Are flexible working hours practical for small businesses?

17 May 2017

Flexible working is on the increase, with half of UK employers now offering flexible working arrangements to their employees. But are flexible working hours a practical option for small businesses, and what do SMEs need to be aware of before implementing them?

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. 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.

A recent study from PageGroup lists flexible working hours as the most wanted workplace benefit, with 71% of survey respondents listing flexitime above free lunches, subsidised travel and unlimited paid holiday. All employers should, therefore, be prepared 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.

But, can flexible working arrangements benefit employers as well as employees, and what are the potential pitfalls?

businessman enjoying flexible working

Flexible working — how can it benefit your employees and your business?

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 began offering this, and we always feel if you can help your employees, the business will be rewarded with loyalty, longevity and great work."

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, meaning 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.

flexitime hours and staff retention

Peter Ames, head of strategy at office space price comparison site, Office Genie, cites offering flexible working as an effective tool in sourcing experienced candidates, calling it a “huge draw for employees in the first place”. And, according to Office Genie’s latest Happiness Report, flexible working was the top non-monetary factor for improving happiness at work — reinforcing the message that flexitime 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 thus 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.

Managing flexible working — what your business should know

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 of Office Genie believes the key principal of successful flexi 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.”

flexible working environment colleagues

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 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 enables employees the 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 home working 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 confronted this head on by ensuring we have the right technology to enable great communication and collaboration regardless of where people are located.”

SMEs looking into the possibility of 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.  

employees working from home

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. According to recent CBI research, just one in 10 job listings mention flexible working, meaning that you could be missing out on a broader pool of potential talent by not making reference to flexible working as an incentive on your careers page.

As technology continues to make remote working simpler, flexible working is likely to expand across all industries and sectors in the future, as more businesses embrace and understand their two-way benefits.

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 0845 230 0011.

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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