What are flexible work arrangements?

Flexible work arrangements are working hours, work locations, or working patterns that are altered to suit an employee’s individual circumstances. They are an increasingly popular way for employees to balance their personal and professional lives, and for employers to attract and retain talented people.

Types of flexible working arrangements include:

Remote working

This is one of the most common and well-known forms of flexible working. With the coronavirus pandemic necessitating a work-from-home mandate for the majority of workplaces, businesses and employees had to quickly adapt to this flexible working arrangement. Telecommuting and telework – an employee completing their work from outside their traditional office using tools such as email, phones, and video apps like Zoom or Teams – swiftly became the norm. Now, even as the working world begins to return to offices and other workplaces, many are opting to work remotely, either on a full-time basis, or some of the time, which is known as hybrid working. Many remote workers have found that they save time and money on their commutes, have fewer distractions while working, and have increased their productivity.

Staggered hours

Staggered hours are when an employee has a start time, finish time, or break time that differs from their colleagues’ hours at the organisation. For example, someone may request to work from 12:00 until 20:00 every day, even though the typical working hours at the business are 09:00 until 17:00, to accommodate their personal circumstances.

Compressed hours

If a person works full-time hours over fewer days, this is known as compressed hours. For example, an employee might choose to work what’s called a nine-day fortnight – the employee works a little later than other employees every day in order to have every other Friday off work.

Job sharing

Job sharing is when one role is split between two people. For example, one employee may work Monday and Tuesday, while the second employee has a Wednesday-to-Friday work week, but both do the same job when at work.

Part-time hours

Part-time work is often requested when an employee wants to work reduced hours during the day, or work fewer days a week. For example, a parent or guardian may request a working day of 9am until 3pm every day so that they can be home for their children or dependants before and after school during term-time. This can also reduce the likelihood of a parent needing to take parental leave.

Flexitime hours

Not to be confused with staggered hours, flexitime, or flextime, allows an employee to choose their working start and finish times, but always works the organisation’s “core hours” – for example, between 10am and 2pm every day.

Annualised hours

Annualised hours mean that an employee works a certain number of hours during a year, but their schedule is a bit more flexible. For example, agency workers may work certain core hours, and then complete the rest of their hours when needed for projects or by clients, and so on.

The increasing popularity of flexible work arrangements has prompted the UK government to complete a consultation on ‘Making flexible working the default’. While the results of the consultation are still pending, the government has noted that flexible working can be particularly useful for people who need to balance their personal and working lives. For example, people with carer responsibilities may be better able to access the labour market, or stay in work, with flexible working options. The government has also noted that flexible working arrangements can help employers by attracting more applicants to new roles, as well as by increasing productivity and motivation levels within workplaces.

How does flexible working affect a business?

The impact of flexible working on businesses is overwhelmingly positive for both employers and employees. The UK government’s consultation document for changes to flexible working states that by “removing the invisible restrictions to jobs, flexible working fosters a more diverse workforce – and the evidence shows that this leads to improved financial returns for businesses.”

Meanwhile, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the UK’s association for human resources professionals, says that quality flexible arrangements and flexible work schedules can also help businesses to:

  • improve employee work-life balance, job satisfaction, loyalty, and well-being
  • increase staff retention
  • reduce absenteeism
  • become more responsive to change

However, it’s worth noting that research conducted by the CIPD suggests that not all employers offer flexible working practices. In fact, 46% of employees say they do not have flexible working arrangements in their current roles.

The CIPD also notes that while working from home, or remote work, has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, 44% of people did not work from home at all during the past two years. So while remote working is a popular flexible working arrangement, it’s just one of the options available – and 75% of employees say it’s important that people who can’t work from home have choices to work flexibly in other ways.

How to implement flexible work arrangements

All employees are entitled to request flexible working in the UK, as long as they have 26 weeks of service with their employer. Requests can be made once every 12 months and must be submitted in writing.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), which offers advice and support on flexible working arrangements, recommends that employers:

  • offer clear guidance about what information is needed when an employee submits their flexible working request
  • talk to the employee requesting flexible working as soon as possible after receiving the request. This conversation should be in a private place, and determine how the request might benefit the employee and the business
  • allow an employee to be accompanied by a work colleague for any discussions, and make sure the employee knows they have this option
  • let the employee know the decision about their request as soon as possible, in writing
  • allow the employee to appeal the decision if their request is denied

It’s also worth noting that a request for flexible working can only be rejected for one of the following reasons:

  • the burden of additional costs
  • an inability to reorganise work among existing staff
  • an inability to recruit additional staff
  • a detrimental impact on quality
  • a detrimental impact on performance
  • a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • a planned structural change to the business

Become a business leader

When leading people within a business, it’s clear that flexible working initiatives can be a fantastic motivator – but they’re just one of the ways that talented people managers and leaders can create high-performing work environments.

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