Charities are looking to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of work through blended and flexible arrangements with staff around when and where they work. We examine what these terms mean and explore the key differences
The popularity of remote working has rocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic as charities look to ensure their staff can adhere to social distancing measures.
This has seen charities reduce the time workers have to spend on public transport and in an office environment. It has also seen those delivering frontline support to beneficiaries pivot help online, especially through digital video conferencing tools.
But flexiblility in the workplace is an ethos that was already gathering momentum prior to the current health crisis. This is largely a result of workers looking to improve their work/life balance, especially as many juggle increasingly expensive childcare commitments.
There are marked differences in how employers are adopting home and remote working. Among the main strategies are blended and flexible working.
Here we look at the blended and flexible working definitions, what they entail and how charities can benefit from deploying these strategies across their workforce.
There is a vast array of different types of flexible working as charities look to cater for the working needs of their staff.
This includes job-sharing where two people do one job and split the hours as well as part-time workers.
Flexitime is another form of flexible working where workers can choose their start and end time of the working day to fit in with other commitments (such as nursery and school pick up). For example, this could mean working 10 am to 4 pm instead of 9 am to 5 pm.
Compressed hours are another popular option. This is where staff members can work their usual full-time hours but over fewer days.
This can include compressing weekly, monthly or even annualised hours. In an annualised working hours arrangement, employees and employers can agree to working core hours with flexible hours added in. This can benefit employers too as the agreement could include increasing hours worked at busy times.
Phased retirement is another flexible approach, for older workers. This allows workers to retire when they choose through a staggered approach. For example, it could involve moving to part-time work before retirement.
Working from home is another key way charities can offer flexibility to workers. During COVID-19 this has been a necessity for many workers, with offices closed due to social distancing.
A home working arrangement need not be black and white, of either working at home exclusively or always in the office. Instead, many employers are considering blended working arrangements. But what is blended working?
This is where staff combine working from home and in the office in a way that is suitable for both employers and staff. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the case for blended working, for example as staff look to ensure they are socially distant and wear masks.
One study shows that as many as eight out of ten staff may switch to a blended office arrangement.
The benefits of being flexible around childcare commitments can’t be underestimated as a high proportion of workers in the charity sector have family commitments. The pandemic’s acceleration of home and blended working, in particular, has shown many parents the benefits of flexibility to their work/life balance. One study has found that a mere 13% of working parents want to return to the ‘old normal’.
Technology is at the heart of the drive towards blended and flexible working and ensuring digital leaders have the tools they need. This includes arranging meetings easily through video conferencing products such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Workflow and collaboration tools such as Slack and Trello have also made flexible working easier, to ensure that those working from home can communicate with their managers easily – as if they were in the office with them.
When considering flexible or blended working arrangements charities are advised to adopt a flexible working trial period to test different ways of working that can suit both employer and employee.
To avoid a dispute between charity and staff member it pays to ensure there is good communication throughout this trial and the charity informs the employee of its decision.
Documenting the arrangement and new working pattern is also advised to ensure it is fair and both sides can benefit.
Dispute resolution organisation, Acas provides useful information around flexible working and blended working requests made by charity staff. Following their resources can help avoid any disagreement.
This is important as by law workers have the right to make a flexible working request if they have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks, are legally classed as an employee and have not made any other flexible working requests in the last 12 months.
Once a request is made employers must make a decision within three months. Parents, carers and workers returning from maternity are among those with a right to put in a flexible working application. The Acas Code of Practice on flexible working requests is an especially useful guide.