What Is Flexible Working

Posted: Monday November 25 2019

By: Guest Blogger

What is Flexible Working (or why the h*** do we work a 40 hour week) ?

By Richard Turner – Business Lawyer 

“full-time” working is legally defined as 40 hours per week; anything less is part-time, anything more overtime (paid or not!). Most of us work these hours; few question why. Things do seem to be changing, and many organisations are embracing the fact that there are business benefits to flexible working. So this isn’t an article about the technicalities of flexible working (although see box, below) but a call to action – why aren’t we demanding  a new era of “flexibility”.

The past….

During the Industrial Revolution factories ran 24/7 and people worked far more than 8 hours a day, to the point of exhaustion.

Unions in the UK and the US had been fighting for the 8 hour working day for decades before Henry Ford finally introduced a new, reduced working week for his workers in 1922.

Ford made this decision not because he was particularly cuddly but because he figured his workers would put more effort into their work in exchange for additional leisure time. He also reckoned they would spend that leisure time spending money: buying Fords.

He was right. Business boomed and many followed his example when they saw his success. In the UK it wasn’t really until 1998 that we saw a limited (48 hour) working week (should we mention it was the EU’s doing ?). Even then, our Government ensured they kept an opt-out and to this day we work consistently longer hours than our European cousins.

The present….

There is an increasing departure from this standard working week with over 90% of companies now offering some form of flexible working, including part-time working, flexi-time, home-working, job-sharing, annualised hours or term-time working. Companies like Basecamp famously insist on a 4 day week while mixed results have been experienced with a 6-hour workday in Gothenburg, Sweden (mixed because it achieved all its aims of making staff happier, more productive and healthy – but it did cost a little more). 

Perhaps the biggest driver is the shifting focus from industry to a service-based knowledge economy. Technology lets us “WFH” or the road and allows 24/7 communication using email, Skype, Slack and collaboration tools like Trello.

These changes reduce the demand for ‘presenteeism’ although there is often still a powerful belief in some organisations that being at your desk is the only way to be productive. Some very odd research shows that, even where flexible working is encouraged, managers perceive early birds to be more efficient than night-owls, despite no evidence to support it.  

And the future….

From day one, Alpaca adopted an aggressively flexible working policy to try and prove to a sceptical professional workforce that it can be done.  We’ve seen huge improvements in engagement, productivity and general wellbeing. Colleagues waste less time commuting, experience less stress, and have reduced childcare costs. Hey, we even save pennies because we don’t need quite as many desks in our ivory tower. What’s not to love.

In return, businesses like Alpaca can hold onto valuable, committed employees which results in less staff turnover, reduces absenteeism and improves productivity.

We champion a new approach to the demands of the modern workplace – supporting MMB’s “Yorkshire Flex” conference – because we believe that it’s up to all of us to prove that productivity is not tied to a 40 hour desk-based week.