What is a Flexible Workforce?

Megan Thompson · June 7, 2021

For a long time, designing a flexible workforce has been low on the priority list for many organisations. That is, until Covid-19 hit and employers were forced to quickly adapt to a new style of work. Instantly, companies realised the inherent value of employee wellbeing, safeguarding mental health, physical safety and workforce flexibility.

Parents suddenly had home-schooling responsibilities, employees living alone experienced a sharp decline in social interactions, and 11.5 million people were placed on furlough with the uncertain prospect of a return to employment.

But with 21st June fast approaching and many organisations looking to return to the office, more and more employees are likely to want a flexible approach to work.

So exactly what is flexible working?

Flexible workforce definition

According to the UK Government, flexible working can be defined as “a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, for example having flexible start and finish times, or working from home.”

Flexible working is most commonly applied for by parents and carers, however all employees have the legal right to request a flexible working arrangement after 26 weeks with an employer.

This is known as making a statutory application and must be done in writing. Employers have up to three months to review the application. Employers can either A) accept the application and update the terms in said employee’s contract, or B) reject the application, stating the business reasons for the refusal.

Flexible workforce examples

Pre-pandemic, the most common types of flexible working were:

  • Job sharing
  • Working from home
  • Part time
  • Compressed hours
  • Flexitime
  • Annualised hours
  • Staggered hours
  • Phased retirement

However, during the pandemic when 46.6% of employees worked from home, many flexible working policies were also adopted. Flexitime, staggered hours and part-time in conjunction with furlough were commonplace as a way for people to manage their lives around the additional challenges of Covid-19.

So what does this mean for employees who are now returning to regular employment after 18 months of flexible working?

Should my organisation continue with flexible working?

Employers aren’t obligated to continue with flexible working or offer a hybrid arrangement for employees post-Covid. But it is worth considering the benefits and drawbacks before making any hasty decisions.

Benefits of a flexible workforce

A flexible working arrangement can be a cost-effective solution for organisations looking to reduce overhead costs. Renting a smaller office space and lowering utility usage can help organisations save a significant amount of money.

what is a flexible workforce

Some types of flexibility in the workplace are also beneficial for engaging employees and creating a more motivated and productive working environment. When employees feel trusted to manage their own time and get work done without direct supervision, this can create a culture of empowerment, motivation and happiness. This reflects directly on employee productivity, quality of work and retention.

A flexible working model can also improve diversity, by opening your organisation up to a wider pool of candidates. This ensures that your company can now find the best fit for each role, rather than recruiting in a limited local area. Flexible work is also an attractive perk for job seekers and can help you find a top performer in your field.

Drawbacks of a flexible workforce

drawbacks of flexible working

Since the offices closed in March 2020, companies have increasingly struggled to maintain a strong company culture in a remote world. Social isolation during the pandemic contributed to stress, anxiety and poor wellbeing for many employees. An office environment offers a natural setting for employees to socialise, and experience a sense of camaraderie and encouragement from colleagues.

If you consider implementing a flexible working policy, it is vital to have an effective culture and wellbeing strategy in place to safeguard your employees. Learn more about safeguarding employee wellbeing and improving productivity in our webinar recording.

Communication difficulties, potential Wi-Fi and technology issues, and a limited understanding of employees health and safety requirements can all contribute to a poor flexible working model. If your people are unable to get the same experience working from home as they are in the office then it is unlikely that they will be as productive.

You may also find that the line between an employee’s home and social life and their work life begins to blur without much physical separation between the office and their home. The “always on” feeling that many home-workers have reported during Covid can ultimately lead to burn-out, fatigue and decreased productivity if employers do not encourage employees to switch off at the end of the day.

How to create a flexible workforce

Every organisation will have different goals coming out of the pandemic, and therefore it is essential to decide if flexibility will help meet these aims. For more insight, watch our latest webinar where we discuss the best strategies for building a successful hybrid workforce.

Lastly, if you haven’t yet spoken to your employees about what they want, it is a good idea to run a company survey to identify their needs. WeThrive’s free wellbeing and back-to-work survey allows employers to uncover exactly how their people feel about a flexible working arrangement. Try it now to discover your best strategy for a flexible working arrangement.