Andrea Mara

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Flexible work – what are the options and which one is for you?

Imagine a world where there’s no five-day work-week. Where employees choose their hours, depending on what’s required of them. Where employers can rely on the job being done, regardless of where staff are based, or how long they spend working. Where parents spend more time with kids. Where carers in every capacity are less stressed about being where they need to be. And where everyone gets a bit more of what they really want out of life.

It sounds utopian, and for now, it probably is. But there are stepping stones in place, and more and more people are finding their way onto this path, as employers realise the benefits that flexible working brings.

In business terms, the word “flexible” usually means something positive; it’s a selling point, often synonymous with “adaptable”, “responsive”, or “forward-thinking”. As customers, when we’re signing up for any kind of service – whether it’s banking or house-cleaning or online grocery shopping – the word “flexible” makes it more attractive. And progressive employers are realising that offering flexible working conditions is a huge selling point, when they’re trying to recruit and retain talent.

In a 2008 study carried out by Cranfield University and Working Families, the majority of employees surveyed felt that their performance either improved or stayed the same as a result of working flexibly. Managers participating in the study agreed.

Why would performance improve? The logical assumption, and it was borne out by individual comments from study participants, is that happy employees are productive employees.

This is where flexible working becomes a win-win. People who appreciate the conditions afforded to them generally pay it back with hard work. Not necessarily long hours, but by getting the job done well, and in the most efficient way possible.

As well as retaining talent, flexible working can help companies to provide a more efficient service to customers. A workforce that’s spread over multiple locations and across twenty-four hours of the day can be more responsive than one that’s tied to an office and only available from 9 to 5.

Hot-desking and remote working mean lower office-space costs.

And payroll is reduced if employees are working part-time, bringing big savings for employers, particularly in a situation where a five-day-workload is managed within four days.

So what kind of flexible options are forward-thinking employers offering?


Jigsaw - Office Mum

This is where two people share one job – it can be mornings and afternoons, or alternate weeks, or perhaps both work three days a week, overlapping for one. The key to any job-share is the relationship between the two participants – an ability to work well together, to pick up where the other left off, and to communicate effectively.

What’s in it for employees? 

Shorter hours, customised to suit the needs of home

What’s in it for employers? 

A good job-share partnership can be hugely beneficial to the employer and the recipients of the service – for example, job-sharing teachers can give pupils a more rounded education. The employer gets two great resources for the price of one.

Working from home

Lap Top - Office Mum

As technology advances, there are fewer reasons for saying no to remote working. Some jobs can’t be done remotely of course (the waiter in the restaurant can’t serve food via Facebook). But many jobs can be done from home, or partly from home – for example, half a week in the office for face-time with colleagues and clients, and half a week at home.

What’s in it for employees?

No commuting – that energy and time can be put into work instead. For parents, it could mean fitting in the school run and having meals with the kids, giving a better quality of life for the whole family.

What’s in it for employers?

The energy and time that the employee was putting into commuting is used for work. Working from home can be extremely productive, without the interruption of formal and unplanned meetings. Remote working also saves money for the employer if office space and desk requirements can be decreased.

Part-time work

Part-time work is anything other than full-time; a four-day week, or five mornings, or week on/ week off – these are just some examples. Often employees and employers work together to come up with something that suits both, and it can take some trial and error to find what’s best. Five mornings a week while the kids are in school might seem like a good idea, but depending on the commute, it could turn out to be exhausting.

What’s in it for employees?

Choosing hours that can be managed around school and childcare is of huge benefit to anyone trying to juggle work and family.

What’s in for employers? 

It’s cheaper – paying someone to do a four-day-week costs less than paying someone fulltime, and often, the person working four days does just as much as they would do over five days.



This is popular with employees at all stages of life for obvious reasons – flexitime means choosing start and finish times (though there are usually set core hours to be worked every day)

What’s in it for employees?

Lots! A late start in the morning might mean going for a run before work, or getting the groceries done or dropping kids to school. An early finish could likewise facilitate childcare collection, homework with kids or writing that book…

What’s in it for employers?

The work gets done, the employees are happier, but there’s also likely to be cover over a longer period, because some come in early and some stay late.

Compressed hours

This means working full-time but over fewer days, for example, compressing five days into four (long) days. It may particularly suit employees with a long commute, or those who can start very early in the morning.

What’s in it for employees?

A free day to get everything else done, and no reduction in salary. The longer work-days involved means this doesn’t suit everyone.

What’s in it for employers?

Longer cover if needed over the days that the employee is working. Of all the options, this is the one that might be least appealing to employers, as there are fewer benefits.


ROWE - Office Mum

A results only work environment is the pinnacle of flexible working. The idea is that it doesn’t matter how many hours the employee spends working, or where this work takes place, as long as the work gets done.

What’s in it for employees?

All focus on hours and location is gone – getting the job done is all that matters. So if an employee can produce her report or meet her deadline by 10am, then her work is done. For the most talented and capable employees, this has huge appeal.

What’s in it for employers?

The work gets done in the most efficient way possible – it is likely to be carried out remotely, therefore saving on office-space costs, and there is no incentive for anyone to work (and be paid for) unproductive down-time. It is the direct opposite of presenteeism.

Each one bring its own advantages but in every case, there is one common benefit for employers; staff who are motivated, loyal and productive.

So we need to stop seeing flexibility as something that’s employee-driven, and for employee benefit only. And we need to stop equating “part-time” with being somehow less good. It simply means fewer hours. It means that the employee is off doing something pretty great with the extra time – raising children or caring for parents or jumping out of airplanes or writing books.

And perhaps some day, the notion of a five-day work-week will become redundant, but for now, an open and proactive approach to flexible working is a very good starting point.


If you’ve ever wondered which type of flexible work is best for you, read about these six parents and the pros and cons of their flex work situations: Striking a Balance

Examiner article - Office Mum

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