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Flexible working: what you need to know ahead of the rules

The extensions to current legislation on flexible working are due later this year, giving more employees with service of six months or more rights to request flexible working.

The new legislation will require employers to consider requests for greater flexibility in terms of hours, times and location, from a greater proportion of their workforce, which means HR departments will need to be prepared. 

Historically, flexible working legislation was intended mainly for childcare, and later broadened out to allow for other types of care. HR departments have not found these rules too onerous but some fear challenges when the reasons for the requests become more diverse, such as for religious observance and lifestyle choice.

The new laws need not be such a cause for worry, however. With some planning it should be possible to turn a regulatory requirement into an opportunity to create positive cultural changes throughout your organisation.

We are already working with some of the UK’s biggest employers to help them navigate the system. Here are some tips on on how to plan for the new rules:

1. Don’t panic. You have most of the knowledge and skills to handle these changes, you just need to change mindset and think about context. The requests that staff make (changes to hours, times, locations) will be no different – it’s their reasons that may differ. 

2. Review policy and process. This is an opportunity to make your process more user-friendly for both sides. The tight response times will disappear, replaced by a principle-based system that makes the rules easier.

3.Take the opportunity to refresh knowledge. Everyone will need to be up to speed on the circumstances in which the right to request flexible working will apply. There are eight reasons why a flexible working request might not be granted because it is not appropriate for your business (for example, detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand). These, plus how the indirect discrimination rules relate to them, need to be clear to all.

4. Think broadly. Ask all concerned to think about the broader impact of more flexible working in your organisation. For example, any data security risks that come with more people accessing company systems from away from the office. Do you have a bring your own device or remote working policy in place?

5. Be balanced. Think about both the benefits and the challenges of better work-life balance. There will be a positive effect on morale, but managers may need coaching to adapt their management style to the differences between managing a present team and a distributed one, or a team that work different hours from one another.

The new flexible working rules may support initiatives to improve workplace culture and help to create a great place to work. If there is one disadvantage to the current system, it is that it favours only one element of the workforce (those with family/care commitments). The new laws will solve that problem by including everybody, so this is an opportunity to do more than just demonstrate compliance.

Vicky Roberts is the head of v-learning at HR and employment law firm Vista