ARTICLE: Raconteur – Flexible working for the inflexible workplace

Companies that offer flexible working are known to have increased employee retention, more motivated and engaged staff, and access to wider talent pools when recruiting

For some professions, implementing flexible working is much harder than in others. A Smarter Working Initiative study, for example, found that charity, manufacturing and professional services are the worst sectors for flexible working.

While it may seem impractical to offer agile working in certain roles, particularly those that are client facing or require specialist technology, in actuality, it is nearly always achievable, says Clair Hodgson, Europe, Middle East and Africa director at How Do You Do It?

Flexible working needs to start with discussion and strategy

Ms Hodgson works with professional services companies, such as Deloitte, Zurich and KPMG, to attract, retain and progress talented staff, particularly working parents.

To start integrating flexible working into any organisation, the intention must be established at the executive level, she says.

“Decision-makers should have a clear discussion and communicate its output across the business; line managers need to know what they have permission to do and not to do,” Ms Hodgson explains.

Deloitte, for example, launched an initiative for parents returning to the workforce that provided active support for agile working and clear statements around the acceptability of working from home when possible.

Companies should consider the types of flexible working that exist, including jobs shares, homeworking, part-time roles and annualised hours, and decide what is the best fit for their business. Once these key decisions are made, engagement should start at the individual level so everyone knows what their role is, Ms Hodgson says.

Manager mindset needs to establish flexibility as default

Though it can be challenging, especially when working directly with clients to tight deadlines, it’s worth remembering that all firms face the same issues.

Even in unusually hard-to-adapt situations, there can be a solution, says Duncan Brown, head of human resources consultancy at the Institute for Employment Studies. But beware of untrained line managers being a barrier to adoption, he adds.

“Flexibility should be the default position; in other words, the manager has to argue why the employee cannot have it. It’s about not having a fixed mindset,” Mr Brown says.

He suggests an organisation should segment the workforce into those who want predictable pay and hours, and those who want to prioritise adaptability.