Flexible and hybrid working has historically been a taboo subject for many individuals and businesses. Prior to the pandemic, discussing flexible and hybrid working during an interview process was a delicate negotiation, one which was often only raised if it was a pre-requisite of the role, for example, part-time hours.
People often feared judgement and rejection when requesting flexible working however, conversations around flexible and hybrid working patterns are becoming the norm, and in many cases a must!
In today’s Avencia Horizon’s blog, we are joined by Avencia’s Talent Solutions Specialist, Louisa Newell, who provides her insight into what constitutes true flexible working, the difference between flexible and hybrid working, and how flexibility has helped her to manage a successful and busy career, with an equally busy home life.
Louisa, what is your experience of flexible working?
My experience has mostly been a positive one. I have been lucky enough to enjoy the autonomy of choosing when and where I work, which has allowed me to balance my work and home life without having to sacrifice one for the other. That said, it has taken many years of challenging the status quo to achieve this.
Why do you think there has previously been such a stigma surrounding flexible/hybrid working?
I think it’s important to understand that flexibility means different things for different people – it’s not a one size fits all approach.
Historically, I believe employers have feared the lack of control. The pandemic enforced a change in mindset and adoption of new rules. Companies rapidly adapted, and although there are still many big decisions about the future ways of working, I see a happier, loyal, and more productive workforce as a result.
How does hybrid working differ from flexible working?
Hybrid working refers to the location of where your work is carried out. It is part of a flexible working arrangement that will determine the split between the workplace and working remotely.
As you mentioned earlier, flexibility means different things to different people, what do you think fully constitutes flexible working?
Flexibility is about creating working arrangements that suit individual needs. True flexibility is where an employer creates a working arrangement that allows flexibility on how long, when, and at what time an employee works.
As I mentioned earlier, there really is ‘no one size fits all solution’, every role and individual circumstance will be different and arrangements may include anything from flex time, remote working, job sharing, sabbaticals, to paid carers leave.
Have you always been an advocate of flexible working?
Yes! Collectively, I believe workers should challenge the boundaries and encourage change. There has been a positive shift over the years, with the introduction of new flexible working arrangements, but there is still a long way to go.
Ideally, where possible, it would be great to see the performance of office-based roles being measured on outcomes rather than ‘hours worked’ and more collaborative spaces, rather than traditional office spaces.
Why has flexibility been important to you?
For me, the turning point was when we started a family. Trying to navigate childcare, drop off, pick-ups, and commuting was a logistical nightmare, so having the flexibility to structure my day around my schedule, rather than having to be at a desk between set hours allowed me to focus more on work. I find it creates a less stressed environment and I know the responsibility is 100% on me to get my work done.
A recent CIPD article stated that the uptake of wider flexible working arrangements has fallen during the pandemic, why do you think this is?
It is too early to understand the full impact of the past 18 months, but we should allow that given the upheaval and the added flexibility from remote working, many employees may have delayed requesting new working arrangements.
There is a need for employers and employees to better understand that flexible working arrangements are not something to be feared, and rather are a way to collaborate and create solutions that allow individuals to perform at their best.
How can employers/employees kick-start flexible working conversations?
Be prepared, look at existing policies and procedures, and have a clear understanding of what you would like to request.
All employees have the legal right to request flexible working (assuming you have been employed for at least 26 weeks), but there are many considerations that will be taken into account by a business when considering an employee request.
Where possible, demonstrate that there will be no detrimental impact on the quality or performance of your work. I would also remember that any working arrangement needs to be beneficial for both parties, so be open to compromise.
What are some of the challenges and benefits of flexible working for both an employer and employee?
Some of the key drivers of job motivation and commitment come from a greater emphasis on work-life balance among all generations of employees.
Flexible working practices can create a positive culture, with employees benefiting from less stress, increased job satisfaction, and higher productivity.
The resulting benefits for employers include higher retention of key employees, less absenteeism, higher employee retention, and increased continuous learning.
How can employers support flexible working?
Create an environment that embraces flexible working and provides motivation. Minimise micro-management and allow freedom to complete tasks. Empowering employees helps to achieve the best results.
From my experience implementing small changes works well, utilise hot desking, encourage downtime, and create collaborative spaces both virtually and physically.
What do you think the future of working practices will look like?
I believe hybrid working practices will become common place with employers increasing placing trust and accountability in their employees. The work-life balance will increasingly become as important to the workforce as monetary benefits.
From a practical perspective, the challenge will be in developing organisational cultures to align with flexible working arrangements on a large scale. HR and leadership teams will have the challenge of building effective communication strategies, performance evaluation, and ongoing governance.
For more information on how your business can adapt flexible and hybrid working practices, please contact Louisa Newell at firstname.lastname@example.org