While hybrid working stole the limelight during the pandemic, we’re hearing about increasing numbers of employers with frontline staff that are now creating greater flexible working for people who can’t work from home.
The manufacturing sector is a case in point. Until recently, employers generally told us that flexible working just wasn’t possible where machine operatives and production lines were involved. And yet, we recently spoke at an event with InterAct at Strathclyde University about the ‘future of work’, and we heard from a range of manufacturing and engineering firms that are implementing different kinds of flexibility that support their people and their business.
For example, The Alex Begg Group, based in Ayr, has moved production staff that handcraft luxury scarves and blankets on to annualised hours. This means staff work four-day weeks at the start and end of the year, and five-day weeks in the busier middle period. Staff benefit from longer weekends in quieter periods, and the business benefits from having staff on hand when they’re most needed without increasing costs.
Livingston-based precision engineers, Almond Engineering, haveintroduced more flexible hours. Staff need to be in work during the core hours of 9am-3pm but people can start and finish before or after these times as long as they work their 39 hours in the week.
Energy solutions firm Aggreko is promoting more roles as part time, in part to retain older, more experienced workers who are key to training and supporting new recruits and apprentices.
In each case there are mutual benefits as workers have more choice and control over how they manage their work and home responsibilities, which we know boosts wellbeing, while employers benefit from retaining loyal, engaged and productive staff, and employers are more attractive to a much wider pool of potential new staff. Flexible working is very much part of the future of work for manufacturing firms.
If you’d like to create more flexible ways of working for frontline manufacturing staff, here are out top 10 practical tips. Many are seemingly very small changes but they can make a big difference.
1. Advanced notice of shifts
If you can plan ahead and give people more notice of their shifts, including specifics about location if this varies, it gives them more control over the rest of their life. They can book medical appointments, arrange childcare, or just know when they can go for swim or take the dog for a walk.
2. Reliable, predictable shift patterns
Creating a regular shift pattern also helps people have more control over work and life outside because they can anticipate shifts, and plan accordingly.
3. Know your team
Understanding someone’s personal circumstances can help you create a shift pattern that works. You might not be able to accommodate everyone’s preferences all the time. But knowing what employees prefer means you can design rotas that keep people happier in general, and need fewer swaps.
4. Direct rota input for employees
Have you ever tried letting your team put together their own rota? You might need to intervene if there are gaps. But you can be sure staff are getting more of the shifts they want if they’ve chosen them directly.
5. Easy shift swaps
Make it simple for people to change shifts with a colleague if they need to. There are good apps that can help teams communicate clearly, view rotas and swap shifts quickly, as well as email and group messaging.
6. Small adjustments
Allowing staff to make small, guilt-free adjustments when the unexpected happens – a broken boiler, poorly child or elderly relative who needs support, for example. This makes a huge difference to how stressed people feel, if it’s ok to make small changes to their working pattern to deal with something important happening at home.
7. Flexible hours and shifts
Would part-time hours work for some people in some roles? This can instantly open up roles to more people, especially parents, carers and people with disabilities who can’t work full time. It can also save the company money by only paying salaries for the time you really need. Would two people job-sharing be able to deliver the same outcomes for customers? Or compressed hours (doing fewer, longer days)? Would a twilight shift suit some people better, or fewer, longer shifts? Think about what sort of flexibility could work for your teams, and remember ost people only want relatively small amounts of flex.
8. Small amounts of working from home
Could some parts of roles could be done at home? Whether it’s admin tasks, some staff meetings or training. Even just a small amount of home working, where possible, can make a difference to someone’s busy week.
9. Talk about existing flexible working and wellbeing benefits
Many companies have brilliant support and benefits that some employees have no idea exist. It’s an easy win to shout about what you already have. Make sure your staff take their leave entitlement, and understand what’s available to support parents and carers. Remind them there’s an employee network that might be helpful, that there are mental health first aiders they can talk to, or simply flag lunchtime activity classes if you have them. Make sure your people know all the support they can tap in to.
10. Train great line managers
Managers who can communicate effectively and empathetically with their teams will get the best from them. This includes ensuring colleagues who aren’t always sat at computers have the information they need and the ability to share their opinion freely, as well was understanding changes in people’s circumstances and being open to sensitive discussions, such as people having too much work.
For more information about Flexibility Works and the support we provide to employers, please visit flexibilityworks.org