How the Flexible Working Bill could affect you

With the Flexible Working Bill now in effect, UK businesses will need to be prepared for a potential deluge of incoming flexible working requests. As such, SME gathered the thoughts of some experts within the future of work space to discuss what the flexible working bill means for businesses and how they can navigate it effectively

Chris Mills, Global Head of Customer Success, Slack

The way we work is continually evolving, and the Flexible Working Bill reflects how employee expectations have also changed in recent years. Our research found that more than half (55%) of UK small business employees are planning to make a new request for flexible working when the new rules come into effect, so business owners need to be ready for the coming deluge.

Flexible work is an important factor in attracting and retaining talent, but it has to work for the business as well. That means being really intentional about how and when teams come together, whether that’s to forge relationships for learning or for more creative tasks like brainstorming that work better in person. It also means being really thoughtful about how you use technology to connect, to make it easy to share and find information, and to automate tasks to free people to focus on higher value work. That last part is an area we will see accelerated by the next chapter for work: AI. And similarly to AI, provided organisations have the right tools and processes in place to create trusted foundations, flexible work is something that can boost productivity for organisations rather than being something to be feared.

Daniel Pell, UKI Country Manager, Workday

The Flexible Working Bill signifies a significant shift for businesses in the UK, granting employees the right to request flexible working arrangements from day one of their employment, and twice a year, instead of once.

To navigate these new rules effectively, businesses will require a deep understanding of their workforce’s needs. To achieve this at scale, companies can leverage real-time analytics which enable them to track requests, assess the impact of flexible initiatives and gauge workforce sentiment. These insights will play an essential role in implementing flexibility in a way that optimises employee satisfaction, retention, and collaboration in today’s competitive marketplace. There may be concerns that this will create added work – but this need not be the case. AI has a potential role to play – for instance, by matching worker availability preferences with business demands, AI can help create transparent, flexible and trusted schedules that work for everyone.

Jack Kennedy, Senior Economist, Indeed UK

With changes to the Flexible Working Bill coming into effect, workers will gain greater autonomy over their working hours and patterns. While employers can still reject requests for flexibility with sufficient reason, the changes are a step in the right path for creating a level playing field for access to flexible work.

For workers suffering from health issues and disabilities, or who left the job market during the pandemic and never returned, a role flexible to their schedule may tempt them back into work. This should help to widen the candidate pool for businesses able to accommodate flexible arrangements for new employees.

Likewise, for businesses under financial constraints and unable to meet pressures to meet salary increases, granting flexible arrangements is a viable alternative. Especially as many workers value flexible working in lieu of pay rises, which can help keep staff happy.

Despite return-to-office calls, jobs offering remote or hybrid work have remained popular since the pandemic, making up 16% of total UK jobs on Indeed and 2.7% of total searches, both close to their pandemic peaks. Staff aren’t willing to budge on flexibility and the changes to the Flexible Working Bill may cement something of a truce between employers and employees. However, with remote and hybrid work here to stay, companies may need to offer arrangements above and beyond what’s set out in the Bill to stay competitive in the fight for candidates.

Nikolaz Foucaud, EMEA Managing Director, Coursera

The flexible working laws coming into effect this weekend are much needed, particularly in the context of the current challenges the UK is facing with inactive workers – many of whom may be able to return to economic activity if given the option of a remote, or flexible, work arrangement from the outset.

In the past few years, work has transformed. However, many businesses that shifted to remote and flexible work in 2020 are regressing back to traditional office-centric 9-5 structures. This feels like a misstep. With the UK economy driven by its services sector, which accounts for 83% of the UK’s total employment and 81% of its economic output, demanding that employees are chained to the office or that they work a typical 9-5 day feels increasingly like an anachronism – one ill-suited to the nature and demands of the contemporary UK labour market.

In a world of remote work and global talent pipelines, if return-to-office mandates are draconian, UK businesses risk losing access to the best people for the job. Flexible work policies should also now be a strong consideration for companies that want to ensure they are attracting and retaining talent such as working mothers, who are statistically more likely to be balancing caregiving responsibilities around their employment. Improving flexible working rights is a crucial component of the drive for workplace equity.

We hope that the new flexible working legislation represents further impetus towards healthier, employee-centric working norms.

Benjamin Swails, Northern Europe General Manager, Pleo

According to our CFO Playbook, a quarter of UK SMEs are looking to reduce business spending in 2024 – and 1 in 5 are exploring reducing pay for remote workers. But before signing off on radical cost-cutting strategies that can have potentially damaging ramifications for employee morale, businesses must first bring clarity to their spending oversight and find the balance between a leaner business and one that still operates a flexible culture.

With the new flexible working bill set to take effect on April 6th, it is clear that businesses will need to skilfully navigate both regulation and employee expectations. At the core of this is trust – providing employees with the flexibility they need to perform effectively while also ensuring financial security.

Pleo’s solutions offer a way to achieve this. For example, using flexible permissions allows businesses to set clear spending limits without stifling autonomy. These tools help to streamline operations and cultivate a culture of accountability – both of which will be key as the workplace continues to evolve.

By decentralising the finance function within appropriate boundaries, businesses can adapt to the changing landscape with confidence, knowing they have the means to foster trust, manage finances and unlock the future of work.

Bukki Adedapo, UK Country Manager, Fiverr

For Generation Z in particular, flexible working is becoming a non-negotiable. According to a recent survey we conducted, ‘flexible work’ was the most common factor influencing UK 16-26 year olds’ decisions about how or where they are choosing to work this year.

Offering the option of working from home is now the bare minimum. In fact, only 22% of Gen Z workers said working from home has a bearing on where they choose to work. What these workers are really looking for are flexible hours, 4 day weeks and the opportunities to work from anywhere in the world. It’s for this reason that nearly 70% of UK 16-26 year olds say they’re planning to work for themselves in the future.

To attract and retain this generation, businesses must be prepared to move away from full time, 9-5 employees and start diversifying their workforce to become more flexible and agile.