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Unleash the HR Knowledge! What Does Flexible Working Mean in Business Today?

The lowdown on flexible working terminology – and how tech enables it.


Flexible working, it means more than you might think…

Compressed hours. Staggered starts. Job sharing. Annualised hours.

There are many different types of flexible working. Yet a surprising number of even C-suite execs think “flexible working” just means “working from home”. And shrink away from it as as result.

Perhaps it’s a hangover from years back, when flexi and remote options were seen as a cost. But today, HR managers know the flexibility game is more like a profit center. Empowered by your friends in I.T, it’s a strategic pathway to getting the most from your employees, based on their individual work styles. And by 2020, 20% of organisations will include employee engagement improvement as a shared performance objective for HR and I.T. The Digital Workplace is the facilitator of new forms of engagement; collaboration, data sharing and innovation – the foundation of truly agile, high performing businesses. If HR isn’t driving this – who is?


A look at the options, and how HR and I.T can enable them…

That’s your real job when it comes to flexible working. Making sure people know flexible working is good for business. Let’s look at some of the options… and how HR and I.T can work together to drive results.


Working from home

Starting at the beginning is home working. But it’s not an all or nothing solution! Working home can be used for certain tasks or to give flexibility and many people benefit from a quieter environment with time for focussed concentration. It doesn’t mean disappearing from your colleagues!

36% of British workers have worked as a contractor at some point. Working from home isn’t rare.

PEOPLE BENEFIT: a quieter environment, increased concentration – plus more time to get stuck into key tasks without negotiating a stressful commute.

BUSINESS BENEFIT: with “hot desking”, if a proportion of your people regularly work from home, you don’t need a full complement of office stations… saving on real estate! What’s more, nearly 40% say they work longer hours when remote working to counteract any suspicion they may be taking advantage of the company’s central office.


Job sharing

Yes, two people doing one job and splitting the hours is flexible working too. And it’s where technology can play a big part. Shared documents, whiteboarding, handover teleconferences: all keep the work consistent as responsibility passes between people.

PEOPLE BENEFIT: the ability to continuing advancing a career while having enough time to meet other commitments.

BUSINESS BENEFIT: By providing your employees with choice and flexibility you increase employee satisfaction and therefore create a highly motivated and engaged workforce.


“Managers (and employees) can’t work effectively with their hands tied behind their back. Employers must make it their New Year’s resolution to give them the autonomy to succeed.”

Ann Francke, CEO Chartered Institute of Management ‘Future Forecast 2016’


Compressed hours

This is where terminology starts to sound less familiar. Anyone working compressed hours doesn’t have access to a Tardis – rather, they’re working a full-time role (35 hours and up) squashed into a shorter week. This could mean four days of 10 hours instead of five of 8. Make sure, of course, you’re not breaking working time regulations in any way – technology like online Presence can help here.


Did you know only 6% of job ads mention flexible working as an option?

Click to tweet this stat


PEOPLE BENEFIT: your people get to continuing growing and advancing their careers while also having that extra day or two to pursue other interests,  returning to work refreshed and raring to go.

BUSINESS BENEFIT: from your employee’s perspective, it’s like getting some extra time off – but for you, it often means important work gets executed sooner.



This term from the 80s is making a comeback in today’s connected world. It’s where your worker chooses his or her own hours around an agreed core. For example, you specify an eight-hour day…. but he’s free to come in at 6 and leave at 2, as long as he’s there for critical daily events between 11 and 1.

Of course, always seek to negotiate rather than impose.

PEOPLE BENEFIT: your people work the hours that suit them, and appreciate that you let them do so.

BUSINESS BENEFIT: flexitime helps people stay authentic to their circadian rhythms – we all know “larks” and “owls” who function best at different times of the day. When they’re more alert, they do better work.


Annualised hours

This is a newer one – and it’s tailor-made for applying the benefits of communication and collaboration technology. Annualised hours means a worker has a set yearly work requirement (often a specific task like completing a project) and he or she can choose what chunks of time to devote to it spread over the working year. Again, there are usually limits; the scope is up to you.


Nearly 9m people want some flexibility in their work arrangements.

Click to tweet this stat


PEOPLE BENEFIT: Your people are 100% in at the time that suits them, they can even 100% commit to fully enjoying that holiday they’ve always dreamed of.

BUSINESS BENEFIT: Think of those Millennials, wanting to travel across India for months each Summer. You’ll find tech can help log their hours remotely and check productivity, even when they’re “finding themselves”.


Staggered hours

If the job role doesn’t have a strict 9-to-5 requirement – and not many jobs do, these days – staggered might be the way to go for you. Some of your people can start at 7, some at 8, some at 9 or even later. With a similarly relaxed saunter to the door at the end of each day.


52% of women on maternity leave say flexibility is key to their future career.

Click to tweet this stat


PEOPLE BENEFIT: Need to take the kids to school in the morning? Want to take part in that Yoga class that starts at 5pm on a Friday? Well, with staggered hours your people can do just that – being all the more motivated and engaged when they return to work, even if it is in the office.

BUSINESS BENEFIT: staggered hours can smooth resource needs across your business, from technology needs to desk space.


As a wrap-up, count how many of of the flexible working methods in this list DON’T involve working outside the office.

That’s the beauty of the new world of work: technology can keep people connected to their teams and projects. Whether they’re up with the lark, in bed with the owl, or just enjoy a mid-afternoon power-nap. All that matters is whether the work gets done smarter and faster than before.


“It has changed work totally from where people go to what they do. It makes HR far more aligned to the business – it’s easier to see where you add value, to integrate into the business. It looks at the future of work and encourages innovation in a range of ways. It gives functions that are shut away e.g. HR the opportunity to be part of the programme. There is nothing you can’t deal with in this environment.”

Sarah Roxborough – HR Director Plantronics


That’s what rethinking flexible work can do. Are you ready?



  • Flexible working means a LOT more than working from home
  • 20m people have the right to request non-standard work arrangements
  • 8.7m people want flexibility in their employment contracts

Technology can enable every variant of flexible working, but we can’t all be Google, download A Realist’s How To Guide Enabling Flexible Working and start giving your people what they want!


About the author

Annemarie, leads and implements the HR strategy across northern Europe at Arkadin Collaboration Services. She is passionate about the role of unified communication in company communications and employee recruitment and retention.

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