How to implement flexible working in a small business

Providing employees with more freedom in how they work can help you attract great talent, so long as you're clear about what's on offer.

by Rebecca Smith
Last Updated: 24 May 2016

In the age of technology it’s no surprise many people feel they should be able to work remotely and during hours that better suit them. Yet while there’s clearly demand among workers, not enough employers are thinking about providing flexible options and the benefits it could bring them. To highlight the mismatch between demand and supply, flexible working organisation Timewise has around 78,000 jobseekers on its Timewise Jobs platform, but only 8.7% of UK job ads (for salaries of £20,000 upwards) mention flexible working choices up front.

So Timewise has launched a campaign - Hire Me My Way - which aims to create one million flexible working opportunities by 2020. ‘Opening up flexibility genuinely does widen the talent pool,’ says Karen Mattison, Timewise’s co-founder. ‘It’s so underestimated how important the benefit of flexibility is to people.’


There are some things you need to bear in mind as an employer though. Here are some tips to get you up to speed with how offering flexible working opportunities could work for your firm.

1. Trust your team

A successful policy will ultimately rest on the integrity of the team you’ve got in place. ‘Everything starts with hiring,’ says Paul Joyce, founder of TV dashboard application Geckoboard. ‘You need to be able to hire people you can trust.’ It sounds glib, but if you can trust your people to actually get on and not waste time on Facebook or raiding the fridge every 10 minutes then flexible working is much easier to manage. Trust doesn’t mean that you can be entirely hands off though - implementing personal productivity targets and goals - and sticking to them - helps everyone be aware of what they’re working towards.

2. Be clear about what you’re offering

Employers that do best when it comes to flexible working think long and hard about how it works from an operational perspective - how to support staff, if people can work at home and which days you might need the whole team in. Flexibility doesn’t mean leaving employees to their own devices at all times - you’ll need to be explicit on when their presence is required and what their hours are. And on what is flexible and what isn’t. ‘Making sure your approach to flexible working is clearly articulated is sometimes where businesses fall down,’ says Mattison. ‘You might be saying you’re open to it, but not saying how. There’s too much left to candidates to guess. The lack of clarity in the job market is making candidates confused and in many cases stopping them from applying.’

3. Think about your job descriptions

When penning a job ad, think carefully about just what you’ll need from a new hire. Mattison says, ‘Do all of the objectives require someone in an office from nine to five, five days a week? Could any of it be worked from home? Does the role have to be done by one person, or might it have two functions that means it could be split up?’ By making a position part-time, you might be able to attract a more experienced hire who can hit the ground running.

4. Don’t just pay lip service

Setting yourself apart as a start-up can be crucial, but don’t commit to hiring a flexible worker if you think you can’t deliver.  Make sure you have a conversation about what you can genuinely offer with the relevant line manager. It will only work if the team around the new joiner is supportive.

For Digital Mums, which provides social media training to mothers allowing them to find flexible work, it was important the team followed suit. ‘There are so many benefits to having a flexible arrangement – not just from a happiness point of view, but from a business point of view; operating costs are really expensive,’ co-founder Nikki Cochrane says. All 27 members of staff work flexibly and all bar three work remotely. ‘We’ve all got our outputs, we all know what needs to get done and if things don’t get done it becomes very apparent,’ Cochrane points out.

It isn’t feasible for all companies to offer flexible options and certainly not across all positions. But in many circumstances it’s doable. Build a team you can trust and think about job descriptions for the future. Offering flexible opportunities could help you create a better team and a better business as a result.

Karen Mattison is speaking at MT's Future of Work conference in London on June 23. Get your tickets now and see details on the full programme here.

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