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Getting ahead of the competition: How flexible can your business be?

Flexible working has been one of the “buzz phrases” of the last few year but despite advancements in technology, flexible working remains an option for relatively few employees. Work from home springs to the mind of many when flexible working is mentioned and with Australian workers, spending, on average, 51.4 minutes per day on their commute it’s no wonder. Work from home however is just one of seven flexible working classifications defined within the legislation. Businesses that have embraced the concept more broadly across other elements, report of both productivity and performance boosts. Flexible working presents an opportunity for Australian businesses to consider what flexible working arrangements could provide within their workplace.

Since January 2010, employees including casuals who meet the criteria have  a legal right to request flexible working after 12 months continuous service.  Yet despite this entitlement, the majority of workers still say that they’d feel uncomfortable asking their bosses to let them work more flexibly. With the benefits flexible working can bring both employers and employees there appears to be a fairly significant disconnect between what is actively encouraged and the options available to businesses.

While it may be true that there are some roles that don’t suit job shares or part-time work, flexible working is just that – flexible. There are so many different ways that you can offer your employees the chance to work flexibly that there’s bound to be something that can really work for your firm.

Here are some of the more common types of flexible working:

  • Working from home or remotely – one of the most widespread examples of flexible working, Remote working is popular among employees as it enables them to bypass the daily commute, and good for employers as it can save money on office space and equipment.
  • Part-time working – the benefits to the employer of part-time working can be significant, not least the flexibility to meet peaks in demand, more efficient use of machinery and other equipment, and the ability to extend operating hours.
  • Job sharing – one type of part-time work, job sharing is where two (or occasionally more) workers share the responsibility and pay of a full-time job. Benefits to the employer of a job share include a wider range of skills and experience to call upon, and greater continuity during absences.
  • Flexi-time – usually under flexi-time arrangements employees can start and finish at different times while ensuring ‘core’ hours are covered. One of the main direct business benefits of this is the ability to extend opening hours without having to pay overtime; for employees, benefits include missing the worst of the commute or being able to do the school run.
  • Compressed hours – by working full time hours over fewer days, work is reallocated into fewer and longer blocks during the week. Only really successful when the working patterns of everyone else in the team allows it, the main direct business benefit for employers is the ability to ensure the right amount of help at both peak and quiet times.
  • Term-time working – targeted at parents of school-age children, employers may permit workers to remain on a permanent contract while taking paid or unpaid leave during school holidays. Of course this applies to educational establishments, but it can work particularly well for other businesses whose quiet periods coincide with the holidays, reducing expenditure during those times.
  • Annualised hours – under this arrangement, employees have to work a certain number of hours over the year but have some flexibility about when to work them. It can be very beneficial to employers who have significant peaks and troughs in work volumes.

Flexible working can bring huge benefits to businesses – cost savings on office space and equipment, ability to meet changing demands for services, improved employee psychological wellbeing, and increased appeal to top quality candidates to name but a few. Rather than waiting for their employees to make a formal request for flexible working, then, business owners and managers should be actively looking at ways that they can match their business needs with the way employees want to work.