By Adrian Lewis, Commercial Director, Activ Absence

The charity Working Families today revealed the UK’s most flexible and family-friendly companies. Its annual list featured large and small companies who are championing flexible working and who are attracting the best talent as a result of their family-friendly policies.

Whether businesses like it or not, flexible working is here to stay. It is designed to bring a raft of benefits to employees, supporting their work-life balance and job satisfaction, and it offers employers the chance to improve employee engagement and productivity.

But just after one year since the introduction of the law that allows employees to request flexible working patterns, are businesses truly promoting flexible working? A report in June from the consultancy and jobs site, Timewise, suggests otherwise. It stated that 14.1 million people in Britain want more flexibility in their working hours or location to fit in with modern life, equivalent to almost half the working population. Timewise analysed 3.5m job adverts and found that just 6.2% both mentioned a degree of flexibility and offered a salary deemed high enough to live on – the full time equivalent (FTE) of £20,000 or more.

Every employee now has a right to request flexible working but there are still barriers for some companies; mainly around trusting people to be working as productively from home.

Successful flexible working not only requires a great deal of trust, it also involves good communication and also processes and technology to ensure people can operate as productively and seamlessly as if they were in the office.

Here are my six practical top tips on how companies can embrace flexible working:

  1. Agree with the employee a proposed work schedule with expected timelines or deadlines for work to be completed the same as they would do under normal working circumstances as being part of the team/department.
  2. It is important that the employee’s colleagues are aware that they are working from home and not off work. This should be visible and recorded in a centrally accessible electronic diary that should break down any barriers that prevent the employee being contacted.
  3. Regular communication with the employee’s line manager and/or office should be maintained as this will ensure that the employee is in touch with what is going on and will enforce the understanding with those in the office that the employee is actively busy working.
  4. If agreed tasks or activities are completed well, on time or ahead of schedule then regular feedback with praise can help with maintain a good working relationship with their peers. The same would apply if tasks or activities are not met as agreed to understand the reason why and assess if further support or assistance is required so they do not feel completely isolated.
  5. Using the latest electronic instant messaging tools with presence awareness can be of great help with keeping in contact. The employee’s colleagues can chat with them instantly or by using a webcam without the need for speaking to them on the phone and see that the employee is at their PC throughout the day.
  6. Don’t forget to include the employee on any electronic communication that includes work news, success/wins, activities, company news to ensure that they still feel part of the organisation and are not forgotten.