Well, that is it, we have our “freedom date”. No doubt many of us are looking forward to things starting to go back to the old normal in our personal lives. But what about work?

Employees tend to be in one of two camps. They either love working from home and don’t want to go back into the office, or they hate it and simply cannot wait to get back in to work. It shouldn’t be news to you that the majority of employers are adopting a hybrid working system – whereby employees spend some time at home and some time in the office. I have advised dozens of companies looking to implement these types of hybrid working systems, but what are my top tips when looking at your staff working more flexibly?

Number one – Make sure you know the difference between agile working and flexible working. What do I mean? Well, flexible working relates to the formal flexible working requests that employees can make in order to make permanent changes to their working hours, location or pattern. Any employee with at least 26 weeks service can make a flexible working request and one can be made in each 12-month period. Agile working is different; this relates more to the more informal practices that employers may operate – there may be a fixed policy (for example, 60/40 office/home working) but the particular patterns of work may flex week on week. What doesn’t change in agile working is the times of work – it simply tends to relate to where that work is being undertaken.

The more formal flexible working request route is the path to take for employees wishing to make more fundamental and permanent changes to their working patterns. For example, if an employee wanted to work a compressed week (i.e. their full time hours over 4 days instead of 5), this is a change of working hours and, as such, they would need to make a flexible working request in order for you to formally consider the request. Obviously, this doesn’t prevent employer and employee agreeing any such changes, but the flexible working process is the formal mechanism within which these types of changes may be dealt with.

Now, the subtle differences are difficult for us to get our heads around, so you can see how employees can get the wrong end of the stick. This is where your communications around any agile working patterns have to be really clear and you need to make sure you differentiate agile working from anything else. Many employers are hoping that they don’t get a tidal wave of flexible working requests coming through, so be careful with how you illustrate the differences, as you don’t want to highlight the flexible working process too much – but in my experience, educating employees on the difference is imperative.

Number two – be clear, but flexible. You may think that these 2 words are completely juxtaposed. You may be right, but I think you can do both. You have to know the direction the business is going in – what is the party line. There has to be consistency. However, there will always be exemptions to that, which is where you have to be careful. Communicate the business position clearly and simply so all employees can understand. Then don’t be afraid to deal with questions and queries. Information is key. So talking to employees raising issues can often deal with them informally early doors. It also may highlight any employees where you need to take special care, i.e. someone may have a disability which means that they can concentrate more easily at home. So, you may be looking at extra layers for that employee, for example, the duty to make reasonable adjustments. However, if you just bury your head in the sand and hide behind the party line, you are skating on thin ice and may well go crashing through into the icy cold water below!

Number three – Be organised. With employees inevitably working differently, you need to be even more organised than ever, so that you know where your employees are, when are they working, can they be line managed appropriately, do they have the support they need during their working hours, do they have all equipment they need whilst at home, are they prepared for the new rules once coming back into the office – so many questions! You need to keep careful watch centrally over the whole process to ensure nobody slips through the net. The more employees your business has, the harder this job will be, but the more important it becomes. Start small – the first few employees whose changes may be agreed – get them documented and do it as you go – it’s a much less daunting task.

So, for those canny-eyed of you, you will see my top 3 tips can be summarised as knowledge, clarity and plan – sound familiar?!

If you are going through these challenges, I would be interested to know what your experiences have been and/or if you need any assistance, you know where I am.