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It’s official: training managers to run hybrid teams is worth the investment

Our joint project with the CMI shows huge increases in managers’ capability and confidence following hybrid management training. Time to get upskilling.

By Amy Butterworth, Consultancy Director

As Marcus Buckingham notably said, “People leave managers, not companies.” That’s why companies that take retention seriously tend to make sure their managers have the skills they need to lead and support their teams. But it’s fair to say that recent events have created some fundamental new challenges for managers to deal with – and in many cases, the training hasn’t caught up.

Despite the move to remote working during lockdown, and the subsequent shift towards a hybrid model, research from the University of Birmingham found that only 43% of managers had received any training in how to manage hybrid teams. It’s not a stretch to say that this could be why 47% of line managers are finding work more stressful than pre-pandemic. And with many companies now struggling to find the right balance between time spent in and outside the office, having skilled-up line managers is becoming even more critical.

It’s for this reason that we joined forces with our friends at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) to run a three-month project, Making hybrid work for you and your team, exploring what’s happening on the ground with hybrid working, and what difference intensive management training can make. And the results surprised even us.

By Amy Butterworth, Consultancy Director

The year ahead is set to be a big one for working practices. The right to request flexible working from the first day in a new job will come into effect on 6 April – something we’ve long been calling for (and would love to see go further). And there are strong indications that we will see a change of government, to a party whose intentions include extending workers’ rights, closing major employment gaps, and implementing a right to switch off.

Outside of these two big changes, what does 2024 hold? Here are some of the flexible working trends we will be keeping a close eye on this year.

1. Negotiations around time in the office will continue (but WFH is here to stay)

Recent months have seen an intensification of efforts by some employers to increase the amount of time their employees spend in the office. From a top City law firm tracking when employees enter and leave their headquarters, to Nationwide scrapping its ‘work anywhere’ policy, the direction of travel is towards a more structured approach of set days on which employees are expected to be in the building.

However, despite a slew of articles blaming the WFH culture for everything from delaying HS2 to shrinking the car market, few organisations have mandated that their employees must come back full-time. And according to a British Chambers of Commerce and Cisco survey, only one in four companies expect their staff to be in the office full-time in the coming years.

Understandably, employees are keen to retain the home-work balance that they gained following the pandemic; the cost of living crisis has also made people extra keen to limit their commuting costs. And as the protests from Amazon employees over a return-to-office mandate have shown, they are unlikely to give WFH up without a fight.

The Timewise view:

We are firm advocates for the value of in-person time, believing that cohesion and collaboration are improved when team members spend some of their working time together. But we also believe employers need to take steps to ensure they deliver that value, and create a culture in which employees are supported to make both their in-office and remote time count. And that setting an arbitrary number of days that people need to come in, without thinking about what they are coming in for, isn’t the right way to go about it.

The evidence suggests that a degree of WFH is here to stay, and it’s in employers’ interests to accept it; as Clare McCartney from the CIPD has noted, “It’s likely that organisations are going to struggle to attract and keep talent if they want people in the office full-time, five days a week.”

2. New employment measures will force employers to get creative to attract talent

Early 2024 will see new measures introduced which aim to reduce net migration – but will also reduce the pool of people coming from abroad to work.

The policy change means that people coming to the UK on health and care visas will not be able to bring dependents with them (the NHS is not affected). It also increases the minimum salary threshold for employees coming to the UK on a skilled worker visa from £26,200 to £38,700, which will hit sectors including hospitality and manufacturing.

The immigration minister Robert Jenrick has accepted that we “will see a reduction in the number of people coming to work in social care from overseas” and that “we hope and expect [vacancies] will be filled by British workers”. But there are already a large number of economically inactive adults in the UK; last year’s ONS figures put it at around 9 million people, of which 1.7 million said they want a job. So employers in these sectors will need to be more creative if they want to encourage homegrown talent to fill these roles.

The Timewise view:

Flexible working is a powerful talent attraction tool, and the lack of it can make people leave; the CIPD found last year that 4 million people had changed careers due to a lack of flex. And while some of the affected sectors are location-based (and so less compatible with remote working), there are a range of other options.

So, employers who are serious about attracting UK residents back into work would be wise to think outside the box and explore the viability of arrangements such as part-time and compressed hours. We’ve made flex work on construction sites, and have been exploring a range of options with Wickes; creative thinking can make the seemingly impossible possible.

3. Expect more experimentation with the four-day week (mainly in the private sector)

January saw the news that Asda is trialling a four-day working week, as part of a drive to hold on to in-store managers. Asda is one of the biggest organisations to run this kind of trial so far, and is doing so as part of a ‘case for change’ which will also explore shorter shifts and other flexible arrangements.

Interest in the four-day week has grown at pace since the results of a six-month pilot involving 61 companies were published last year. And it’s certainly popular with employees; Gartner research noted that 63% of candidates surveyed ranked it as their top offering, and online bank Atom Bank saw a 500% increase in job applications immediately after announcing it was introducing a four-day week for its 430 staff.

However, there has also been a government backlash towards public-sector organisations who have carried out trials, with South Cambridgeshire District Council (SCDC) ordered to end theirs by the local government minister, and being issued with a ‘best value notice’ when they refused to do so.

The Timewise view:

We’re fully behind the drive to experiment with different flexible working models, and believe pilots are an excellent, lower-risk way to do so. And while we don’t agree with the Gartner analysis that 2024 is the year that the four-day week goes from radical to routine, we hope and expect to see more examples of four-day week trials in the year ahead. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the SCDC pilots (due to finish in March this year), and on whether other public sector organisations take the plunge despite the censure that SCDC received.

These are just three examples of how 2024 is likely to be a year of meaningful change in working practices; and our work to drive that change will continue. We’ve got some exciting projects to share with you, including a listening project supported by Phoenix which will explore part-time experiences.

We’re also increasing our focus on ways of working to support inclusion. One such project involves us working in partnership with Runnymede to research the relationship between flexible working and ethnicity (supported by Impact on Urban Health).

And of course, we’ll be working with more employers and sector groups to design, test and implement sustainable flexible working, both for office-based and frontline employees. How will the flexible working market look by the end of 2024? We can’t wait to see.

Published January 2024


A low angle view of curved modern architecture at 100 Liverpool Street, London, EC2.

Michelmores, an all-services law firm with 450 staff and offices in Exeter, Bristol, London and Cheltenham offers agile working (a combination of working in office and at home) to all staff, where possible in the role. Prior to the pandemic, Michelmores had many individual flexible arrangements and sought to accommodate staff requests when possible.  

During the pandemic, during which almost all of Michelmores’ staff worked from home, HR and the senior partners foresaw that they would need to re-imagine the workplace once the return-to-office started. It was difficult to know what the range of options should be and to anticipate their implications. They wanted support in developing new ways of working and to engage staff in the process. 

Expert views, practical help and future proofing… 

Michelmores came to Timewise looking for an expert view, the wider context of what was happening in the greater labour market and thoughts on how to plan ahead. Colette Stevens, HR Director at Michelmores, says: “Timewise have a real depth of understanding of all the different flexible working options, what the implications would be of pursuing them and a strong commitment to understanding Michelmores’ needs, context and ambitions. Timewise gave us a framework and process within which to explore ideas, challenge thinking and think about different options.” 

Getting to work 

Timewise convened a working group, made up of Michelmores’ Managing Partner Tim Richards, HR Director Colette Stevens and other senior partners. This team developed the firm’s Agile Working framework with Timewise’s input and guidance. Fairness sits as a core principle within this framework: the goal is to provide all employees with the opportunity to balance working from home and in the office, as agreed within their teams. The framework provides a practical structure, as to the ‘how’. By way of guiding values, the group wanted to ensure that: 

  • The office would always be worth coming to. 
  • The firm’s strong cultural cohesion was maintained. 
  • Leadership skills relevant to an agile environment would be developed. 

Team leaders were tasked with helping to identify any underlying issues and collaboratively working through the implications of agile working in detail with their teams. The agreed framework was rolled out for a year-long trial, with regular feedback from staff at all levels.  

Recognising the critical role of managers, Timewise ran bespoke training sessions to help them feel capable and confident in implementing the agile working framework for their teams. Timewise then worked closely with the project team to facilitate follow up review sessions a few months into the trial, for managers to share good practice, seek support and ask questions. 

Real impact 

The agile working approach adopted by Michelmores has been a great success, with over 80% of staff expressing satisfaction with how they can work, giving them greater choice and freedom. Set this against the wider context of the pandemic’s impact upon the legal profession. A 2021 study by Gartner of 202 corporate lawyers found 68% were ready to start looking for a new job.  

Michelmores prides itself upon enhanced talent attraction. It now offers a more flexible approach than many other law firms, and this is having an impact on its reputation as a great employer. As one recent joiner comments: “The flexibility offered was a huge factor in my decision to join Michelmores. My previous firm wanted fixed three days in the office, and my commute is long.”

It has also created the opportunity to attract candidates from a wider geographical area than before. Another new joiner says: “…being sure agile worked in practice was my first question. It meant I could join and not have to relocate.”

Michelmores continues to monitor and evolve its agile working approach, including understanding the impact on new joiners such as these and developing induction and onboarding processes to suit new ways of working. Valuing the different office sites and bringing people together in person continue to be important for the organisation as it grows. Working in an agile way encourages teams to use office time more intentionally and the Michelmores agile working approach, with the flexibility that it brings, is now firmly part of the organisational culture. 

Colette Stevens, HR Director of Michelmores, summarises: “Timewise really listened to what we were grappling with and what was important for us.  They helped us co-curate our approach to agile working and differentiate what we can offer the market.” 

Published January 2024

By Amy Butterworth, Head of Consultancy, Timewise

It’s no secret that retail is a tough nut to crack when it comes to flexible working. The industry is the UK’s largest private sector employer, with around 5 million people in its workforce. But while some roles, such as sales assistants and head office staff, tend to allow for some part-time and flexible working, there’s a real lack of these opportunities within retail management. And that, in turn, is having a knock-on effect on companies’ ability to attract and keep staff.

So it’s pretty big news that Wickes, the home improvement retailer, is committing to making all roles open to flexible working, from the point of hire. What’s driving this decision? And how can they be so sure that it’s the right one? The answer – because they are passionate about creating a workplace culture where all colleagues can feel at home and thrive and because they’ve worked with us to explore the art of the possible and test it out.

Piloting a new approach for in-store managers

While Wickes have had real success in making entry-level in-store roles more flexible, they had become aware that access to flexible management roles was very limited, and that their managers were finding it challenging to fit their responsibilities into their allocated hours. So before approaching us for support, they did some digging to try and find out why.

The process saw them interrogate the responsibilities of three management roles: store managers, operations managers and duty managers. This revealed occasional confusion about who should be doing what, which in turn was limiting the managers’ efficiency and effectiveness. It also highlighted that some managers felt a responsibility to be in-store that didn’t necessarily match service needs.

Mark Reynolds is Store Manager of Wickes in Tottenham. He says:

“Before the trial I was probably doing five long days in store. I remember having my review. I’d just won Store Manger of the Year. But my home life wasn’t great. My daughter was 3.5 and my other was newborn.”

“I’m a self-confessed workaholic, and put in all the hours I can. But I had started to realise that a change was needed. I wasn’t getting any time at home with my wife. She was getting no support from me. And I had started to drift from my friends, who always get together at weekends (when I used always to be working).”

Tanya Tozer works in the Worksop store. She has 3 children – all girls, aged 5, 9 and 12. Her middle daughter, Ava-May, has a rare genetic condition called De Grouchy syndrome which requires a lot of support at home. She says: “I didn’t think I needed to change my working pattern, but on reflection, I needed the respite more than I let on, more probably than even I realised I needed it. I had been struggling with my mental health.”

So, building on our many years of experience, we worked with the Wickes team to design, trial and evaluate a six-month pilot across 14 Wickes stores. This saw us supporting the managers to redesign their working patterns, with some opting to work four longer days in-store, and others flexing their hours across the week in a way that suited their lives.

They also kept a reflective diary to track their working hours, and identify why they might be working more than they should. And they were supported by us, and each other, with monthly feedback and learning calls.

The importance of ‘playing in position’ and other key learnings

As always with our pilots, we put in place a robust system of tracking and evaluation so we could really understand what worked and why. From this, we gained some valuable learnings, including:

  • The importance of trust, open communication, and taking a team-based approach to rota design – so that changes made by one team member weren’t at the expense of others
  • The need for managers to improve their self-discipline – in terms of ringfencing time off, letting go and delegating effectively
  • The value of being open-minded about flexible working patterns, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach – so they could be adapted to suit different individuals and teams

The pilot also busted the long-held myth that managers need to be on-site at all hours, and highlighted the fact that when managers step back, they create space for their junior colleagues to step up.

There was no negative impact on store performance or KPIs, and the feedback we received from the pilot participants speaks for itself; 96.5% of store managers were either ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their work-life balance at the end of the pilot (up from 66.5% pre-pilot).

How the changes Wickes has piloted are changing lives

But perhaps the best way to demonstrate the impact of the pilot is to hear from the people involved.

Tanya says the change to her working pattern, has changed her life: “Now, I can go to the gym, I can do some crafting. I have always had Tuesdays off, as these tend to be hospital days. But having Fridays off is really making a difference in my life. The girls are in school. It is my day for me.”

And it has also helped her team: “I think it’s had a really positive impact on the team. It has helped everyone feel more accountable. I’ve had to strengthen some of my weaker areas; build in more planning and more structure. I’ve also had to delegate more and it has been great to see the team step up to the challenge and grow.”

And here’s Mark again, on how this different way of working has affected him personally:

“At first, I felt a lot of guilt and responsibility. But gradually I realised – it was just about setting a new norm. Getting the processes in place was not easy, but once you get there – it’s a different way to live and work. A better one. I’ve developed a new phrase: happy home life, happy work life. I am a happier me.”

He’s also clear about the effect he believes it will have on the future of Wickes, and the retail industry as a whole:

“We have a WhatsApp group called Trailblazers – we all believe we are part of shaping the next generation. We feel part of something special. At the moment I am looking at ways to retain colleagues who are mothers, and possibly help them onto the management track. Make one small change and a thousand more will follow… people will stay and build their careers as their lives change. I don’t see any negatives whatsoever.”

“What’s the right thing to do?”

Unsurprisingly, given the pilot’s success, Wickes are now rolling it out across all stores to more roles, those of duty manager and operations manager. They’re doing so as part of our wider Flexible Working for All action research programme, supported by Impact on Urban Health, with Guys’ and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and Sir Robert McAlpine also taking part, which aims to show the impact of embedding good quality flexible working for all on both employees and organisations.

And as Louise Tait, Wickes’ Head of HR, OD and Talent noted when she appeared as a panellist at a Timewise webinar, there’s a hope within Wickes that the retail industry will have a mindset shift and start asking “What’s the right thing to do” when it comes to offering flexible working. With this kind of evidence of the power of flex to change companies’ cultures and people’s lives, why wouldn’t they?

Published January 2024

By Clare McNeil, Director, Timewise Innovation Unit

The explosion in flexible working as a result of the pandemic – particularly in its home and hybrid working forms – had a clear impact on the number of flexibly advertised jobs. After creeping up by a percent or two each year from our first Flexible Jobs Index in 2015, just 15% of roles were advertised with flexible options in 2019. By 2022, that number had doubled to 30%.

It’s therefore disappointing to see from this year’s Index that this rate of growth has dramatically slowed. Our research indicates that 31% of job adverts now overtly offer some form of flexible working; a negligible change from the previous year, and a big drop from the kind of increases we’ve got used to. And even the growth in the number of home and hybrid working jobs that are advertised as flexible – which went up 9% between 2019 and 2022 – has stalled.

So does this mean that we’ve hit a peak in the proportion of jobs that are advertised as flexible? Is this it? We’re clear that it mustn’t be.

Employers need to offer flexible working, and employees continue to demand it

The fact is, the need and demand for flexible working are as strong as ever. Although the vacancy peak of 2022 is slowing, economic growth continues to be held back by a tight labour market, and in many sectors, including healthcare, education and hospitality, staff shortages are at critical levels. Given that 9 in 10 people want to work flexibly, and 4 million UK employees have changed careers due to a lack of flexibility at work, it seems hugely short-sighted that employers are failing to use flexible working to attract new staff.

It’s not just about getting employees in, either; flexible working has a huge part to play in creating strong, healthy workplaces in which people stay, and thrive. It’s been shown to improve health and wellbeing, increase inclusion for key groups (including parents, carers and people with health issues), reduce absenteeism and even boost productivity. What’s more, our research has indicated that the changes required to offer flexible working can pay for themselves in just a few years, through reduced sickness absence and improved staff retention.

All of which makes it surprising that more companies aren’t including flexible working in their talent toolkits. And with new legislation due to be introduced in spring 2024, which gives people the right to request flexible working from day one in a new job, it really is time for employers to get off the fence and start proactively offering it to new employees at the point of hire.

How employers and policymakers can help increase the pace of change

So how can we get back to a position where the number of flexibly advertised jobs is increasing at a more promising rate? Our Flexible Jobs Index sets out a number of actions that employers and policymakers can take, including:

  • Getting ready for the new legislation

    It’s happening, whether employers like it or not. But as well as being a legal requirement, it also presents an opportunity for employers to shift their approach, so that rather than just being willing to respond to requests for flexible working, they are ready to offer it proactively.

    Doing this well will involve a number of changes; for example, leaders will need to equip line managers to have flexible working conversations with candidates, and HR teams will need to review and refresh a swathe of policies and processes. We offer training that can support this; we’ve also set out seven steps to help employers prepare for the new legislation here.
  • Getting clear on what kinds of flexibility are possible

    Part-time and hybrid are the most-offered flexible working arrangements, each appearing in 12% of job adverts in 2023. But there are many other ways to work flexibly which are even less commonly advertised. For example, only 4% of job ads offer flexible times of work; an arrangement that is relatively simple to facilitate, and which can allow some employees to balance their work and life.

    So employers who want to attract a wider pool of candidates should explore the whole range of options, decide which they can offer, and then advertise them proactively. It’s also worth articulating them as clearly as possible; our research has shown that candidates can be mistrustful of vague phrases like ‘Open to flexible working’, preferring to understand what specific options might be available.
  • Taking a sector-wide approach

    There are pockets of good flexible hiring practice all over the UK, but they’re often not shared or replicated, which inevitably limits their impact. The best way to scale up innovation is to take a sector-led approach, so we are calling on the Department for Business and Trade to task the UK’s current network of Sector Skills Councils with promoting advice and guidance to employers on flexible working and job design.

    We know first-hand the impact that it can have when you tackle flexible working at this level, having carried out innovative pilots and research across sectors including construction, retail, health and social care.

These changes, and the others recommended in our report, could reboot the growth in flexibly advertised jobs, and get us back on the path towards a flourishing economy, powered by a healthier, more equal workforce. Let’s not lose the momentum that we gained during and after the pandemic; we need to keep moving forwards, and we need to start now.

Published November 2023

By Claire Campbell, CEO

The decision by South Cambridgeshire District Council (SCDC) to trial a four-day working week during 2023, and to extend it to include refuse workers, has created a flurry of comment – not all of it positive. Critics including the TaxPayers’ Alliance have blasted it as “simply unacceptable”, and the local government minister, Lee Rowley, backed by Michael Gove, has asked the council to “end your experiment immediately.”

So, are they right? Unsurprisingly, we don’t think so.

As we’ve noted previously the four-day working week is a hot topic in the flexible working sphere. 4-Day Week Global’s six-month UK pilot involved 61 companies, and produced encouraging results. And we know from our discussions that other organisations, including other councils, have been considering their own trials.

However, the media attention SCDC have received is likely to make some organisations wary of following suit. And that’s a shame, not least because what makes their pilot particularly interesting to those of us with a social agenda as well as a business one, is that it involves frontline employees – a group who have been largely left out of the remote working revolution, and are at risk of becoming ‘flex have-nots’ as a result.

Pilots are a low-risk way to innovate, with potentially big gains

What some of the more negative commentators appear to be missing is that SCDC aren’t just implementing this way of working on a whim; they’re piloting it and assessing the results before deciding whether to take it further.

The data from the initial trial, which involved 450 mainly desk-based workers, indicated that there are concrete benefits to be had, such as recruiting into hard-to-fill roles and reducing agency worker spend (by around £550,000 at September this year). And it is only after evaluating this data, which was independently reviewed, that SCDC decided to expand it.

And that, surely, is the point of a pilot. It allows you to take an innovative concept – which reducing people’s working hours with no change in pay certainly is – and test what works, and what doesn’t, on a small scale. As a result, you can keep the good stuff, fix any flaws, and generally refine your plans before rolling them out more widely.

It’s certainly a model we believe in here at Timewise; our Innovation Unit has carried out pilots in a range of sectors including construction, nursing, retail and teaching. And we have also shown that the changes required to make flexible working more widely available can pay for themselves in just a few years, through reduced sickness absence and improved staff retention.

Pilots can also reveal unexpected benefits – for businesses and for society

Additionally, while some outcomes might be expected – such as a four-day working week boosting retention – pilots can also reveal less predictable benefits.

For example, an employment services provider we have spoken to has found that neurodiverse jobseekers are much more comfortable coming into the office for interviews on Mondays and Fridays, when only half the staff team are in, and the office is quieter. And a retailer we have worked with, who is trialling a four-day week, has watched their deputy managers step up and develop confidence and skills on the days they are solely responsible for the store, strengthening their succession pipeline.

It’s not just the businesses who are experiencing these unexpected benefits, either. Flexible working pilots have revealed a range of positive societal outcomes, from older employees using their extra time off to look after their grandchildren, and parents enjoying admin-free quality time at the weekends, to millennials using their fifth weekday to volunteer at, or set up, community projects.

A pilot’s impact can therefore stretch way beyond the organisation to the community, in ways that may not have been factored in from the beginning, but are likely to continue once it’s over.

Let’s not cancel innovative pilots – let’s do more of them

For all of these reasons, we believe that well-researched, well-scoped pilots are a vital tool for those of us who want to change workplaces for the better. So we’ll continue to widen access to flexible options by trialling new ways of working, and sharing what we’ve learned so that others can benefit.

And we’ll keep championing those organisations who have the vision to explore, test and refine innovative solutions to their workforce challenges – and are willing to speak up and widen the debate.

Published November 2023

Healthcare professionals, blurred, in a hospital corridor

By Melissa Buntine, Principal Consultant, Timewise

The launch of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan is a hugely welcome development. The staffing crisis has been an ongoing issue within the service, with the RCN seeking legislation to protect safe staffing levels as far back as 2017. And in the intervening years, organisations within and outside the medical sphere – including Parliament’s cross-party Health and Social Care Committee – have warned that the number of unfilled posts (currently standing at 112,000) is a risk to patient safety.

The NHS took a big step towards tackling the problem with the publication of its People Plan 2020/21, which recognised the importance of flexible working as an attraction and retention tool, and committed to encouraging its employers to offer it from day one. And here at Timewise, we’ve also been focusing on this issue, working with 93 English NHS organisations last year on the Flex for the Future programme, to support the transition to more flexible working practices.

So we’re delighted that the Workforce Plan puts flexible working in the NHS at the heart of its measures, and recognises the impact it can have on staff shortages.  But we also know that it will take a concerted effort to bring these commitments to life.

The plan’s commitment to “highlighting the flexibility and autonomy that NHS staff enjoy” is hugely positive, but making sure that this flexibility is fit for purpose is something else entirely. And while the People Plan’s day one flex commitment put the NHS ahead of the flexible working curve, the new legislation that makes this a UK-wide right softens that edge – and increases the likelihood of potential employees finding better-paid flexible opportunities elsewhere.

The NHS therefore needs to not just offer and highlight flexible working, but to champion it, from top to bottom, and make sure it works in practice. Here are four actions that the service could take to make this a reality.

1. Be more proactive about designing part-time and flexible roles

As in many organisations, there’s a tendency within the NHS to wait until people are about to leave, panic, then try to work out how to persuade them to stay. Flexible working is a brilliant retention tool – but instead of waiting until people have had enough, it makes more sense to offer it proactively, and to work with each individual to explore what kind of flexible working matches their needs.

We know from experience that there’s a real lack of confidence within the service about flexible job design, but it isn’t rocket science; at its core, it involves looking at when, where and how much people want or need to work, and designing the job to match. We can help.

2. Offer alternatives to the 12.5-hour shift norm

Again, as in many longstanding organisations, there’s a feeling across the NHS of “It’s always been done this way… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The length of a standard shift – a back-breaking 12.5 hours – is a perfect example of something that could merit a fresh look.

Leaders need to have the confidence to challenge this norm, and explore whether other alternatives could also work. Would it be possible to offer 6-hour shifts instead, which might be easier for people who are juggling family or caring responsibilities, or with health conditions? What would be the impact on staffing levels if they did?

3. Embrace self-rostering to give staff a say in when they work

The NHS has a high proportion of frontline staff, who work on a 24/7 shift pattern. Historically, these employees have had shifts imposed on them, and have needed to be available at any time, which is not helpful for anyone’s work-life balance. But thanks to developments in technology, it’s now possible to build rosters which take people’s preferences about when they do and don’t work into account.

We’ve previously piloted a team-based approach to rostering within nursing, using our ‘shift-life balance’ model, and found that it increased the feeling that work-life preferences were being met (from 39% to 51%), and improved the sense of a strong collective responsibility (from 16% to 36%). Both of which, clearly, are key to creating an environment in which people want to stay.

And right now, we’re working with several clients, including UCLH and Guys & St Thomas’, to introduce a self-rostering model. This allows team members to input their preferences into a roster, with ward managers then making final decisions to ensure safe staffing levels and the right skills mix. It’s a win-win, with staff really valuing the chance to have some input, and managers finding it can make the roster building and approval process much more efficient.

4. Make sure that all training can be done flexibly

The plan rightly places a big emphasis on training, both in terms of growing and upskilling the workforce. But in both cases, this training needs to be delivered in a way that is accessible to those who need to work flexibly. Otherwise, key groups who need flexibility to work – including, but not restricted to, parents, carers and those with health conditions – will fall behind their peers and potentially fall out of the workforce, or be prevented from joining it in the first place.

These changes won’t happen overnight – so the work needs to start now

Clearly, changes like these take time to implement – and they won’t happen without board-level buy-in. So the NHS needs its leaders to step up now, and lead from the top, driving the behaviour change that the service needs, and even incorporating flexibility around ways of working as a design principle for their services. Professor Joe Harrison and his leadership team at Milton Keynes University Hospital are great examples of what can be achieved when leaders are vocal about the benefits of flexible working within the NHS.

It also needs to make sure that managers and HR teams have the skills they need to design and implement flexible roles. That means teaching them about the benefits of flexible working for the organisation and its staff; upskilling them in flexible job design; and training them in how to manage flexible teams. Our Flex for the Future programme set out how this can be done.

And finally, for all these recommendations to really take hold, they need to be applied across NHS systems, rather than on a trust-by-trust basis. We’re currently working with three systems –Lincolnshire, Kent & Medway, and Hampshire & the Isle of Wight – and are already seeing the value of bringing together the different parts of a local health and care system to collaborate on strategy, resources and learning. Implementing flexible working across the NHS in this way could be transformational.

And a transformational approach is what’s needed; as the Workforce Plan acknowledges, “Inaction in the face of demographic change is forecast to leave us with a shortfall of between 260,000 and 360,000 staff by 2036/37.” Patient safety is already at risk with today’s shortfall, and we can’t afford to let it get worse. The plan is an important step in the right direction; now let’s act on it.

Published October 2023


New legislation giving employees the right to request flexible working from the first day in a new job (informally known as Day One Flex) will be in place from next year. It is a sign of huge progress for those of us who have long championed flexible working, and is set to shake up HR practices across the jobs market.

However, it’s important to reflect that the legislation is in some ways just the start of the journey. The changes it ushers in will be made tangible by the way that employers respond. And it’s becoming clear from conversations we’re having that many employers – and particularly those with frontline employees – feel they will need more support to both implement these changes and access their potential benefits.

With this in mind, we hosted a Timewise expert panel discussion to explore the Day One Flex questions that many employers are currently asking. Our speakers were:

  • Kevin Hollinrake MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business and Trade (Minister for Enterprise, Markets and Small Business)
  • Dr Anne Sammon, Partner at Pinsent Masons
  • Louise Tait, Head of HR, OD and Talent at Wickes
  • Steve Collinson, Chief HR Officer at Zurich UK

Over 200 people attended the webinar, and before we began we sense-checked their views by asking two questions:

  • Do you feel your organisation is ready for Day One Flex?
    Yes:  41%
    No: 20%
    Maybe: 39%
  • What do you intend to do about the legislation?
    We want to actively go above and beyond: 45%
    We want to be compliant – nothing more: 18%
    Not sure – somewhere between the two: 37%


The session began with an address from Minister Hollinrake. He began by saying his 30 years of experience as an employer before becoming an MP have led him to believe that having good relationships with employees, as well as open dialogue and a considerate approach to the rest of their lives, is good for workplaces and so for employers.

He also noted that flexible working is a high priority for people who are thinking of returning to the workforce, and that with 8.7 million people of working age currently economically inactive, and business representatives desperate for skills and labour, increasing access to flexible working is a key focus of his department.

As he clarified, the change is a right to request, not a right to insist; and it is important to consider the needs of businesses and customers as well as of individuals. But the expectation is that an extra 2.2 million people will be brought into the scope of the legislation, which is an extremely positive development in today’s tight labour market.

A key aim of the legislation is to promote conversations between employers and employees, and other changes being introduced at the same time will improve this process. For example, making the employer responsible for consulting on the request before rejecting it will create space for a conversation about alternatives to take place.

Similarly, allowing two requests in a year instead of one, reducing the timescale for employers to respond to the request from three to two months, and removing the requirement for employees to set out the potential impact of their request, should all make the process easier to navigate.

Employers do still have the right to refuse a Day One Flex request. But the legislation prioritises quality conversation and consideration and aims to make the process fairer and to support best practice.

A lawyer’s view

Dr Anne Sammon, a partner at Pinsent Masons, has many years of experience working with employers on the existing legislation in this area. She explored what the changes will mean in practice, and what employers should be thinking about.

Moving the right to request from 26 weeks to the first day in a new job is good for employees for many reasons. For example, in practice, candidates who are currently working flexibly may feel nervous about having to wait for 26 weeks into a new job to find out whether they will get the flexibility they want or need, and worry that putting in a request may disadvantage them.

It also brings clarity to employers; for example, with regard to issues around indirect discrimination. For example, not considering a request for flexible working from a working mother could count as indirect discrimination; so this legislation, with its requirement that the request is considered, could avoid issues of that kind.

A big change for employers will be the reduction in the time they can take to consider a request. Employers will need to look at how long their current processes are taking, and see whether this may cause any issues once the period is shortened from three months to two. It is possible for both parties to agree to a longer consideration period, but employers must make sure they are not pressuring employees to agree to one.

It’s also worth remembering that the quality of the reason for refusing a request can make a real difference. If an employee feels that the rationale they are given is fair, they are less likely to appeal. So the hope is that the new legislation will encourage employers to explain carefully why the request doesn’t work for the business, and engage with the issues at the heart of the request. Clarity and transparency will be vital.

Finally, while the legislation allows for two requests in a year, employers should be aiming to have conversations that balance the employee’s needs with those of the business, so they can find a compromise that works for both and avoids repeated requests.

A frontline view

Louise Tait leads an HR team which has spent the last few years working out what flexible working means at Wickes, and how it can be adapted for frontline employees. She believes the changes in legislation are welcome, but noted that challenges remain in terms of how to enable line managers to have better, open and transparent conversations about flexible working outside of a formal process, and to work out how to provide flexible options for all workers, including those on the frontline.

The majority of Wickes’ 8000 employees are in operational warehouse roles or customer-facing ones. The labour market within retail is highly competitive, and this has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with many women and people aged over 50 leaving the sector. Additionally, while 40% of Wickes’ employees are women, and 40% work part-time, these numbers drop significantly as people move through the leadership layers. So flexible working is seen to be a key way to attract, retain and progress talent across the organisation.

Having successfully adopted flexible working for office workers, Wickes have been working with Timewise to explore how to implement it for store leadership teams, and are currently embarking on a new approach within distribution centres. These experiences have provided four key learnings:

  • Change mindsets for flexible working from traditional to modern. Although Wickes already had a clear diversity and inclusion strategy, of which flexible working was a key component, there was still work to do to get line managers to think about the art of the possible, and recognise that flexible working can be for everyone, not just mothers.

    This required open and honest conversations about people’s fears and challenges. For example, Wickes used their annual manager conference, attended by 500 leaders, to ask: ‘If flexible working was going to be in place for all staff from tomorrow, what would you need to do to make that happen?’ This prompted some excellent, open conversations about thinking very differently.
  • Define what flexible working really means for your organisation. It’s easy for line managers to connect with rational arguments about flexible working, but that doesn’t always help them work out what it means in practice, or encourage them to say yes rather than no.

    Wickes therefore established a clear set of principles that described what flexible working means for them – and also what it doesn’t mean. This involved a lengthy discussion at team leader and executive level to ensure that everyone was aligned.

    The definition included an understanding that Wickes could not have a one-size-fits-all solution, because different approaches are needed at a functional business unit level. It also gave senior leaders decision-making autonomy, allowing them to make decisions based on the needs of the business, their function and the individual.
  • Listen, pilot and measure (and then listen, pilot and measure again). This stopped line managers from making assumptions about what their colleagues would value from flexible working, helped them identify potential problems and gave them the confidence that it would work.

    For example, for distribution colleagues, flexibility meant having fixed shifts to help them plan more effectively, with half-hour breaks between morning and afternoon shifts so that colleagues who share care of their children could hand over to each other.

    Similarly, piloting flexible options showed that there was work to do regarding job design and routines for store managers, and that operations managers who report into store managers would need much more training. None of these would have been identified without listening to staff.

    And measuring the impact of the pilots revealed that they had no downside effects on productivity or business performance. In fact, they boosted employee engagement and also raised line managers’ confidence that they could put these measures in place and still get the balance right between the needs of the business and individuals.
  • Create tools and toolkits for line managers to help them have good conversations and make good decisions. These included clear principles, guidelines, and examples of great flexible working, flexible hiring and wellbeing conversations, as well as practical tools to help them access the right tech and make changes to routines in stores.

Aside from the obvious and proven business case, the pilot has thrown up powerful stories from colleagues who took part about the benefits that being able to work flexibly have had on their personal lives.

You can read more about how Timewise is supporting Wickes on their journey here.

A finance sector view

Zurich is known within the flexible sphere for taking a new approach to flexible hiring with transformative results. They support the new legislation around Day One Flex, but have already started having these conversations earlier in the hiring process. Steve Collinson, their UK Chief HR Officer, shared his experiences of increasing access to flexible working and hiring.

In 2017, the company was approached by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) via the Cabinet Office, to explore whether a lack of access to specific flexible options was holding women back in their careers and contributing to the gender pay gap. The work involved using nudge psychology to deploy interventions derived from data, and then track the impact of these over time.

Using their own data, and working with psychologists and statisticians, Zurich created a hypothesis that a lack of consistent, explicit access to part-time and job share opportunities meant that fewer women were applying for promotions, or to join the firm, than might otherwise be the case.

BIT responded by asking them to switch their default to advertising all roles (internal and external) on a part-time, job share or full-time with flexibility basis, with the theory being that this would widen the pool of applicants. And the results speak for themselves: since switching their default advertising position:

  • The number of applicants to each Zurich vacancy more or less doubled
  • There was a 95% year-on-year increase in female part-time workers hired at Zurich in 2022
  • The number of part-time hires has increased fivefold since 2019
  • Around 45% more women were hired into senior roles in 2022 compared to 2019, and the number of part-time male workers tripled over the same period
  • And overall five times more female part-time workers were hired in 2022 than in 2019

The changes meant that Zurich reached a talent pool that they hadn’t previously been able to appeal to; they also discovered that people were starting to apply to them because their approach to flexibility gave a positive insight into their culture. Additionally, their gender pay gap has been reduced by 10% and they were placed in Glassdoor’s top 50 places to work in the UK.

Steve concluded by sharing four things to think about:

  • Listen to what your employees tell you they need, rather than focusing on what you think they need
  • Stop making it about cost – if people really are your greatest asset, prove it
  • Trust and open conversations are key
  • And when it comes to flexible working: if not now, when?

A few final questions and answers

We ended the session by asking attendees to reflect on what they’d heard and how it would affect their approach going forwards:

  • 64% thought managers would need training and guidance to get ready for Day One Flex
  • 70% say they would need to change their hiring practices

Our panel then answered the following questions raised during the session:

Are you able to give us any more detail on when the legislation is likely to take effect?
Minister Hollinrake replied that the legislation should take full effect in 2024. This takes into account the parliamentary process that it needs to go through to become law, and also gives businesses time to prepare.

When you talk about ‘Day One Flex’, what exactly does that mean?
In terms of an official definition, the Minister noted that his department is drafting guidance to set this out clearly, and will be able to share this in the weeks ahead. And Anne agreed that having a specific definition of what Day One Flex means will be absolutely critical.

What would you like to see this legislation deliver for businesses and employees across the UK?
Anne referenced the hope that it will provide employers with the opportunity to move beyond the Day One right and look at building conversations about flexible working into the recruitment process. This will in turn help employers market themselves as flexible and allow candidates to be open and transparent during the interviews.

Steve agreed, explaining that at Zurich managers are encouraged to have conversations about flexible working during the hiring process, so there are no surprises later on. He believes that the legislation will create an expectation that employers will have a more open mindset, and that when they are able to be explicit about being open to a conversation before an employee joins the company, it will benefit everyone.

Louise noted that Wickes’ line managers are also encouraged to have these conversations at the point of hire. She hopes that, going forward, employers will shift their mindset further than the remit of the legislation and instead ask ‘What’s the right thing to do’ in terms of having conversations as early as possible.

Minister Hollinrake concluded by noting that work has changed dramatically from the old 9-5 model, and that the culture of work needs to change accordingly. There is a lot of talent locked up in people who can’t follow a traditional working pattern, and employers should not lock them out of their workplaces.

All members of the panel agreed that this is the future of the world of work, and that we are all on the change journey together.

Next steps for employers
If this panel discussion has raised questions about how your organisation will implement the new legislation, or inspired you to start thinking about offering flexible working even before Day One, we can help. You can find out more about the support we can provide on our website, including a diagnostic review of your readiness for the legislation, training for your HR teams and line managers, and an introduction to our team at Timewise Jobs, who are experts on flexible hiring.

Watch the Timewise Day One Flex webinar below:

Published June 2023

By Nicola Smith, Interim CEO, Timewise

Are you ready for ‘Day One Flex’? It’s likely that the right to ask for flexible working from the first day in a new role, which is included in Yasmin Qureshi MP’s Private Member’s Bill, will be on the statute books by the autumn, with a start date of early 2024. So the clock is already ticking for employers, and it’s certainly not too soon to start making plans.

Like most people in the flexible working sphere, we’re really encouraged about the changes this legislation will usher in (though, as we have said previously, we do hope that it’s just the start). And we believe that business leaders who see it as an opportunity, and are proactive about doing it well, will reap clear rewards, from attracting and keeping a diverse group of talented people, to boosting their employer brand.

But it’s important to recognise that being ready for Day One Flex is not just a case of tweaking your HR policies or being willing to listen to people’s requests. It will take some time, thought and planning to get right; and in a tight labour market with widespread skills shortages, that’s more important than ever.

Here are seven steps you can take to kickstart your planning and get on the right track for when Day One Flex becomes law.

1. Start by getting clear on the flexibility you can support. There really is no one-size-fits-all for flexible working, so you need to think through what kind of arrangements your organisation will be able to offer and maintain. If you’re not sure how to approach this, our four-step Flex Positive programme could help.

An important part of this process will be exploring what flexibility is already going on within your organisation – and what other options your staff would like to see. This could include surveying your staff body about existing arrangements, and asking managers to share what they think would and wouldn’t work.

This will not only allow you to build a set of parameters that could work for each team, but also give you time to work with any leaders who are intrinsically suspicious of flexible working. Remember, many successful flexible working arrangements are agreed informally between managers and their teams, and are no less valuable than more formal arrangements.

2. Make sure your hiring managers are equipped to answer candidates’ questions. This means thinking in advance about the different ways that flexibility could be incorporated into the roles they manage. To help them do this well, you may want to consider upskilling them in the principles of flexible job design, so they have a core understanding of what is likely to work within their team.

3. Refresh your flexible working policy and processes – with more than Day One Flex in mind.  As well as the Day One right to request, the legislation also includes measures such as shortening the time employers have to respond to requests, and allowing employees to make more requests each year. So you will need to take a really good look at your current policies and processes, and make sure they’re fit for purpose.

4. Think about proactively discussing flexible working with candidates. Yes, the law will give candidates the right to ask – but once you’ve taken the time to think through what you could offer, why not be proactive and raise it yourselves? You’re far more likely to have a meaningful conversation if you do, and it will be much easier to onboard a new recruit whose flexibility has been agreed in advance than one who asks on the day they start.

5. Start spelling out the flexibility on offer in your recruitment ads. It’s also worth going a step further and highlighting the flexible options you could offer in your advertising. This will attract a wider talent pool, and give you a clear edge over other organisations which are less overtly welcoming towards flexible employees. Be specific though; as our research showed, vague references such as ‘Open to flexible working’ aren’t taken seriously and might put candidates off.

6. Consider how you’ll track the impact of your new approach. As mentioned above, embracing Day One Flex offers a real opportunity for employers to get ahead of the game on key business imperatives such as talent attraction, retention and D&I. So it makes sense to track the impact of a more proactive approach to flexible working, by capturing relevant information about working patterns during your recruitment and appraisal processes.

A valuable part of this process would be to capture qualitative examples of how the approach is working on the ground. This could include creating case studies by interviewing new recruits as they join the company, and exploring whether knowing that flexible working was available was a factor in them applying for the role.

7. Finally, don’t forget to think about communicating these changes to your current staff.  The chances are they’ll be delighted to know that you’re taking the new legislation seriously – and will be keen to see what your new approach could mean for them. And that in turn will make it more likely that they’ll stay with you for longer.

Of course, these steps are just the start. You’ll also need to think about using flexible job design to create sustainably flexible roles, and training your managers in how to support and lead flexible teams (and if this is something you need advice with, we can help). But in the meantime, and with a change this fundamental, it’s important to get the planning right. Day One Flex isn’t just a legislative change; it’s also a brilliant opportunity for forward-looking employers who believe in fairer, more inclusive workplaces. I hope these steps will help you grab it with both hands.

Published May 2023

By Amy Butterworth, Consultancy Director

I’m sure few would disagree that an excellent line manager can make all the difference to an employee’s career. Those who feel supported to do their best work are likely to thrive; those who feel undermined or neglected may struggle (or vote with their feet).

So it seems sensible that, when workplace norms fundamentally change, organisations would make sure their line managers are trained to adapt their practice accordingly. And yet, despite the widespread uptake of hybrid working both during and since the pandemic, this hasn’t been the case.

Research from University of Birmingham has found that only 43% of managers had received any training in how to manage hybrid teams. It’s highly likely that these managers will be struggling to successfully implement hybrid arrangements, particularly more informal ones which they need to design, agree and monitor themselves. And this lack of training could certainly be a factor in the finding that 47% of line managers are finding work more stressful than pre-pandemic.

Our partnership with the CMI will help companies reap the benefits of hybrid

Both we and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) believe that hybrid working is a hugely valuable tool in the flexible working toolkit, with the potential to support key workplace issues such as talent attraction, retention, diversity and wellbeing. And we both know from experience that, when line managers are supportive of flexible working, and role model it themselves, it makes employees feel significantly more comfortable about requesting it.

So we’ve come together to turn the knowledge gap on its head, by creating a programme of hybrid training that will build managers’ skills and confidence. This will not only enable them to support their teams to work in a hybrid way, but also help them think about how they could work flexibly themselves, which will have an impact across their organisation.

The training will be delivered as a six-week programme, and will focus on three core areas which our hybrid research identified as particular concerns: the role of a manager of a hybrid team; ensuring fairness and inclusion, and enabling connection and cultural cohesion. We’ll provide workshops for each area, supported by group clinics that will give participants the chance to come together and reflect on their learnings and practice.

All the sessions will be run by our expert consultants and will be backed up with helpful resources, case studies, tools and templates from both Timewise and the CMI’s libraries, which participants can take back to their workplaces and put into action.

We’re piloting our programme – and will share what we learn

We’re really excited about this partnership, which brings together two social businesses with a shared determination to make the world of work better for everyone. And because we also share a belief in the value of research, we’re running the first one as a pilot, with robust evaluation in place, so we can assess its impact on managers’ knowledge and confidence before rolling it out more widely.

The first programme will start in the autumn, and we’ll share our learnings from it once it’s complete, with the aim of refining and scaling up the training so that more companies can benefit. We can’t wait to get started and will let you know how we get on – watch this space.

Please click here to register your interest directly with the CMI:

Updated June 2023