What Is Flexible Working?
Flexible Working Is About Where, When And How Much You Work
Put simply, flexible working is a pattern or schedule that’s not a rigid Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm in the same place. And, crucially, it’s a pattern the employee has some choice and control over, and is agreed with the employer because it works best for both parties.
Flexible working can be around one or all of:
- Where someone works
- When someone works
- How much someone works
Flexible working can take many forms and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.
What are the different types of flexible working?
Flexible working will look different depending on the person, the role and the organisation, and the sort of flexible working people need may also change at different life stages.
We’ve outlined below some of the different types of flexible working people use.
Remote working means you work away from your employer’s office or workplace. Most people who are remote workers work from their home, though other people use cafes, libraries and independent co-working spaces.
Hybrid working is when people with primarily desk-based jobs (office workers/knowledge workers) are able to split their working time between the office and working remotely, often from home. In practice, there are a range hybrid working patterns, from workers spending four days in the office and one at home each week, through to workers spending most of their time at home and only coming in for specific activities, such as team and client meetings, training and networking.
If you are a full time remote worker, you work from home, or somewhere else that’s not your employer’s workplace, all the time and you rarely – if ever – go to the office.
Reduced and part time hours means you work less than full time hours. Full time hours are usually around 37.5 hours a week. You might work more obviously part time, such as only on certain days of the week, or only during school hours. Or you might only slightly reduce your working hours by a small amount each day.
Flexible start and finish times allow you some choice and control over when you start and finish work. You still complete your agreed weekly hours, but rather than work 9am to 5pm, you might work 7am to 3pm, or 10am to 6pm instead.
Compressed hours mean you work your usual weekly hours but in fewer, longer days. For example, rather than working Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, you might work Monday to Thursday 8am to 6pm.
If you have annualised hours, you agree a certain number of hours to complete over the year but you have some choice and control over when you carry them out. You might have to work a certain number of core hours throughout the year but you can focus the remaining hours on when suits you and your employer. For example, you might work fewer hours over Christmas and in the summer holiday season.
Term-time working means you only work during school term time and not in the holidays. It’s not just for teachers and others working in education, term-time working can benefit other employers in other sectors too, providing extra resource in busier periods.
Ad-hoc changes include being able to leave work early or take a longer lunchbreak to fit in a personal appointment and make up the time later or on another day. It also includes last minute changes, such as working from home while a tradesperson is in your home, or because your child is sick. Ad-hoc amendments are not regular ways of working, just small adjustments you need occasionally.
What’s the difference between formal and informal flexible working?
Flexible working can be a formal agreement with your employer, or an informal understanding. Sometimes you might have both.
If you have a formal flexible working arrangement, this will be outlined in your contract. Typically anything that affects your salary, such as reduced or part time hours, will be a formal type of flexible working. But other forms of flexible working, such as regular home working, or hybrid working, may also be formalised in writing.
However, the majority of flexible working is something you informally agree with your line manager. For example, you might agree to start and finish 30 minutes earlier than colleagues each day so you can catch a train, or collect a child from nursery. Or you might agree as a team when you will work at home and in the office.
What are the benefits of flexible working?
When flexible working is implemented successfully, it can unlock benefits for workers, for businesses and for our wider economy.
Our own research with employers shows greater flexible working delivers:
- Higher employee productivity
- Better employee loyalty
- Improved employee recruitment and retention
- Reduced business costs
- Improved employee mental health and wellbeing
- Reduced sickness and absence
Flexible working can also help people enter the workforce, stay in work and progress at work, which is good for them and their families, and it good for society too.
How to make a flexible working request
Everyone has a legal right to ask for flexible working. It’s not just for parents and carers.
If you’d like to work more flexibly, start by talking to your line manager. Lots of flexible working arrangements, such as small changes to start and finish time, or ad-hoc amendments such as taking time off for an appointment and making up the time later don’t need a formal request in writing. You may be able agree your changes verbally with your line manager.
If you’d like to reduce your hours, or make other substantial and/or permanent changes to your work pattern you will need to put your request to your employer in writing. This is known as a ‘statutory request’. The law about what you need to include in a written request, when you can apply, and how frequently, will soon be changing. Talk to your line manager, or seek advice from your HR team, about what your employer currently expects from a formal flexible working request.
Employers can refuse requests but they must have a good business reason for doing so.