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Tom Neil: Being flexible with flexibility

Monday 14 August 2017

Tom Neil, Senior Guidance Editor at Acas discusses flexible working practices.

Tom Neil Tom Neil

Tom Neil is a Guidance Writer at Acas.

 

 

 

If we are to believe the old expression 'out of sight, out of mind', then my job would appear to be quite an easy one. I manage a geographically diverse team, with colleagues working from different offices across the country, as well as from home.

Thanks to technology we do keep in regular contact, but as a new Acas-commissioned study 'pdf icon Flexibility in the Workplace: Implications of flexible work arrangements for individuals, teams and organisations [472kb]' , seeing is not the only way to believing. For flexible working arrangements to be a success, you have to trust your team are doing their best, wherever they happen to be working. This means getting to know them, understanding their needs and finding the best ways to communicate.

The research highlights both the 'hidden benefits' as well as the 'hidden penalties' of flexible working and for me this gives the right message. Flexible working is not, as some would believe, the solution to all workplace problems, but is does increasingly suit the way many of us work.

My colleagues and I are lucky that the work we do - drafting guidance and dealing with information requests and data - can often be done just as well in a room at home as an office. In fact in the world of open plan offices working at home is almost essential when drafting complex guidance. But teams are teams for a purpose and one of the challenges for me is making sure everyone is kept in the loop and in touch with me, and each other.

There is an interesting quote in the report about managers wanting staff to be 'flexible with flexibility'. But surely this need to accommodate changing demands and be adaptable in the way you work is true of most working patterns? Flexible working arrangements can reduce work-life conflict but staff will often need to be good at planning, particularly when it comes to handovers so work doesn't fall between the gaps.

Research Acas conducted a couple of years ago, 'pdf icon Home is where the work is: A new study of homeworking in Acas – and beyond [1Mb]' suggested that the best form of flexible working usually manages to achieve a balance between working from the office and working from home. This affords people the chance to catch up, to share ideas and to socialise. In my experience the opportunity for teams to interact on a regular basis face to face is necessary to ensure successful remote working - it allows relationships and trust to develop between team members.

The report is a timely reflection on how flexible working works best. It is probably no coincidence that one of the chief advantages of flexible working is self-autonomy and autonomy, in turn, is a key feature of both job satisfaction and workplace productivity.

A lot is made of being at the 'centre of things', and this is usually interpreted as meaning in head office. However when it comes to working for Acas, working 'remotely' within local offices often offers a unique insight into employment issues and enables knowledge sharing at a local level. The flexibility of working at home also offers the solitude sometimes required for certain types of working. Whether at Head Office, working in my local office of Manchester, or at my home office, I feel I am at the centre of many different approaches to work that complement each other and allow my team to work more effectively. Organisations, sectors and occupations will have their own take on the kind of flexibility that works for them - and how to flex that flexibility.

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