New Zealand is, in many respects, progressive in its ideas. The adoption of flexible working is a small but interesting example of that.
It has been a few years since the right to request flexible working arrangements was included in the Employment Relations Act 2000. That change was largely intended to facilitate those in the workplace who also had commitments to childcare or as a caregiver.
The benefits to the employee are obvious in those circumstances. However, our experience, working with employers, is that flexible working has been embraced in much more varied and creative ways to the benefit of both employers and staff and is shaping the future of our workforces in New Zealand.
Employers build relationships, loyalty and increase productivity where flexible working is made available and properly managed. We have seen employers allow temporary flexible working in the form of reduced hours as a way to reduce the wage bill during lean months of the year.
We have also seen employers allow reduced hours for an employee to start up a side hustle, carry out voluntary work, and do further study. Those employees are typically engaged and motivated to remain in their role because other aspects of their lives can be accommodated.
Employers are entitled to decline a request for flexible working where it cannot be accommodated for operational reasons. The technology available to most of us at relatively low cost means that ways of working can be accommodated in new ways so that the operations of the employer are not compromised.
It is important that an employer is set up with their employment agreements and policies, such as an expenses policy in place, to manage flexible working and make expectations clear. This framework can be put in place to suit almost any flexible working arrangement.
Allowing flexible work for staff can also lead to a culture of flexibility, so alternative and creative ways can be found to work for clients. A busy individual client needing the services of a lawyer or accountant will get value from an appointment via Facetime during the working day, rather than having to travel to an office. Some clients will value that more than a chic office.
We all need to connect, whether with colleagues or with clients. The value of a face-to-face meeting cannot be underestimated, but that no longer comes with the need to be office-based from eight to five each day.
Those having the benefit of working flexibly arguably have to put in more in terms of personal effort to make connections. This could include making the effort to travel to an office or a client, or to specific events.
Janet Copeland is principal at Copeland Ashcroft Law.