Flexible work arrangements have the potential to change the way your business runs for the better. But do they come at an unforeseen cost?

The 21st Century has brought with it a noticeable amount of changes in the way humans co-exist. We now have everything from touch screens to Kardashians, and there’s no sign that the advancements are slowing down.

One of these changes is the way that people work. Tradition is falling by the wayside in favour of an acknowledgement that different people work differently. Not everyone can squeeze into a specified box. If employees want to be as productive as possible, they might need to ask for a different work structure.

Flexible work arrangements represent a shift in our expectations around a successful day on the job. Maybe we’re more understanding in this day and age. Or maybe we’ve realised that the quality of the work an employee produces is more important than how they get that work done.

Can openness to flexibility increase productivity and office morale in your business?

What is a Flexible Work Arrangement?

A flexible work arrangement can have multiple definitions. It can involve a change in three key areas of how work is typically conducted:

  1. Location
  2. Hours
  3. Patterns

This means that the arrangement you and your staff agree upon could be based on where they work, the times of day they work and/or how long they work in a day.

Agreeing to one or all of these terms with an employee involves both a detailed consideration of legal requirements and a tackling of personal ideas. The law may tell you what you must do to comply, but it doesn’t tell you what you should think about the consequences or benefits of flexible work.

How do you consider flexible work arrangements and do your beliefs align with your staff’s beliefs? If the terms seem unfair to you or your employees, then you need to find common ground.

Balancing Legality With Personal Philosophy

There are certain employees who have a right to flexible work arrangements.

This applies to employees who have worked for you for at least 12 months who: are a parent of a school-aged or younger child, are a carer, have a disability, are 55 and older, are experiencing family or domestic violence or must provide care or support to a family member who is dealing with the latter.

There are specifications for how employees can request flexible work arrangements and guidelines for how soon and in what way you must respond to them. Once this occurs, you have the ability to negotiate terms so that you are both happy with the situation.

Make sure your expectations are clear when you negotiate with staff. This is the best way to avoid conflict.

Allow them and yourself the space to figure out the best process. It might require trial and error, as well as honestly and openly discussing what works or what doesn’t. Be as clear as possible about any goals or tasks that must be completed and the timeline in which they need to be finalised.

Part of ensuring a smooth transition is keeping lines of communication open. Check in with your employee and define how often you’d like them to check in with you beyond the usual email back and forth.

Even if you have the choice to refuse some or all of an employee’s requests, think carefully about the ‘why’ behind your decisions. Change is uncomfortable, but offers the opportunity of fresh possibilities and revitalised morale for one or more of your employees.

Studies have shown that flexible work arrangements can improve job satisfaction and retention. Get to know the law and get to know yourself so that you can determine the best arrangements for your business.

Flexible work arrangements can sew either happiness or discontent in your staff, depending on how you approach the issue. A thorough understanding of the law and your personal philosophy will help you to make decisions that benefit everyone involved.

When you create an environment that is capable of changing to best support your employees, you’ll increase fulfillment and productivity.


Melissa Penn writes for First Class Capital, one of Australia’s most progressive lenders and supporters of small business. She is driven to provide practical, educational information to help small businesses succeed.