New rules came into force on Monday 30 June meaning all employees with 26 weeks or more service will be allowed to request flexible working. Employers in turn must address requests in a "reasonable manner".
Flexible working schemes have some great benefits but they do require careful planning. When introducing any sort of change in the workplace consultation is absolutely key, to make sure that what you are considering will be valued and is workable. You might want to consider the following:
- Conducting an employee survey
- Managing change
- A trial period
- Investing in technology
- The effect on your HR and Payroll departments
- Your competitors
- The impact on clients and suppliers
- Health and safety implications
- Legal considerations
- Ongoing review
1. Conducting an employee survey
Find out what your employees would appreciate and value. Don’t impose a solution from above as this may prove counter-productive. Make it clear to employees that you value their views but obviously can only accommodate changes which will benefit the business as well as the individual.
Feed back the results of your research to your employees – including a timescale for your evaluation of suggestions and decision making.
2. Managing change
Your managers may have valid concerns about how they will measure performance if the rules are less rigid and they’re not actually there to oversee all the time. For many organisations flexible working reflects a shift from an attendance-based culture to a results culture.
Talk to managers to ascertain what is really needed in terms of on-site cover including IT support staff, administrative and reception staff. These are areas where individual flexibility may be limited, so analyse the jobs to find out what is actually necessary. Don’t forget to consider the impact on colleagues of any individual changes.
3. A trial period
4. Investing in technology
The availability of broadband, laptops and PDAs mean that working from home has never been easier; however you will also doubtlessly need to invest in IT infrastructure if you want to ensure that employees are able to work effectively.
Employees will need secure access to files and thanks to remote access technology like VPN, Remote Desktop or Terminal Services they now have the capability to access their office PC or the office network from anywhere.
Virtual Private Network. This is a connection from one network to another, when joined together they create a Virtual Private Network. A home worker would “VPN in” to a head office for example.
Once a VPN connection is established the user can access Shared/Mapped Network Drives and all the other network services like printing etc.
Remote Desktop is built into Windows and allows the remote computer to take full control over it.
Terminal Services is like remote Desktop but it runs on a Windows Servers and creates virtual computing sessions for the remote user. So a Windows Terminal Server might have 30 people all remotely connected to it, each with their own virtual computer session connected to a central customer database.
So a VPN joins Site A to Site B and then you can choose either to Remote Desktop to a PC on site or Terminal Server depending on what you want the remote user to do.
What’s important to remember is that business is now free from geographical boundaries, so if you find the ideal employee but they live 3000 miles away there really is no reason they can’t work for you and be efficient.
5. The effect on your HR and Payroll departments
Implementing flexible working practises may put additional burden on your Human Resource and Payroll teams.
In the first place there may be contracts to review and rewrite. Although the government has indicated that they may consider scrapping the requirement that employers notify staff in writing that their request has been requested, many experts have raised concern at this. Flexible working will cause a permanent change to employees’ working times and if something is not put in writing, employers and staff could be vulnerable.
Having employees working a variety of shifts and different hours is also a huge administrative burden for both supervisors and Payroll, particularly in an hourly paid environment. Capturing the hours an employee has worked using manual timesheets and then converting this information to payroll data is labour intensive and often error-prone. Add the complication of varying overtime rates and the process becomes even more complex.
Implementing a time and attendance system which can capture this data and then automatically convert it to payroll data will cut administration time and costs considerably. (See: 7 top tips for streamlining your payroll processes.)
Even in a salaried environment it is reassuring to know where your employees are. From security and health and safety perspectives it will at the very least provide up to the minute information on who is in the building at any given time. It is also possible to use a variety of solutions to “clock” remote workers in and out, something which may help your managers feel more in control.
6. Your competitors
You not only share a base of potential customers with your competitors, but also potential employees. Whether competing for talent or business it is worth while finding out what your competitors are doing, and about any problems or benefits they have experienced.
7. The impact on clients and suppliers
It is common for managers to worry about employees not being present when a client rings. However provided there is sufficient cover then there should not be a problem. Indeed it may now be easier to provide a better service to clients; by using staggered hours to extend your availability or improving the retention of skilled employees who are better able to support your clients.
8. Health and safety implications
Ensure you consider the implications of people working alone, review current security measures and provide risk assessments for anyone working from home.
When your employees are working at different times and potentially in different places how will you ensure everyone remains well informed and involved? Routine meetings will need careful scheduling at the very least.
10. Legal considerations
- Women who are refused flexible work could bring a sex discrimination claim so take care to consider any requests fully.
- A disability claim can be made if any employer fails to make a reasonable adjustment by refusing a request from a disabled person for flexible work.
- Employees with particular religious or other beliefs may claim discrimination if an employer refuses a reasonable request for flexible work to permit religious observance.
- Part-time employees must not receive less favourable treatment than full-timers.
11. Ongoing review
Continue to measure the effectiveness of the scheme and make sure there is an open door to discuss and resolve any problems which arise as you go.