Foundations for a flexible working environment

The construction industry has historically faced various challenges to accommodating flexible working including operational concerns as well as established culture and practices. But, with an increasingly changing culture around the industry, how best can this be grappled with to build a strong working environment?

Currently, employees who have had at least 26 weeks’ continuous service are able to make a request for flexible working. Examples of flexible working could include changing their work location, changing their working hours, or changing their working pattern. Employees can currently only make 1 statutory flexible working request in any 12-month period.

The Government are in the process of implementing the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill which is aiming to update flexible working legislation. The Bill will result in employees being able to request flexible working from their first day. Further, the Bill will also see employees being entitled to make two requests within a 12-month period, not just one.

From experience, this is an area where typically construction industry clients have struggled to accommodate flexible working give the practicalities of the working environment. This particularly applies to site-based roles. For example, certain tasks or trades are always reliant on other aspects of a project being complete before they can commence work. As such there is continual pressures to get tasks done. This has not historically gone hand in hand with flexible working.

In 2021 Timewise, a social enterprise dedicated to flexible working, conducted a pilot scheme on flexible working in the construction industry. Four leading construction firms took part in the pilot scheme with varying durations. The pilot scheme sought to shift the mindset around flexible working in the industry.

There is no one size fits all approach in this situation, flexible working needs to be tailored to particular employees and sites so every case will be different. However, the different approaches the pilot considered included were the following:

  1. Team based approaches to flexible working.
  2. Output based approaches allowing workers to start earlier and leave when work was complete
  3. Staggered starting and finish times alternating between teams,
  4. Flexi days approach.
  5. Home working (for desk-based roles).

Whilst the pilot scheme recognises that there will be always be some challenges with flexible working the general consensus from the pilot scheme was positive. The pilot scheme provided qualitive feedback evidencing a positive shift in wellbeing for employees and also a greater sense of trust and ownership as well as increased productivity.

Not one of the four firms who took part in the scheme reported a negative impact on budgets or time frames for work being complete reflecting the positive approach. In fact, the pilot scheme report states that data was emerging which suggests firms had seen savings on labour costs due to the increased productivity arising from the adjustments to working patterns.

The scheme provided the following summary as to what constructions firms can do moving forwards:

  • Determines a clear vision that starts at the top, with senior leaders advocating the benefits of flexibility and taking a proactive approach
  • Consider options for flexibility in every role (frontline workers as well as knowledge workers), taking guidance from HR teams to ensure fairness and inclusivity.
  • Equip managers with skills and capabilities to design flexible jobs that are suitable for different site circumstances, and to manage flexible teams.
  • Trial new approaches at a team level, before embedding and scaling out successful learning through guidance and further training.
  • Measure the return on investment of flexible working in terms of project performance and productivity, at minimum ensuring it doesn’t have a detrimental effect on budget and timeline.
  • Share insights with clients, to improve their understanding of the positive benefits of flexible working and unlock barriers to its implementation through the contracting process.”

With the forthcoming introduction of the increased employment rights for employees in this space, businesses may well see an increase in flexible workings requests being made and would need to deal with them accordingly.

It is important requests are manged correctly as there is a risk of claims and complaints arising including, for example, if the request is not dealt with in a reasonable manner, if the request is rejected for a reason other than the statutory permitted grounds or if it is rejected on incorrect facts.

If you need assistance on how to handle or deal with flexible working requests or wish to discuss anything you have read within this article, please do not hesitate to contact Alistair McArthur at or Samuel Gray at in our Employment team.

Samuel Gray
Solicitor, Employment
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This reflects the law and market position at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought in relation to a specific matter.

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