Are flexible working hours practical for small businesses?

01 October 2020

In a flexitime working arrangement, employees have some say in when and where they work. This offers greater freedom, allowing people to work at a time and place that suits their lifestyle and schedule. Historically, flexible working was only available to parents and carers, but now government guidelines state that all employees have the right to apply for flexible working, provided they’ve worked for the same employer for a minimum of 26 weeks.

study from PageGroup lists flexible working hours as the most desired workplace benefit, with 71% of survey respondents listing flexitime above free lunches, subsidised travel and unlimited paid holiday. Therefore, it could be beneficial for employers to offer flexible working to their employees — especially when you consider that 73% of people say that benefits affect their decision to turn down a job.

In these unprecedented times, you've likely experienced some form of flexitime by sheer necessity. But, can flexible working arrangements benefit employers as well as employees in the long term? We've created a guide to flexible working hours with the help of insights from businesses with experience offering it to their employees as a benefit.  

Quick navigation:
What is flexible working?
When were flexible working guidelines introduced?
Types of flexible working arrangement
How to manage flexible working
What are the advantages of flexible working?
Do flexible working hours improve productivity?


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What is flexible working?

An alternative to traditional working hours, the definition of flexible working is in itself, flexible, covering a broad range of working patterns. Whether it's working from home, flexible start and end times or things like job sharing, hot-desking and picking your own hours, it's an umbrella term that encompasses many different things. But at its core, flexible working is any kind of working pattern that doesn't fit into the traditional 9-5 working week.  

When were flexible working guidelines introduced?

The ‘right to request flexible working’ was formally introduced by the UK Government in April 2003, and it initially applied to parents and certain other carers. As we mentioned in our introduction, this has now been extended to all employees with at least 26 weeks' continuous employment, whether they have parental/caring responsibilities or not.

If an employer is sent a  requests for flexible working, they have to consider it in a reasonable manner, and can only refuse if they can show that one of a specific number of exceptions applies. A code of practice for employers concerning the handling of these requests can be found here.

woman working from home with her puppy

Types of flexible working arrangement

As we stated, flexible working covers a swathe of working arrangements that provide employees with a degree of flexibility on how long, where, when and at what times they can work. Such arrangements include the following:

- Part-time working: work is generally considered part-time when employees are contracted to work fewer than full-time hours.

- Term-time working: a worker remains on a permanent contract but can take paid/unpaid leave during school holidays.

- Job-sharing: a form of part-time working where two (or occasionally more) people share the responsibility for a job between them.

- Flexitime: Typically, what we think of when we hear the term flexible working, this allows employees to choose, within certain set limits, when to begin and end work.

- Compressed hours: The reallocation of work into fewer and longer blocks during the week -  not necessarily involving a reduction in total hours or any extension in individual choice over which hours are worked.

- Annual hours: the total number of hours to be worked over the year is fixed but there is variation over the year in the length of the working day and week.


man talking on the phone


- Commissioned outcomes: while there are no fixed hours, this is an agreed-upon output target that an individual is working towards.

- Zero-hours contracts: an arrangement with no guarantee of a minimum number of working hours, so the individual can be called upon as and when required and paid solely for the hours they work.

How to manage flexible working

Of course, flexible working requires careful management to ensure that it remains viable from a business perspective. Small businesses, in particular, may be reluctant to relinquish too much control, as they have more to lose if the arrangement doesn’t work out. But, by carefully managing your flexitime agreement, both you and your employees can enjoy the benefits of increased workplace flexibility.

Peter Ames, head of strategy at office space price comparison site, Office Genie, believes the key principal of successful flexible working is to trust in your employees. He says: “One key to this is to implement more of a results-based culture at work. As long as the work gets done, then employers can concern themselves less with the means.”


man talking on conference call


One of the biggest concerns regarding flexible working is the breakdown of effective communication between teams, as well as the potential impact this may have on customer service. There are several ways to deal with these issues, however, as Scott Lehmann, Vice President of Product Management & Marketing at Petrotechnics, explains:

“At Petrotechnics, we encourage our employees to grow in their career, while also managing a good work/life balance. We have established ‘core hours’ between 10:00am and 3:45pm Monday to Thursday, and 10:00am and 12:00pm on Friday, when the company expects employees to be available. This allows for flexibility around start and finish times as well as an early finish on a Friday - as long as they work a minimum of 37 hours in a week.

“We also take a flexible approach to work location - approximately 20% of our employees take advantage of this by either having the occasional work-from-home days, more regular extended remote working or being permanently home-based. One challenge of this flexible approach could be limited communication and collaboration, but we have the right technology to enable quality communication and collaboration regardless of where people are located.”

SMEs looking into offering employees the chance to work from home should also be aware of a few key responsibilities to ensure the safety and security of their team. Employers are responsible for ensuring their employees have safe access to suitable equipment, allowing them to complete their tasks to the required level. Additionally, suitable IT security measures must be undertaken by the employer where appropriate.  


woman looking at notes


If your business currently offers flexible working, or if you plan to introduce it in the future, make sure you broadcast this, so that it’s evident to existing and new members of staff. By not advertising this perk, you could be missing out on a broader pool of potential talent.

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What are the advantages of flexible working?

From an employee perspective, flexible working is a win/win scenario; they’re able to commit to a full-time job whilst maintaining a good work/life balance. This, in turn, has a positive impact on productivity, engagement and motivation — translating into improved performance and staff retention for your business.

Alex Ingham, managing director at MI Supplies, is familiar with the benefits of flexible working. He believes that a flexible arrangement suits both his employees and his business, stating:

“We have always been dedicated to ensuring we give our employees every opportunity to thrive in our business, and one of the main benefits we offer is flexible working hours. It hasn’t provoked many problems since we started offering this, and we always feel if you can help your employees, the business will be rewarded with loyalty, longevity and great work."


woman drinking coffee

Since flexible working was made available, improved motivation, engagement and performance have emerged as the primary benefits businesses can expect from such an arrangement. But there are others too, including reduced absenteeism and greater employee loyalty, which means that businesses can expect to retain their workforce for longer.

One of the most significant, albeit overlooked, benefits of flexible working is talent sourcing. With nearly three-quarters of workers stating that benefits would impact their decision to accept a job offer, it’s crucial that any flexibility in working hours and location are made clear from the get-go.

According to Office Genie’s latest Happiness Report, flexible working was the top non-monetary factor for improving happiness at work — showing how the benefit can help improve morale, engagement and retention.

Flexible working hours make it possible to retain the best possible workforce, granting them the autonomy to manage their own time and strike the perfect work-life balance. Many businesses also take this flexibility one step further, giving their employees the freedom to work in a different location. This not only helps to enhance loyalty and engagement, but offers financial benefits too — particularly from an energy-saving perspective. When employees choose to work remotely from home, businesses can expect to save on the cost of powering additional computers and lighting, which could prove a significant annual saving.


woman sat at desk with her cat

Do flexible working hours improve productivity?

Though it may seem like flexible hours affords employees with the chance to slack off and become distracted when working outside of the office, studies have shown that the opposite is actually true. The benefit can have a markedly positive impact on productivity.

According to a July 2017 study "The Impact of Flexible Working Hours on the Employee's Performance", employee flexibility improves performance - and organisational profitability - as well as boosting employee morale, job satisfaction and efficiency. The study also showed that employees on flexitime were less stressed than those working the usual core hours of 9-5. And in today's uncertain, anxious times, that's a hugely valuable benefit.

For more SME news and insight, take a look at the Gazprom Energy blog and newsfeed. If you’d like to find out about our business energy solutions, visit the homepage or call us on 0161 837 3395.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within this article are those of our third-party content providers alone and do not represent those of Gazprom Energy. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Gazprom Energy accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.


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