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Types of flexible working: what are they and why employees want them

While it isn't a new idea by any stretch, flexible working arrangements have become one of the top reasons to leave a company or join a new one. While the demand for it is soaring, there are a few misconceptions about what flexible work is.

Here are some of the different types of flexible working arrangements, and why the attitudes towards them are changing. There's more to it than just working from home, and different methods will better suit particular individuals and companies.

What are flexible working arrangements?

Flexibility can mean different things to different people. According to IWG: "Around a fifth of global workers describe flexible working as the ability to make some decisions regarding their working hours, a quarter equate it with being able to manage workload, but more than half relate it to being able to choose the type of work location, thus highlighting how important where they work is to how they define flexibility and their attitudes towards the achievement of a degree of mastery over their professional life.'

IWG's Global Annual Workplace Survey found that 85% of respondents confirmed that their business had increased in productivity as a result of flexible working initiatives. Over four fifths said that if given two similar job offers, they would turn down the one that didn't offer flexibility. They also found that more than half of employees globally are spending at least 2.5 days a week working outside of their main office headquarters. 65% of businesses say flexible workspace helps to reduce expenditure, and 65% of survey respondents believe that businesses which tailor the work environment to the work function of staff are more productive.

Flexible working arrangements are an expectation not a perk

The option to work outside of the regular 9 to 5 isn't just becoming more popular. It's expected by more than 55% of job hunters. However, when asked if their employer offered a flexible working scheme, 35% said no.

Developing the correct approach to flexible working for your business is also an important aspect of addressing gender equality in the workplace. Research by Tiger Recruitment found that 36% of women are being offered remote working or home working options, versus only 17% of men.

Examples of flexible working arrangements

There are many ways companies can offer flexibility to their employees. These include:

  • Remote working
  • Part-time work
  • Job sharing
  • Compressed hours
  • Flexitime
  • Staggered hours
  • Annualised hours
  • Phased retirement

These arrangements can be incredibly beneficial for employers, by improving recruitment potential, productivity and morale, and reducing turnover. The flexible working benefits for business are certainly considerable, so let's take a look.

Remote working

Remote working gets a bad reputation. People assume that employees choosing to work away from the office will be less productive. Airtasker surveyed over a thousand full-time employees. He found that remote workers work 1.4 more days per month than office workers. This equates to an additional three weeks of work per year. Remote workers take longer breaks, but they also remain productive for ten more minutes a day than their office peers.

However, remote work also comes with the risk of overworking employees. Typically, a good communications network is necessary for it to work. But this always on mentality can pressure employees to work longer than they should.

91% of office workers are working past their contracted hours without compensation. And that's despite not feeling any more productive from working the extra hours.

Part-time work

In the service industry, part-time work is so normalised, you'd almost forget that it's a form of job flexibility. A lot of us probably started out on part-time work when we were younger. While it can be a good flexible arrangement on its own, part-time work overlaps with some of the others. Like job sharing or phased retirement.

Part-time work can widen your talent pool by improving accessibility. If your workplace has certain tasks or roles that take up a lot of time and attention, but they aren't enough to make into a full-time position, offering part-time work can improve your ability to delegate and maximise productivity. 

Part-time work is less of an investment for employers, so new hires are less of a risk. And, like small rocks in a drystone wall, part-timers help to shore up gaps in your shift schedules. What's better still is that if a full-time position opens up, later on, you could already have someone ready, willing and able to settle into the role right under your nose.

Compressed hours

This flexible working arrangement allows employees to work longer hours in exchange for additional days off. We have already discussed the benefits of a shorter work week in a previous article, but to summarise: This option can give employees a greater sense of control over their work/life balance. Trials of a four-day work week have typically been well received by staff taking part. While some feel that this may put strain on staff due to longer days, this option is highly useful for to a lot of people. Some find the extra hours per day negligible, while others have commitments or personal interests that may otherwise clash with their work.

Job sharing

The process of breaking down one full-time position into two or more part-time positions. This is useful where the workload of one job is becoming too much for one person. It allows them not only to divide the workload, but also collaborate to meet challenges. It also enables an employer to keep two professionals partially employed and supported. Rather than having to pick one and let the other person go. A win all-round for employees and the business.

People often ask for job sharing arrangements to improve their work/life balance for the benefit of their personal wellbeing. It is also useful for parents or people with health conditions. However, it is also an effective temporary measure. Job sharing can give you the time to retrain or learn a new skill, benefitting the business and your own career development at the same time. Obviously whether job sharing is feasible is dependent on your workplace. More progressive offices with an established culture of work sharing are more likely to suit this approach.

Flexi-time, staggered hours and annualised hours

These are all slightly different ways of accomplishing the same thing: giving employees more control over the hours they work.

Flexitime allows employees to choose when they start and finish, provided that they work certain core hours. Staggered hours are when the employee works the same number of hours a day, just out of sync with the rest of the office. So someone's staggered hours might be eight to four, or ten to six. Finally, annualised hours are when an employee gets a yearly quota of hours to put in at whatever pace they see fit.

The employee decides when they start and when they finish, while committing to work a certain set of core hours. For example, a business might have standard 9-5 office hours, with flexi-time staff required to work at minimum from 10am to 4pm, but with time outside of those hours left to the employee's prerogative. This type of flexible working arrangement depends on a results-based office mentality. If someone wants to be able to start late and finish early, they have to be able to handle their workload in that amount of time.

But it can pose certain managerial challenges. If all your staff members are choosing to come in later, you risk not having anyone around to complete early morning tasks. On top of that, everyone starting and finishing at different times can make it more difficult to keep track of whether people are meeting their obligations to the business.

Phased retirement

Sometimes work/life balance isn't just about working less. Lack of mental stimulation can exacerbate cognitive decline. On top of that, feeling useful is a major component in an individual's self-image. So it's easy to understand why many people might not be so thrilled about the prospect of retirement.

Phased retirement plans allow the employee to choose when they retire, enabling them to scale back to part-time hours, to ease them into retirement and keep doing something productive for as long as they want to.

Why a multifaceted approach to flexible working benefits everyone

It's all well and good if one of these approaches jumps out at you. But to provide real flexibility to your staff and reap the benefits, it's important to provide a range of options. As for which ones, we say you should choose based on employee sentiment.

While a compressed work week might be perfect for one person, it may make someone else's life worse. Or you might have introverted staff who would love the chance to work remotely. But it won't have the same appeal to your extraverted team members. After all, nearly 30% of workers would change jobs for the chance to work flexibly.

Be flexible with your flexible working arrangements

Of course the nature of flexibility is that it's adaptive. So it's doubtful we've covered all the possibilities for flexible working arrangements. But the selection here should give you a good idea of the options available to you or your business. Different individuals stand to benefit more from different arrangements. And not everything here will be feasible for every type of organisation. However, the important thing about flexible working arrangements is to provide an array of options. It's to ensure that your workplace is as inviting to potential talent as possible.

How effective these approaches are depends largely on how they are implemented. Many, such as remote working, would benefit greatly from digital communication and feedback platforms. Just don't be tempted to use time tracking software. If you're concerned your team aren't doing their best while working flexibly, raise it with your team.

Managing remote, flexi or hybrid teams? Grab a copy of our latest best practice guide: Employee Engagement in a Remote Working World. Download your copy here 👇