Flexible working is hot. Changes in UK law, the growth of cloud-based technology and a sudden shift in working patterns brought about by COVID-19 means you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone without an opinion on flexible working hours.

No longer the preserve of working mums, flexible working hours are rapidly becoming a viable employment option for many more people.

And it’s about time.

Research from Timewise has found that 87% of the UK’s full-time workers 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% of those aged 18-34 who are working full-time, doing so flexibly.

It’s easy to see why people want to work flexible hours. It gives employees the opportunity to better control their work/life balance by reducing their commute, while providing them more time for leisure and study. Plus, more opportunities to care for children and other dependents.

Can flexible working hours benefit SMEs?

But can SMEs benefit from a change in working pattern? Research and experience show they can. Flexible working hours are shown to increase your potential talent pool and help businesses hold on to talented employees.

Employees who work flexibly are also shown to be more productive, making the time they work more effective.

Need more convincing? Then consider that 35% of employees would prefer flexible working to a pay rise; the savvy SME can manage their wage bill whilst keeping their employees engaged.

The case for flexible working hours is clear, but the implementation and management of putting flexible working hours into practice can be more challenging.

Challenges of implementing flexible working hours

We’d be fibbing if we said that implementing flexible working is a piece of cake. It’s not. Indeed the CIPD lists the top challenges faced by business owners when implementing a shift to flexible working patterns.

These include managing customer requirements, the ability and attitude of line managers towards managing flexible working employees and a challenge within an organisations existing culture.

Yet with support from within your SME and good planning, implementing flexible working hours needn’t be a headache.

Happy employee working on laptop


10 things to do when implementing flexible working hours

Getting ready to implement flexible working hours in your SME? Here’s what you need to do.

Create a flexible working hours policy

Once you've created your policy, share it with your employees. This establishes a clear process for how flexible working will work within the organisation. Share it across the business so everyone knows what the options are. You can learn more about flexible working policies here.

Document flexible working terms

Save the working terms agreed with individual employees. Use a cloud-based storage system so they’re easy to access and review.

Guide your staff

Define the roles and responsibilities that employees, line managers and HR have in making the flexible working initiative in your company a success. Do employees need to commit to core hours? How should line managers adapt?

Assess your line managers support

Review the current level of support your line managers have. Do they need more? A reluctance to support flexible working may be because managers worry they will need to pick up the work that newly flexible workers don’t cover.

Communicate changes clearly

Don’t let gossip take over. Communicate clearly and consistently across all available and appropriate channels. Use one-to-ones, company-wide briefings, posters in the tea & coffee area… don’t just leave it to emails.

Measure employee performance

Flexible working is at its best when employees are measured on output instead of hours. Make sure your performance reviews, training and salaries are based on the value each employee brings to your organisation.

Listen to your people

Keep an eye on company culture. Flexible working hours can change your company’s culture for the better, but only if you handle it well.

Make the time to listen to a representative group of employees to understand how the change in working hours is affecting them. If it’s negatively affecting groups of people, what can you do to create an all-round healthier working environment?

Flexibility is key

Embrace flexible working hour pilots. By trying out flexible working patterns before committing to them you give everyone a chance to try them out for size.

You can then review and adapt according to what you learn. Remember that what works in one department may not work in another, so prepare to be… flexible.

Review the process

Set KPIs to track and evaluate the introduction of flexible working hours. Retention, number of applicants, engagement and productivity are a good place to start.


Managing flexible working hours in the longer term

Once you’ve set up your flexible working initiative, keep the momentum and integrate it into your everyday business practice. You’ll come across new variations of requests as individuals put forward their unique cases. Stay on top by:

  • supporting managers with training to help them manage a flexible workforce
  • regularly reviewing processes to ensure they’re appropriate for employees who have flexible working hours
  • supporting employees that struggle with the shift to flexible working hours. Mentoring or training can help them deal with the change in working environment.

Introducing flexible working hours can have a positive effect on your business culture and success. There will be teething problems as you implement changes, but flexible working pays back in dividends with a happy, productive and loyal team – and that’s got to be good for business.

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