How to make flexible working work for your small business


Date: 11 August 2014

How to make flexible working work for your small business{{}}Almost all employees in every business now have a right to request flexible hours. You of course have the right to decline, for one of eight allowable reasons. But there are often many business benefits to be had from flexible working.

Initially we introduced flexible working to attract programmers. They are really hard to recruit and we identified it as something that would help us attract the best candidates. We thought it would appeal to their tendency to work late mornings and into the night, and after weighing up the costs, we discovered that with a simple IT system, staff could self-monitor their time.

It proved so successful we decided to extend it to all our technical staff. Our primary motive was to keep our staff happy. Flexible hours allows them to fit work around their lives, which is important, motivationally, when we know that our staff work to live.

Our staff also recognise that it’s a perk they won’t get in many companies. Meaning it’s not only great as a retention tool but it’s a benefit they respect. There is no abuse of the system.

Over three-quarters of eligible staff have taken us up on flexible working. Luckily we have a nice split of staff who prefer to start early and those who prefer to stay late. Interestingly, all opt in to cope with traffic on their commute.

Operationally, it is managed via a clocking-in system, with each employee tracking his or her own time. We also stipulate the scope of the policy in our company handbook, which forms part of their employment contract, so we don’t constantly have to answer questions.

The one condition we make (which we’d recommend) is to ensure staff are present each day for what we term ‘set cover hours’. This means we always have a fully staffed office at key times. Plus it means that our staff don’t work long shifts so they can take a day off each week. That’s unmanageable. Instead, the maximum full day off they can claim is one a month.

Unfortunately, we can’t offer flexible hours to everyone. It’s just not possible given their roles. Our call centre is a prime example. We need the customer service provision staffed when customers want to speak to us. However, as long as you’re able to explain why, all staff understand, accepting it as part of their job.

The only issues that have ever arisen is if staff can’t manage their own time. The worst cases take more than they give, meaning by the end of the week they are in minus hours. The only solution is to suggest they pull in some long shifts or take the time as holiday.

Overall, though, we’ve found flexible working to be a real plus. Staff see it as the perk it should be and it therefore retains as well as helps us recruit, without incurring massive overhead costs. It’s win-win. Just make sure you set clear parameters that can be rolled out, as far as possible, across the board.

Copyright © 2014 Ian Cowley. Ian is managing director of, which has benefited since introducing flexible working more than five years ago.

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