In light of the ‘Beast of the East’ hitting the UK last week and causing mayhem for schools, public transport and workplaces who rely on their employees took a dip whilst many stayed home to look after their children, or had no option but to abandon their commute and brave the wilderness. Luckily many employers are sympathetic to the times that sporadic weather phenomenon like this happens, and employees are able to work from home so that they don’t waste their day swearing at traffic (or risking their lives in it) and can look after their children whilst working remotely.
Some employers, however, don’t have to wait for rare moments like these, because they have a flexible and remote working policy for their employees whatever the day, whatever the weather. These work well for people who have to commute far to get to their main place of work; they can leave later and dodge rush hour traffic and leave the office later or be able to do the school run before coming to work. Or if you need to go to the doctor or dentist, you can work from home, go to your appointment and continue working after, without worrying about the travelling in between.
However, there's always been a line between what employers expect from this policy and what employees expect, and the problems come from when these expectations are different. Employers may say ‘flexible hours around business needs’, which is perfectly reasonable for example if you have a meeting in the later afternoon/early evening, so come in later knowing your meeting is later than your usual hours of working. Or, if you have to travel further than usual which takes time, so your time is made up in lieu by leaving work earlier the next day. Or, you have to do overtime to reach a deadline or prepare for a meeting the next day.
But, the problem arises with this when the manager’s style may be different from another; one has a more laid-back approach that means you're trusted to do with your day how you please, as long as you do your hours and reach deadlines (fair enough, that’s your job). Another may be more of a micromanager, meaning they may give you specific times that they want you in the office (the typical nine-to-five) with no regard about how far you travel or childcare, as long as you're in the office at those times. This is a commonly known killer of joy and productivity in the office; historically, workplaces have dictated that 9am to 5pm is what the hours should be, due to manufacturing.
Studies have also been conducted that prove that out of those 8 hours during the nine-to-five, only three to four hours of those are actually productive (depending on the person’s brain function and how they like to work), the other half is procrastination and time wasting. But times have moved on with the use of technology and greater investing in people’s skills — it is gradually being recognised how people’s personalities fit into how they prefer to work (morning person versus night owl etc.), which more forward-thinking employers are noting, and subsequently implementing, in order to create a productive workforce, which works when flexible hours and remote working shakes up the schedule.
If it isn’t made explicitly clear that you have to be in the office for those hours (or even in the office at all) with succinct reasons why it's a business need for you to be there at that specific time, then in my opinion you have the right to exercise the flexible working and remote working policy. Obviously, this is with a conversation that you need to have with your line manager or HR team — you have to be respectful and let them know where you’ll be so that you're available to them to get hold of you when needed.
This rigidity is what the policies are trying to prevent. For example, giving certain times for your staff to be in the office may signify that you're not trusted to be able to work remotely or be in the office doing your allocated hours. But for people who do, say, 37 hours a week, there’s no difference between someone doing 8am to 4.30pm (lunch break included), or someone else doing 10am – 6.30pm, or even someone working from another office or a café or a home doing 9am – 5.30pm.
Perhaps employers are scared of the freedom that flexible hours and remote working bring because of an overall lack of trust within the team. If trust issues can be solved, then you should be free to control your work day, your workload, and still be a top employee.