- The UK government is considering a new flexible working policy to address the gender pay gap and support working parents.
- Flexible workspace providers could benefit from the new bill, but argue that it should be up to individual businesses — not the government — to decide.
- Katie Whell (Pure Offices), Giles Fuchs (Office Space in Town) and Richard Smith (Office Freedom) share their thoughts.
A new UK flexible working bill was put to parliament on 16th July 2019 by Conservative MP Helen Whately, who believes that employers should offer flexible working by default. Whately says that all companies should comply unless they have a sound reason not to.
One of the bill’s main objectives is to tackle the gender pay gap, which many argue is exacerbated by a lack of flexible working options — particularly for working mothers.
It is also designed to enable parents to share childcare and help businesses attract and retain staff in a culture where a structured 40-hour week is no longer compatible with many people’s lives.
Types of flexible working options include:
- Compressed hours
- Working from home
- Part-time hours
- Job sharing
Flexible space operators respond to the bill
Katie Whell, Pure Offices’ Managing Director, agrees that the bill is a positive step towards equality and reflects the world we live in. “The working population no longer adheres to the 9 to 5 paradigm; many are working earlier, finishing later or splitting the day to fit around family, hobbies and life commitments,” she explains.
Offering flexible working conditions can also encourage staff loyalty and give businesses a competitive edge — especially if, like many companies today, they find attracting and retaining the best employees a challenge.
“The notion that people’s work and home lives are merging is fast becoming a reality: this needs to be recognised by employers in order for them to retain and attract the talent they need to succeed and grow,” Whell adds.
Giles Fuchs, co-founder of Office Space in Town, suspects that the most forward-thinking companies will offer flexible working if they can, but argues that it should be up to individual businesses — not the government — to decide.
He explains: “To insist that someone should offer flexible working seems the wrong way to go about it. I’m a big believer in small government, not big government — and this definitely feels like the edge of where it should be involved.
“In a free market economy businesses generally find the best way of operating. As such, one would think that enlightened companies who are in a position to be able to offer flexible working conditions do so already because they know that it’ll enable them to attract the best staff.”
Is it viable for the flexible workspace sector?
MP Helen Whately says flexible working should be the default position for all employees, unless employers have a “sound business reason” for having fixed hours. Fuchs also has questions around what constitutes a sound reason.
“More often than not politicians aren’t business people, so it’d be interesting to see how they decide who can and who can’t offer flexibility,” he adds.
Whell acknowledges that for service based industries, offering flexible working as a default isn’t always possible: “We offer flexible working to our employees where we can, but as a customer-facing organisation that operates centres in traditional business hours, we’re a little restricted because we need someone present at our buildings during the day.”
Similarly, Giles acknowledges that it’s not viable to make flexible working a part of employees’ contracts, but as a brand they do their best to meet individual requests.
“If any member of staff comes to us and they have a request that’s reasonable, we’ll give it to them, but offering flexible working as a de facto would be a problem,” he says.
Supporting a flexible working culture
Even if the flexible working bill doesn’t become law, the shift towards workplace flexibility is accelerating. The number of dynamic flexible workspaces, including “managed” solutions for larger businesses, continues to grow and the modern coworking movement is stronger than ever.
“Modern flexible workspaces are already embracing many facets that support a flexible working culture by providing a host of facilities that employees value, such as catered break-out space, creche facilities, pet friendly offices and gyms,” explains Richard Smith, CEO at flexible workspace broker, Office Freedom.
Whell agrees that the widespread awareness of flexible working approaches will only serve to bolster the flexible space industry, leading companies of all shapes and sizes to look for agile CRE solutions.
“Organisations have fewer people working in house at the same time, making it possible for them to downsize to flexible space or offer coworking to individual project teams. With more people working remotely or flexibly, organisations need the ability to contract and expand their office space quickly and this is where flexible space is better than leased space.”
Fuchs thinks that the demand for larger requirements is being driven to a greater extent by “contractual and geographical needs rather than the need to facilitate flexible working”, but acknowledges that the reverse is likely true for startups using coworking spaces.
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