Flexible working is no longer something that businesses can, or should, ignore. The preconceptions that flexible working is only for women with children or those with parenting responsibilities are fading thanks to the change in UK law, meaning all employees are entitled to request flexible working arrangements.

Research from Timewise has found that 87 per cent of the UK’s full-time workforce either currently work flexibly or would like to do so. And of the 3,000 adults surveyed, millennials appear to be leading the way with 73 per cent of those aged 18-34 who are working full-time, doing so flexibly.

The main reasons put forward as to why workers would wish to work flexibly include increased control over their work/life balance, reducing their energy-sapping commute, allowing more time for leisure and study, and more opportunities to care for children and other dependents.

Keeping valuable employees within the business is an ongoing priority against the backdrop of a never ending skills crisis and the offer of flexible working is just one tool small businesses can use to help retain staff.

Flexible working arrangements of some description are widespread in UK organisations and many employers understand the benefits of offering flexible working. However, making them work effectively in practice can be where the challenge lies.

Challenges of implementing flexible working hours

Research from the CIPD found that the top challenges that business owners face when attempting to implement flexible working hours, in order of importance, are:

  • Operational pressures
  • Customer/service requirements
  • Line managers’ ability to effectively line manage flexible workers
  • Line management attitudes
  • Existing organisational culture
  • Lack of senior level support

So how can businesses implement and manage flexible working hours whilst overcoming some of these hurdles?

Implementing flexible working hours

To implement flexible working effectively it’s important that small businesses do the following:

  • Establish a clear process for how flexible working will work within the organisation. Ensure this is documented and circulated to your employees. Likewise, you should document any flexible working terms agreed with individual employees so they have them confirmed in writing.
  • Define the roles and responsibilities that employees, line managers and HR have in making the flexible working initiative in your company a success.
  • Review the current level of support that is offered to line managers
  • Communication is key, so ensure that all lines and methods are sufficient and encouraged
  • Ensure that business operations, like performance management, can support flexible working. It is important to measure people on their outputs rather than seeing them work.
  • Assess how flexible working will impact the company’s culture and take action to manage this change accordingly
  • Pilot new initiatives so you can see how they work without fully committing to them. Trial various flexible working arrangements across different departments to understand what works, what doesn’t and what you can take forward more permanently.
  • Review goals and build processes to be able to track and evaluate progress with following the introduction of flexible working
  • Promote flexible working as a company benefit on job vacancies, so that it can be used to attract new candidates and not just to retain existing people

Managing flexible working

You know the benefits and you’ve gone through the right steps in order to get your flexible working initiative off the ground, but that’s not where it stops. It’s important that once you’ve spent time getting the fundamentals in place to launch your flexible working initiative you don’t lose momentum.

One of the hardest parts about launching a new HR initiative is ensuring it becomes integrated as part of normal, every-day business practice. You will continually come across new variations of requests as individual’s put forward their unique cases and, as a result, managers will need regular training on how to manage a flexible workforce, processes will need to be reviewed and there will, without a doubt, be employees that struggle with the changes.

The benefits of implementing a flexible working policy within a small business are never-ending. Technology is changing the way that we work and businesses are required to deliver their services 24/7. SMEs shouldn’t shy away from flexible working for fear of the challenges they may face whilst setting up the initiative. The rewards that flexible working can bring will pay back in dividends when you have happy and productive staff as a result.