Flexible working – the definition and the law


“Flexible working” is a subject we return to frequently on the Velocity Virtual blog, because it’s likely to be key to many entrepreneurs who use the service. But it’s worth taking a step back to consider what it is, and what all companies – not just those who make a point of working “flexibly” – need to be aware of.


For small businesses, the issue is a double-edged sword. On the plus side, one of the main reasons people start their own business is to work how they want, when they want. On the other hand, as a new business, clients and suppliers are likely to expect you to be open during business office hours. In other words, the smaller your workforce is, the more your flexibility is constrained – someone needs to be in to answer the phone.


So what is flexible working? It’s a broad church, covering not only flexitime and working from home but compressed hours, job sharing, phased redundancy and many others. The government, for example, defines the concept as “a way of working that suits an employee’s needs. This can, for example, mean they work certain hours or work from home.”


Microsoft defines flexible working in more results-based terms. According to Dave Coplin, the company’s impressively-titled “chief envisioning officer”: “flexible working…is about being mindful about the work you have to do at that moment in time (be it the next task or the things you need to get done today) and choosing the most appropriate location for that work.”


Both the above definitions are vague, which is probably why the Institute of Leadership and Management claim that 94% of companies already offer flexible working of some sort. For a small firm, there are likely to be two considerations – what hours will you and your colleagues work, and where will they work?


There is no right answer to this, but at a minimum, it’s important to know the law. All employees have a right to request flexible working. Some – including people who care for adults or children, can make a “statutory application” for flexible working. Employers do not have to grant these, but they do have to observe due process.


Furthermore, the government has announced that it intends to look at reforming the law around flexible parental leave, and it’s likely that employers’ responsibilities in this area will change at some point within the next three years. It’s unlikely that this will spell huge, business-critical changes for small firms – but they will need to be aware of it, so as not to fall foul of the law.


So, whether or not you make a point of working flexibly, if you have employees or colleagues, there is a chance that some of them might want to, and it pays to know the legal landscape.


Finally, one of the reasons we have set up Velocity Virtual is to give small companies a greater degree of flexibility than they would otherwise have. VV customers may not start work at 9am, but their outsourced receptionist does. They may not work from an office, but they have an outsourced meeting room that they can use whenever they want. While we are proud of being one of the first to provide this service, there’s a wider point – in years to come we are likely to see a cultural shift towards working in more locations, not just one office. If this happens, “flexible working” may begin to disappear as a phrase – it will become the norm, not just a buzzword.


Posted by the Secret Businessman