The missed trick in flexible working

The recent whitepaper, published by Nuffield Health recently got us thinking once again about why flexible working still isn’t the norm, despite so many of us reporting how important it is to us.

We presume it’s down to the fact that our organisations, managers or our job roles simply do not allow us to work flexibly.  We also take into consideration the fact that it can be a personal challenge to ask for flexible working, fearing it will have a negative impact on our career aspirations and finances.

Actually, both of these reasons are contributing factors as to why we are not all working to some degree of flexibility to achieve a healthier work/home balance for the longer term.  However, there’s another factor to be taken into consideration that is less well-known:  do we know how to work flexibly?  Do we have the right skill set?  Are we cut out for it as individuals?

HR Review highlighted in their article ‘Remote working can boost wellbeing but training needs to be offered’ the ACAS guidelines as to what is needed for successful remote working. These guidelines ranged from being happy to be alone for long periods of time, resilient to setbacks to being self-disciplined and self-motivated.

How many of us are naturally able to be like this?  And does it mean we will all fail miserably if we don’t naturally have such talents?

As the HR Review article suggests, we need help to develop these skills, as presuming we are all naturally able to make a success of flexible working is dangerous, as is presuming all line managers are naturally skilled in being able to communicate to and lead a flexible team.  HR Review states ‘it is important that employers also offer training on how to manage the “unique” demands of this style of work, to make sure it benefits both employee and organisation.’

This month we ran a workshop for a financial institution who recognised how important it was to upskill those employees who were considering or already working flexibly – whether formally or informally.  Our leadership development coach Andrew Kitton, who ran the workshop, helped the group discuss the importance of building trust and strong relationships, communication, visibility and time management.  Andrew summarises:

‘Organisations, managers and employees requesting flexibility need to think through the implications of that request. They need to consider the impact on them, their team and task execution, before deciding what type of flexible working arrangement is most suitable. Frequently flexible working is a positive measure that results in increased motivation, productivity and retention. However, there are occasions when it doesn’t and it’s often down to lack of communication and knowing what skills need to be honed. We need to continue to be mindful of how we can get the best from flexible working so that only positive consequences are associated with it.’