How To Handle The Rise In Flexible Working Requests As A Manager or CEO

Flexible working requests are not a new phenomenon. However, given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, many people are now re-evaluating how, when, and where they work.

There is currently a significant rise in flexible working requests, with some employees preferring to work from home. These requests can include flexible start and finish times, part or full-time homeworking, or employees compressing their week into fewer days.

So how should employers handle the rise in flexible working requests from employees? We’ve outlined the key facts you need to know as an employer when managing these requests, and a few of the ways that flexible working can impact your business.

Why has there been a rise in flexible working requests?


A recent study has highlighted a significant rise in the number of employees working flexibly, after 86% of those surveyed had been working from home at some point during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The majority of those surveyed said that they would prefer to work more flexibly in the future, including 52% of all parents and 66% of non-parents. The reasons included having benefited from a better work/life balance, as well as increased wellbeing and productivity whilst working from home.

Similarly, a recent poll revealed that 81% of those surveyed expected to work from home at least one day a week post-lockdown, with 33% expecting to work from home at least three days a week.

The rise in home and flexible working has shown several benefits for employers and employees alike. Being open to different preferences and schedules can help to attract talent, improve employee job satisfaction and loyalty, reduce absenteeism, and enhance productivity.

What are the flexible working options?


Some employees will have a legal statutory right to ask for a change to their contract with a ‘flexible working request’ (more on this later). There are several flexible working options that employees may request, including:

  • Part-time working: reducing one’s hours, often by working fewer days a week.
  • Flexitime: changing or choosing one’s start and finish time, often whilst maintaining a core set of hours.
  • Compressed hours: do one’s hours in fewer days, with longer blocks of time to fulfill the full-time hours.
  • Job sharing: a form of part-time working where two or more people share the responsibility for a job between them and split the hours.
  • Remote working: work from home or elsewhere, all or part of the time.
  • Staggered hours: having different start, finish, and break times for other employees.
  • Hybrid working: based in the office some of the weeks and working remotely for the remainder.

What is the lawful process for requesting flexible working?


While employers and employees are free to have informal discussions about flexible working (irrespective of the length of service and employment status), both parties should be aware of the statutory framework governing the regime.

Employees with more than 26 weeks’ service have a statutory right to request flexible working, limited to one request in a 12-month period. However, employees can still make non-statutory flexible working requests if they don’t meet this service criterion.

If this is a reasonable adjustment request, the employee should state that, and consider the Equality Act 2010. This is because the request will have been made to remove or reduce a disadvantage related to an employee’s disability when doing their job. For example, an employee with epilepsy might struggle with a lack of energy in the mornings and request that they start their working hours later in the day.

Employers should follow a formal procedure, with requests made in writing to ensure a full understanding of the request and its implications. They then have three months to complete the consideration of requests, including appeals, and must deal with them in a reasonable manner.

The employer should arrange to meet the employee as part of this process and allow them to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union rep, as set out in the ACAS Code of Practice.

Consulting with employees may enable a resolution beneficial to both the employee and the business. Keep in mind that any features of a request (e.g., caring obligations or disabilities) to avoid successful unlawful discrimination claims if rejected.

How do employers reach a decision on flexible working requests?

Convince-for-Work-from-HomeWhen it comes to deciding the outcome of the request, employers have three options:

  • Reject
  • Agree on a trial period before the decision.
  • Accept.

If you agree to a trial period, set a review date for when the changes can be made permanent or rejected/altered. If rejecting the request, you must include reasons that fall under acceptable grounds to reject, such as the burden of additional costs; inability to reorganize work or recruit additional staff; detrimental impact on quality of performance; inability to meet customer demand; lack of work during proposed working times; or planned structural changes to the business.

Considerations for employers

manage-flexible-working-requestsWhen it comes to flexible or hybrid working, there are a few factors that employers will need to consider. These include:

  • Data protection: protection of confidential information, such as when an employee might be working in a shared house or on a train.
  • Health and safety: homes are the new workplaces, so they need to be safe for employees.
  • Capability and coverage: ensuring there is enough staff to cover workloads.
  • Hours monitoring: using tech and other remote working tools to ensure that people are working when they should be.

More generally, it is also worth considering that many organizations are now encouraging a culture of flexible working as much as possible. If you can accommodate flexible working, you should ensure that you are sharing these practices with all employees, whilst remaining fair and consistent. To achieve this, you may need to:

  1. Revisit your flexible working policies to ensure they accurately reflect the options available.
  2. Communicate to dispel myths around what flexible working is and who it is for.
  3. Try to encourage a creative approach to flexible working for all employees.
  4. Aim to hire flexibly and design the jobs to suit the flexible pattern.
  5. Ensure ongoing access to development and career conversations for flexible workers.
  6. Measure and evaluate flexible working and learn from trials using quantitative and qualitative measures.

Remote working during the pandemic has caused employers and employees alike to re-evaluate how, where, and when they work. People are realizing the benefits of having an improved work/life balance, and how this can translate to better remote job satisfaction and a boost in productivity.

As an employer or line manager, communicating the different types of flexible work options is vital in managing employees’ requests in a fair and consistent manner, especially for roles that historically do not lend themselves to working remotely. Remember – flexible working is possible across many sectors, industries, and job roles, but it’s important that you follow the lawful, statutory process to deal with these requests fairly.

Going forward, consider making flexible working requests a right for all employees from their first day. By doing so, you are demonstrating your trust in people to work how, when, and where they perform best and creating a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce. Moreover, you’ll be demonstrating your credentials as a forward-thinking organization – increasing your chances of attracting the best and most diverse talent.

Author Bio

managing-flexible-workforceLoch Associates Group is an expert in developing solutions to help organizations manage and look after their people. With a team of HR Consultants and employment solicitors in Kent, London and Sussex, they provide a unique combination of employment law, HR, wellbeing, and mediation expertise.

If you have concerns about the workplace behaviour of a member of staff, or you need to manage a grievance, Loch Associates Group is here to advise you on applying best practices in a commercial but practical way. They’re able to advise how to handle difficult conversations, hold disciplinary meetings, and carry out investigations for you.

Blogger and Educator by Passion | Online Media & PR Strategist at ClickDo Ltd. | Contributor to many Business Blogs in the United Kingdom | I have completed a journalism summer course at the London School of Journalism and manage various blogs.

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