flex-shifts-510-150x150SUMMARY: New UK Flexible Working Regulations and Part 9 of the Children and Families Act 2014 came into force in June. As an employer, are you treating flexible working requests in a reasonable manner?

On June 30th 2014, new UK Flexible Working Regulations and Part 9 of the Children and Families Act 2014 came into force. This extended the right to request flexible working to all employees after 26 weeks’ service, rather than only those with children under the age of 17 (or 18 if the child is disabled) and certain carers.

flexible-working-2181The statutory procedure for organisations to deal with flexible working requests was also replaced by a duty to deal with requests reasonably and a statutory ACAS code of practice that relates to that duty.

So, as a responsible employer, how do you ensure you’re handling flexible working requests in a reasonable manner? Here are six considerations for customer contact operators:

1. Have you understood the potential benefits of granting a request?

Ask yourself ‘How could the employee and the business gain from flexible working?’ Look at the individual circumstances of each request and assess the upside of a more productive and better motivated worker as well as potential business benefits including improved employee engagement, reduced office and travel costs, improved output quality etc.

2. Under what circumstances is it reasonable to refuse a request?

Under the ACAS Code of Conduct, applications can be refused for one or more of the following reasons:

the burden of additional costs 
an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff 
an inability to recruit additional staff 
a detrimental impact on quality 
a detrimental impact on performance 
detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand 
insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work 
planned structural changes to the business

3. Have you considered all your flexible working options?

Enabling employees to meet contractual obligations by working flexible hours can be beneficial when catering for seasonality or for daily peaks/troughs in service demand. But is it the best solution? Have you considered:

1. Bringing in extra workers to cope with seasonal peaks
2. Enabling existing employees to extend their work hours
3. Outsourcing to a third party

Contact centre outsourcers such as Sensée that use home-based employees can deliver resources in shifts as short as 30 minutes, ensuring access to the right people, with the right skills, at the right time to meet daily/seasonal demand fluctuations.

4. Do you have appropriate business processes in place?

Business and management processes that work in the office won’t necessarily work in a flexible working environment, and especially when employees are working from home. So think ‘virtual’ end-to-end! Audit business processes (such as Health & Safety guidelines and communications) and re-engineer them as necessary for the virtual environment. Also ensure managers work flexibly, at least some of the time, so they can appreciate the challenges facing flexible and homeworkers. If you deploy work-at-home teams ensure they work 100% virtually to maximise efficiency. And avoid the temptation of face-to-face meetings and training sessions because they are rarely essential.

5. Do you have technology tools to effectively manage flexible and homeworkers?

To effectively manage teams of flexible workers – where people are working split shifts and some/all are working from home – you need technology tools that deliver structure, control and real-time visibility. A workforce management tool that ensures you have sufficient people available, with the right skills and at the right time is just the start. You also need specialist tools that give office-based and virtual managers a real-time view of remote activities and, if necessary, the ability to intervene; plus real-time communication tools that ensure team members are part of a virtual community (rather than ‘lone’ workers). Finally, always ensure the tools you use are resilient and secure.

6. Can you effectively measure success?

Granting a flexible working request needs to be more than a ‘nice thing to do’. It must work in business terms. Constantly measure the success of flexible working across a wide range of criteria – not just cost (office, travel etc.) but also employee engagement, quality, customer experience and customer outcomes. Seek constant feedback from employees, managers, partners and customers on current performance to enhance service delivery in the future.

Kelly Bains2Kelly Bains, Director, Sensée
Kelly has a successful track record spanning 22 years in blue chip environments. He has managed challenging outsourcing environments and created new business divisions across the UK, Europe and Asia. Kelly has held Board positions at Adecco and the Sensée HomeAgent Network.

kelly.bains@sensee.co.uk

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