Flexible working
Flexible working will fit with some sectors better than others, according to Allan Reuters

Working in a small business often means working in close knit teams, and by their nature small firms are flexible organisations.

Many of our members have told us they currently offer, or plan to offer flexible working opportunities to their staff, recognising the benefits it can have for both employer and employee.

For employees of a small business, flexible working is just one of many benefits they're likely to be offered and we know how hard small business owners work to meet the needs of their staff and keep them happy.

For employees, flexible working provides them with the ability to meet childcare needs, for example, or pursue further work related training, which could also benefit their employer.

Of those FSB members employing staff, many are aware that by offering flexible working they will benefit from more productive and motivated employees, and a workforce that in turn will be flexible to their business needs.

John Allan
John Allan, FSB chairman FSB

There are more practical benefits to employers offering flexible working too; if employees work from home, as is the case for just under a third of FSB members, the business may benefit from lower overheads, as less staff means less office space will be needed.

Clearly, flexible working will fit with some sectors better than others. We know from members in the creative and technology industries, they have been early adopters of flexible working, and many are quick to sing the praises of such an approach.

Other businesses could learn lessons from these sectors, the proliferation of online technologies such as the cloud and conference calls could enable flexible working at a relatively low cost, and a change in business practices.

That said, flexible working isn't for everyone, and for some businesses with especially small teams or who run a business which must keep to certain staff levels in the workplace, it isn't going to be possible to meet every request for flexible working.

For these businesses then, it is vital they have practical guidance on managing the right to request. Guidance on this will benefit employees too, giving them an understanding of what they can and cannot ask for, ensuring neither party are left unhappy if requests cannot be met.

Acas have published guidance on the right to request, which small businesses and their employees should consult when considering formal flexible working requests.

John Allan is the chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses.