, it’s just the setting that’s changed – with morning check-ins, daily team meetings, and company-wide weekly round-ups not only plugging that communication gap, but firmly entrenching us in the world of 9-5 working hours. But will flexible remote working be the next shift that organisations see?

Companies putting the flexible in ‘flexible remote work’

Going remote may feel like change enough, but the trend for bundling in flexible work hours is clear to see. With 47% of UK organisations offering flexible full-time hours, businesses like Standard Chartered are leading the way, with their 75,000 employees now allowed to choose not just their preferred location, but the hours and even days they work too.

100,000 of Unlever’s workforce have the same deal too, which means the options are out there for your current and prospective employees – so you should start thinking about it too.

Growing demand to have a flexible working hours policy

It may seem like a step too far – a relinquishing of traditional working expectations that managers and leaders find comfort in, an admittance that presenteeism is (or should be) a thing of the past. But like it or not, flexible working is something that employees are increasingly expecting to see:

How ‘flexible working’ works

Legally, your staff can ask to work flexibly – though it’s up to you whether you grant their request. But let’s be clear: what does flexible working actually look like, and what are your options?

  • Job shares: where one job is split between two people
  • Remote working: working from home, or generally outside the office
  • Part-time hours: working less hours or less days then full-time
  • Flexitime: working during core business hours, with flexible start/end times
  • Compressed hours: working fewer days, but the same number of hours
  • Annualised hours: working a set number of hours yearly, but with a flexible schedule

Every organisation is different, so every approach to flexible working hours – from full freedom to no movement on business hours – will need careful consideration. Make sure you understand the benefits and challenges before you make your decision.

The benefits of flexible remote work, to employers and employees

Higher productivity

Studies suggest that flexible working can boost productivity by 30%, with 90% of managers stating the standard of their flexibly working employees improved or stayed the same. But why? Every ‘night owl’ and ‘morning person’ knows that there are certain times they produce their best work, and times where they… struggle. Flexible hours solves that issue.

Better business performance

Stands to reason, given the boost in productivity, that profits and growth would follow. Factor in reduced costs from unnecessary absences and improved retention, and flexible working policies just seem to make business sense.

More inclusive cultures

It goes without saying: life is complicated. For parents, carers, those with differing abilities, or really anyone with responsibilities they have to balance with their working life, flexible remote work offers a way to make life easier. And it’s more than that: it can make inclusion and equity a reality, for those traditionally left out due to difficulties with working expectations.

Wider talent pool

Not only do flexible working policies mean you can attract candidates from groups who can’t commit to a traditional 9-5 model, it also means you can look further afield. You can draw on expertise from people all over the world, with a range of different life experiences, and that can only be a good thing.

The disadvantages of flexitime and flexible working

The problem: timetabling issues

It can be hard enough finding a spot in someone’s calendar – but factoring in different working hours will complicate that further. It also means adding in last-minute emergency meetings isn’t really an option, which could cause serious issues.

The solution: rules, regs, and common sense

Flexible working doesn’t have to be a free-for-all. If your organisation needs to have core working hours, great. If you need to designate a ‘meetings day’, go for it. But consider that this could also help cut back on unnecessary Zoom calls, and force you to have contingencies in place for when those emergency situations do come up.

The problem: communication issues

It’s easy to get the wrong end of the stick, especially in a Slack message someone’s hurriedly pinged you at the end of their working day. And it can be hard to feel connected when your colleagues are on an opposite shift pattern – less relationship, more ships passing in the night.

The solution: work harder and smarter to connect

Consider tools that let you record messages for your colleagues to view at their leisure – like video calls, but without the risk of accidentally speaking over each other when your connection cuts out. And make an effort to find time to chat occasionally, once a week or month, to keep that communication up.

The problem: lack of control and oversight

Some managers might resist an even looser grip on who’s doing what, and when. And that’s understandable: self-accountability is a challenge at the best of times, but flexible hours and remote working make it even more difficult.

The solution: keep your people engaged

If your teams are truly, truly engaged then you can trust them to self-motivate. Doing well is a compulsion for engaged employees, and the knowledge of their worth to the organisation will keep them on track. And if that’s not enough? Then set weekly tasks they should aim to complete, and ask for a status update – not micromanaging, just checking in.

The one thing you should do if you’re considering flexible working

We’ve said it before, and we’ll continue saying it – the best thing you can do is start an honest conversation with your people. By listening to your people, you can find the departments and demographics that would benefit from flexible working hours, and know if you’re even communicating well enough to begin with.

Using our research-led question sets, change-driving platform, and advanced language analysis tech, you can listen better. 

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