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Flexible working patterns

Letting employees work where and when they want

In April 2003, parents of children under six years old or disabled children under 18 were given the right to apply for flexible work hours and employers the duty to seriously consider their requests.

This was part of the government's work-life balance scheme, an effort to help parents to balance work and family life. Since then, the scheme has developed year by year with increases in maternity leave and pay, along with the introduction of paid adoption and paternity leave.

Rights and Responsibilities

While the law gives parents a right to request flexibility, it doesn't provide a right to such flexibility and there will naturally be instances where employers cannot accommodate requests, no matter how much they would like to.

Rather, the law opens up the lines of communication between employees and employers and encourages each to consider how flexible working patterns might be of benefit to their situations. Flexible working patterns can involve changing the number of hours employees work, the times when they work and the ability to work from home.

Although the law may seem like a pain in the proverbial to many employers, government backed surveys have revealed how attractive such a work-life balance is to the job hunters who took part.

Almost half of those who took part and eight out of ten with children under 6 years old, indicated that flexible work patterns would be the most desirable benefit of their next job, putting this ahead of traditional benefits like cars and gym memberships and even extra money.

The challenge for business is to weigh up what works for the individual employee against what works for the business. While the introduction of flexible work patterns may lead to a certain amount of reorganisation and challenges when it comes to resource allocation, there is an upside.

A happier workforce is more often than not a more loyal and productive workforce and such schemes have been shown to increase employee motivation and reduce absenteeism, as well as attract a wider range of high quality candidates when recruiting.

Remote Workers - How your Technology Can Help

As these flexible working patterns include working from home, reorganising to accommodate employees needs do not necessarily mean that you will be losing a resource. Disciplined home workers have been shown to be just as productive as their office-bound counterparts, if not more. Plus you don't have to pay for their floor space!

These days technology is focussing more and more on the mobile workforce and as such there are tools galore that can assist you in ensuring your home workers are just as productive as your office staff.

Windows XP's Remote Desktop feature, for example, lets users connect to their office PCs from home and securely access applications and files as if they were sitting at the office. So none of the hassle of having to cart files backwards and forwards between office and home.

The Network Connection Wizard furthermore provides workers with a single tool to connect from any remote location over any type of connection, without requiring any computer configuration. So workers can be up and running in no time at all.

Windows' Encrypting File System then provides workers with security, so that sensitive information is kept safe.

Your remote workers can in addition collaborate seamlessly with their work team using SharePoint, Office XP's pre-built team website and intranet creation package. SharePoint provides workers with an easy to use collaboration environment where they can share files, track projects, arrange meetings and hold online discussions.

Find Out More

Telephone the Acas helpline for advice on flexible working rights on 08457 474747 or visit their website

Find out about flexible working at the DTI website

Find out about working parents rights at the DTI website

Find out about employment rights at Tiger, the DTI's interactive guidance site.

As a small business you can register at Business Link to receive reminders and updates about changes to employment law.

How to manage staff who work flexibly

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