Ask the HR expert

September 8, 2016

Q: Flexible working seems to be the ‘in’ thing at the moment but I just don’t see how I can realistically do this in my small business. Is it possible? 

Whether flexible working is something you’re for or against, eventually you will probably have to accept it. 76 per cent of UK employers now employ flexibly in some form. Your customers will expect it, as will your employees and future recruits.

Flexible working can have many forms, from changing the time that the person works and allowing them to miss rush hour, to working part time from home. It’s really about finding solutions that meet the needs of the business as well as those of the individual.

SMEs are traditionally good at employing flexibly. Sometimes it’s the only option. In bars, for example, employing flexibly is essential. Micro businesses, too, usually take on part-timers initially, keeping the salary bill manageable, while SMEs operating over seasonal periods need flexible employment to meet demand.

Technological limitations no longer mean staff must be in an office (no office overheads), but technology and cost savings should not be the only drivers.

The biggest barrier to becoming a flexible workplace will be culture. Never underestimate it. It requires trust, strong leadership, clear communication and team work.

For some SMEs it genuinely won’t be practicable and there is always the concern that working from home will result in low productivity for a variety of reasons (not least the trust issue).

But remember, you have a legal requirement to consider the request carefully, looking at the benefits for the employee and the business and weighing these against any adverse business impact it may create. In doing so, watch that you take care not to unlawfully discriminate against the employee.

You can say no, but you can only refuse an application for one or more of a number of specified business reasons (get in touch and I will provide them).

My advice would be to involve your staff at an early stage in discussions, ensure you have clear policies in place to follow, and that employment contracts are updated to reflect any changes. Do it gradually and continually review.
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