I found out yesterday via Twitter (where else) that it is flexible working awareness day today. A subject I am passionate about, but something that many organisations still aren’t getting their head around, and for many a missed opportunity too.
Our history in the UK around flexible working started with rights for parents of young children, then went onto encompass carers and then finally, everyone. We have taken rights (and the associated process) initially designed for parents and then extended it to others, just like we have with maternity leave. It is a right only to request, and have that request duly considered.
There is a whole framework around it that goes something like this….. (which is my way of saying I haven’t read the Regs for a while). There is a service requirement before you can even ask. Then there’s a formal request process, including stuff you are supposed to include in your letter. There’s a time period for responding. The right to appeal. A whole prescribed list of reasons for which you can be turned down.
But it is all a little too processes driven… a little, well, inflexible.
We need to move past the parental rights and part time paradigms.
Because too often when we say flexible working we really mean (or think of) is part time working. But there is so much more to it than that. Long term contractual changes and short term arrangements. Term time, part time, compressed hours, reduced hours, flexi-time, home working, working outside the traditional 9-5, anywhere and anywhen.
But flexible working is one thing…. agility and choice something else entirely. For me, working flexibly doesn’t mean going through a process. It means getting up on Monday and instead of driving to the office deciding to do the one minute to my home office. It means being effective anywhere I have a wifi connection. It means getting the job done without necessarily being present at a desk for the hours of work set down in my Contract of Employment.
When will we know we have achieved a more flexible approach to work?
Simple. When we don’t need the process. When we don’t need to fill in a form and write a change to terms and conditions of employment. When we don’t need to ask permission. When we can just do it. When it is the norm. When the job still gets done. When we don’t need even more legislation. When we finally recognise how much our people value it, how it will retain and engage them.
When it is simply, the way that we work every day.
You are so right when flexible becomes synonymous with the hours people put in. That mindset is a throwback to the industrial era, clocking in and out, piece work and input measurement.
The rise of flexibility of location and how people can choose where the work is done seems to be considered as a different stream when they’re clearly connected. I’m disappointed when I see too little of HR leading flexibility of job design, remuneration, mindset, etc.