Creating and supporting a genuinelyflexible workplace is a smart way to boost creativity, energy and the overall happiness of your employees, while making sure that productivity does not suffer. Here are five best practices to creating a genuinely flexible workplace.
- Understand your legal obligations
Under the Fair Work Act (2009) employees who have worked with the same employer for at least 12 months can request flexible working arrangements if they:
- are the parent, or have responsibility to care for a child who is school aged or younger;
- are a carer (under the Carer Recognition Act 2010);
- have a disability;
- are 55 or older;
- are experiencing family or domestic violence; or
- provide care or support to a member of their household or immediate family who requires care and support because of family or domestic violence.
Employers must grant or refuse a request within 21 days. They may refuse the request only on reasonable business grounds, and those reasons must be described in the response. Remember that employment laws and awards apply to flexible work arrangements just as they apply to more traditional arrangements.
Of course these requirements are the minimum standard. For employers looking to create a flexible workplace, it makes sense to extend flexibility to all employees above and beyond the employer’s legal obligations.
- Put expectations in writing
This is a good idea for the sake of clarity, if nothing else. “Flexibility” can mean a lot of things, from job sharing to working from home, to working later or earlier hours. Both parties should be as explicit as possible about what kind of flexibility is intended.
Then there is also the complex issue of enforceability. An agreement about working conditions should be treated as a formal, enforceable employment contract. It should be negotiated, carefully drafted, memorialised in writing and executed.
- Set a date to evaluate the plan at the outset
Regular feedback and proactive management are particularly important with flexible work situations. It is a good practice to set a date for review of the arrangement at the beginning. Both parties should keep specific notes about what does and does not work smoothly, so that these issues can be discussed when reviewing the arrangement.
If flexibility does not work out for a particular employee or in a particular job category (and sometimes it is the employee who cools on the arrangement) it is best to have a record of reasons for ending the practice.
- Make sure the technology is in place
A laptop on the corner of the dining room table may not be enough to create a workspace away from work. Before the flexible arrangement goes into effect, make sure that all team members are comfortable with whatever technology – Skype, Google Docs, HipChat, or other platforms – are determined to be appropriate to accomplish the tasks at hand.
- What’s good for the goose…
Your employees are going to be very curious about flexible working arrangements. Communicate with them frequently, preferably in a formal way about when and under what circumstances flexible working may be an option. Encourage their input about how well it works, or how to make it work better. The best way to head off any allegations of discriminatory treatment is transparency.
Rolf Howard, Managing Partner, Owen Hodge Lawyers.