Flexible working must be inclusive to be effective, new CIPD guidance says

Today’s recommendations, published on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, also highlight the importance of manager training and fair recruitment processes

Flexible working practices need to be implemented with inclusivity in mind if they are to work effectively, new guidance from the CIPD has said.

Produced in partnership with the government’s Flexible Working Taskforce, the guidance says employers need to ensure all employees access to flexible arrangements, and that firms need to ensure employees are treated equally regardless of how they work.

“Not everyone will want to, or is able to, work in a hybrid way depending on their particular role and personal circumstances,” it says. “Part of ensuring inclusion and equality in hybrid work is taking into account people’s individual working preferences and personal circumstances.”

It also warned that flexible working can have “unintended consequences” for those not based in the office – for example, missing out on learning and development opportunities – and advised that any hybrid working policies should be kept under ongoing review.

If hybrid working practices are not made inclusive, there may also be fewer promotion and business opportunities for those who prefer to work away from the office.

And because women are more likely to work at home, this could lead to gender imbalances at work, the guidance says.

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The guidance also looks at other areas of flexible working, including how to support line managers in overseeing a flexible or hybrid team; how to adapt recruitment for hybrid working; and how to look after the wellbeing of hybrid or flexible workers.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD and co-chair of the Taskforce, said employees increasingly wanted to have a say in how hybrid working practices are developed. “The pandemic gave us a unique opportunity to rethink the world of work and consider new ways of working that will benefit both organisations and our people,” he said.

“We know there is great appetite from employees to have more say over where and how they work and organisations that provide fair and inclusive hybrid working practices will reap the benefits by attracting and retaining talent and increased wellbeing and engagement which in turn can drive productivity.”

The guidance notes the many positive outcomes of inclusive flexible working practices, including the increased opportunities for workers with disabilities, long-term health conditions, and working carers.

Jane van Zyl, CEO of Working Families, said that as a result of the pandemic, employees now have new expectations from their employers about how they should access flexible working.

“For many parents and carers, greater choice and flexibility over where they work has hugely improved their day-to-day experience and, in many instances, helped them to keep their jobs whilst meeting their caring responsibilities,” she said.

But, she added: “We also need to remember that flexible working is about more than just location: while hybrid working is incredibly positive for some, other employees and roles may be more suited to other forms of flexibility such as flexible hours, part time work or job shares.”

The Taskforce, which was relaunched earlier this year, is a partnership across unions, businesses, and government departments, and aims to improve public policy around flexible working. Members include the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and Working Families.

Today’s guidance, which was published on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, encourages employers to train managers on how to ensure best practice in hybrid working.

Performance management, remote communication and effective collaboration are all aspects of effective flexible working, according to the report. It also noted that managers should address the issue of ‘flexibility stigma’ which had been a common concern for flexible workers prior to the pandemic.

The guidance also advised employers to improve recruitment processes in order to accommodate flexible working practices. This may include giving clear information to candidates, offering the option of a virtual interview, and providing new starters with all the necessary technological equipment.

Anne Francke, CEO of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), said that whilst organisations have adjusted to flexible working due to the pandemic, it is still a challenge for managers to implement effective policies in practice.

“For many managers, introducing hybrid working is uncharted territory… getting it right will mean they have happier, more productive, more loyal teams – and a healthier business – as a result.”