Examples of Flexibility in the Work Environment

In this article, Lisa Gallagher, co-founder and director at Flexibility Works, discusses the benefits of flexible working through real-world examples.

Examples of Flexibility in the Work Environment

Despite the rise in flexible working since the pandemic, there's still confusion about what working flexibly really means, partly because there are so many flexibility varieties in the work environment. We've gathered some great examples of flexible working in various organizations to illustrate how it can benefit people, job roles, and employers.

Types of flexible working

Before we get started, here's a quick summary of what flexible working can mean:

Before COVID-19, most people thought flexible working meant part-time hours, and since the pandemic, most people now assume we mean hybrid working. Flexible working certainly includes part-time and mixed working, but many other options exist.

Broadly, flexible working is broken down into three categories:

  1. Flexibility on where you work. For example, on-site or office, hybrid, or remote.
  2. Flexibility on when you work. For example, being able to amend your start and finish times, compressing your usual hours into fewer, longer days, changing shift patterns, or even being allowed to pop out for appointments and make up the time later without needing to book annual leave.
  3. Flexibility on how much you work, known as reduced or part-time hours.

The following stories are real examples of different types of flexible working in various work environments.

4-day work week at Melville Housing

Melville Housing has almost completed a year-long trial of a 4-day working week with all staff working 32 hours - Monday to Thursday - on full pay.

Melville is a charitable housing association with approximately 2,000 social housing properties in Midlothian, Scotland. It has 31 office-based staff members, and contractors carry out maintenance and repairs.

CEO John McMorrow said: "Our board agreed we could trial a 4-day week for a year to check that staff were happy, tenants were happy, and our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) weren't adversely affected. Our KPIs cover various subjects such as tenant satisfaction, repair times, rent arrears, and complaints. So far, the staff is pleased, our residents' panel hasn't reported any adverse impacts, and performance has remained steady."

Friday was selected as the day off for everyone as the organization tends to have fewer tenant queries. Fridays are now treated like weekend days when a contractor is available to tenants and makes contact with appropriate staff should an emergency occur.

As well as the 4-day work week, Melville has a hybrid working policy with staff asked to work in the office two days each week, and other forms of flexible working are available, such as part-time hours and relaxed start and finish times.

John McMorrow said: "It's been great for our people, and our service delivery is unaffected. As an employer, we get a reputational benefit from offering greater flexible working because we're seen as an organization that cares about its people. This, together with the practicalities of a 4-day week and hybrid working, make us a much more attractive place to work, and this helps us find good caliber candidates. We can also recruit from a wider geographical area because people know they won't have to travel to an office daily."

Flex on time for print factory workers at McAllister Litho Glasgow

McAllister Litho Glasgow (MLG) operates its print works from 7 am to 7 pm. Workers can choose their shift pattern and working hours as long as the necessary equipment is available.

Janette McAllister, managing director, said: "Our factory colleagues work full time, either 36 or 40 hours a week, and our factory is open 7 am to 7 pm each day. Most people choose to work three 12-hour shifts, but several work shorter shifts.

"Most people work a compressed working week, so they generally have time for dentist appointments and life admin on their days off. But if something comes up on a working day, they can swap shifts, move their hours around that week, or use annual leave, whatever works best for them. Most people stay on the same shift pattern, so they know exactly when they'll be working and can plan their lives around it."

The office team at MLG can work from home, though many choose to come into the office anyway.

Janette said: "Having some flexibility means our people are much happier. And for us as a business, we benefit hugely from their ongoing loyalty and hard work. We're only as good as the people who work for us. We couldn't deliver for our clients without them, so it makes good business sense and is the right thing to do."

Flex in the care sector

Janny Dickie is a personal development worker for care provider C-Change Scotland. She works part-time, can do some work from home, has input to shift rotas, and can swap shifts easily.

Janny supports two people in their own homes, and she's been working with them for many years. She also conducts finance audits for people supported by C-Change and inducts other staff into the procedure. The audits ensure people's money is managed safely and appropriately and any unusual payments are checked. Janny can choose whether to do the audits at home or in the office, and the training is a mix of home (via Teams) and in-person in the office.

She can take on extra hours if she wants them. C-Change runs a 'buddy' system so support workers get to know the people some of their colleagues work with and can step in as a familiar face if a support worker needs time off.

As a shift worker, Janny can mark up draft rotas whenever she knows she can't work and swap shifts easily with colleagues.

Janny said: "My flexibility means I can help my daughter by looking after my grandchildren, who are 12, 10 and nearly two. And it means I can be around for our Welsh terrier Ruby and take her for walks.

"I have a better work-life balance and less stress. I'm currently working a lot more hours than I'm contracted, but it's fine because I can cut the extra hours down again if I need to, and if I need time off from my contracted shifts, I know I can arrange this. If I had no flexibility, I just wouldn't be able to stay in the job."

Part-time and term-time only roles at SmartSTEMs

SmartSTEMs is a small independent charity that organizes fun and educational events to inspire young people aged 10 to 14 in STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

Out of a team of ten, four members of staff have 'term time only' roles, meaning they only work during school term time. Two people work school hours, and the other two work full days. The company defines term-time working as 0.8 FTE (those working only on days when the schools are open) and those who work school hours within term time as 0.64 FTE.

Stuart Macdonald, Founder and CEO of SmartSTEMs, said: "Flexible working has given us access to a higher caliber of staff by reaching a broader and deeper pool of talent, either those who personally welcome or require the flexibility but also by those who want to be aligned with a progressive organization like SmartSTEMs. It helps us retain good staff too. We know our staff are happy, and they value their flexibility, and I believe they choose to stay with us partly because of that. When you factor in all the costs of someone losing interest in a role before they leave, the time it takes someone new to get up to speed, and the costs of recruitment itself, you're looking at losing the equivalent of a whole year's salary.

Everyone can work from home when they want to, take time out for appointments, collect children without asking permission, or use annual leave as long as it does not impact delivery.

"There are benefits to our work delivered by more part-time workers too. From a continuity perspective, we are much improved by using more individuals to deliver the same number of overall hours in terms of service delivery. Charitable programs can often rely on one person's relationship with a single point of contact at a partner organization. But this carries inherent risk because whenever someone is promoted, leaves, or is just 'too busy,' the relationship must begin again from scratch. With SmartSTEMs, we wanted to build something more resilient and create multiple connections with our partners. Having more part-time staff helps us cost-effectively deliver that because we're not paying full-time salaries."

Feeling inspired?

I hope these examples inspire you about what types of flexibility are available. Even a tiny amount of flexibility can make a big difference in people's lives, and there are different types of flexibility for other roles - there is no one-size-fits-all. When put in place well, flexibility is a win-win for your organization and your people.

If you want to discuss how to embed more flexibility into your organization, please get in touch with us at Flexibility Works for an informal chat.

Lisa Gallagher, co-founder and director at Flexibility Works, wrote this blog post. Email [email protected] to get in touch