The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a radical shake up of our working lives. According to the Office for National Statistics, by April 2020, half (49%) of the UK workforce was working from home full time instead of travelling to a workplace. Many people have also been working flexible hours to fit around commitments such as home schooling and childcare.
While some have missed the discipline and camaraderie of an office or other work environment, others have discovered that flexi-working suits their lifestyle better – and are keen for this to continue, post-pandemic.
What is flexi-time?
While jobs in some industries have always included flexible working, many jobs follow the traditional pattern of 9am to 5pm, five days a week, with weekends off.
Flexi-time, or flex time, is just what it sounds like: working flexible hours in the day, week or month, instead of employer’s set hours/days.
Although the Covid-19 outbreak has led to increased use of flexi-time, traditionally employees must have worked under an employer’s contract for at least 26 weeks before they can apply to switch to flexible working.
How has Covid-19 affected ideas about flexi-time?
A report conducted for Direct Line Life Insurance* found that 44% of British workers – more than 13 million people – are planning to ask for permanent flexible working arrangements after the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.
The most popular option is working from home two days a week (12%), while 10% like the idea of working from home one day a week and 10% three days a week.
HR directors are apparently preparing themselves for an upswing in requests for home and flexible working, while employers are re-evaluating their policies on flexi-working, taking into account the potential cost savings of reducing their office space.
What are examples of flexi-time?
Flexi-time might mean working the same daily hours but outside the traditional 9am-5pm, or it could mean carrying out a set number of hours a month, split in a variety of ways.
- Splitting the working week between home working and going into the office
- Working flexibly within core hours e.g. carrying out eight hours of work any time between 8am-8pm
- Working longer hours a day over four days instead of five, or fewer hours a day over six days
- Varying hours each day and week but carrying out the same total of hours over the month
What are the benefits of flexi-time?
Some people find that they can achieve more working from home than they can with the distractions of an office environment. Being forced into this situation has shown them – and their employers – that they are able to work effectively from home.
Equally, some people prefer to start and finish early, whereas others are night owls and find they are more productive with a later start and finish to the day.
However, many of the reasons that those surveyed gave for wanting to work flexibly were associated with work/life balance, for example:
- Reducing time commuting
- Spending more time with partner/children/wider family
- Saving money on travel and food and drink
- Reducing exposure to pollution
- Spending more time exercising and becoming healthier
What are the downsides of flexi-time?
As long as the employee completes the work they are mandated to do, there should not be too many downsides to flexible working.
However, some firms may feel that they are unable to monitor home-working employees in the way they would like. Flexi-time can also impact office activities like organising meetings, although technology can be used to mitigate this.
Some jobs are clearly not suited to flexi-time or working from home, for example, a shop assistant needs to be present in the store to serve customers during opening hours.
Where and how we work has a significant impact on our daily lives. Working from home has become the “new norm” and employers are likely to find more employees asking them to consider offering more flexible working patterns moving forward.
*Research conducted by Opinium among a nationally representative sample of 2,002 UK adults between 9-14 April 2020