Wellbeing

Developing a flexible working policy

April 29, 2021

More employees have had the opportunity to work from home throughout Covid-19, and many companies are deciding to make this option more permanent. There are benefits for working in this way, including associations with lower work-role stress and higher levels of performance[1]. If you are considering introducing a long term flexible working policy, organisations such as CIPD have oodles of online resources to help. However, there are areas where this way of working may have a less positive impact. The loss of face to face contact may affect knowledge sharing throughout the business, and mentoring opportunities may be curtailed.

Here are 3 critical areas to consider when developing flexible working within your company:

1. Work-family Conflict

Work-family conflict occurs when we experience conflicting demands between our work & family lives and can result in lower levels of wellbeing[2]. Remote working may reduce this conflict, but overall, research shows the effect sizes are small. This small effect may be due to “creep”. Creep is where our level of household responsibility increases because we are at home all day. It may also be because of the ‘always on’ nature of remote working. The temptation to reply to emails and messages outside of working hours can be hard to resist.

  • Encourage staff that work from home to develop a work & family contract. The contract may include areas like familial interruptions, childcare arrangements, work pattern & switching off for the day.
  • The cultural, organisational and individual shifts that are needed to achieve gender equality in the workplace are outside the scope of this article. However, as boundaries blur between work and home, be aware that gender divisions may arise or become more embedded with flexible working. These divisions may perhaps occur due to childcare or familial interruptions, or the ability (or not) to work overtime[3,4].

2. Co-worker Relationships

Like work-family conflict, research suggests that individuals who work from home have higher levels of job satisfaction than those who do not. However, the effect size is once again small and is dependent on the frequency of home-working[5,6]. Levels of job satisfaction seem to plateau as the frequency of home working increases. A possible explanation for this is that co-worker relationships might be harmed for those home working for more than 2.5 days per week, reducing overall levels of job satisfaction. Harm to co-worker relationships may also result in loneliness which has many adverse outcomes for both individuals and organisations. Workplace loneliness has two dimensions; the quality of interpersonal relations while at work and the adequacy of workplace social networks[7]. With loneliness in the workplace leading to absenteeism, loss of productivity and job attrition[8], positive co-worker relationships are vitally important.

  • Offer truly flexible working solutions, so employees have the opportunity to balance the benefits of working from home (or another remote location) with those of working from the office

3. Know Your Team

Some individuals take to working remotely very well. They enjoy greater work-life balance and higher levels of productivity. However, others may feel invisible, unengaged and lonely. The differences in individuals may be due to personality traits. A recent meta-analysis suggested that scoring high on the scale for emotional stability was positively correlated with loneliness, while extraversion was negatively correlated. While these correlations were moderate, they were significant[9]. When working from home, individuals who score highly for extraversion may be more likely to form the connections they need to protect against loneliness with family or within their local community. However, those scoring highly on the emotional stability scale may find this more difficult. The loss of regular contact with co-workers and the opportunity to build trusting connections over the longer term could be a significant barrier to successful home working for these individuals. Indeed, as loneliness and isolation become embedded, it may become even harder to build connections.

Also, those scoring highly on the openness to experience scale are likely to be creative and imaginative, perhaps playing a lead role in new product or service creation. New projects developed via face to face collaboration have been more successful than those produced by remote workers[10] and individuals who score highly for openness might benefit more from face to face working. Knowing the individuals within your team will allow you to structure your flexible working offering to meet the needs of all your employees and all your projects. The need to include face to face working is paramount – even if some of your team kick against it!

  • Get to know your team and appreciate their differences & preferences.
  • Communicate expectations on an individual, team and company level. Make sure everyone is aware of plans for meetings, successes (of any size) and general company news. Reward your employees in a way that will meet their own individual need for recognition.
  • If you become aware of employees becoming disengaged or lonely, you may need to offer additional support. Coaching may be a suitable intervention if an individual is experiencing negative thought patterns.

It is important to note that empirical research into the outcomes of flexible working is still maturing. We do not yet have all the answers about the benefits or otherwise of working in this way. It is therefore crucial that you keep up to date on the latest developments in this area, monitor your flexible working outcomes and take action to provide support individuals or adjust your policy when necessary.

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