Establishing effective flexible working

Supporting a team that is working in a flexible way, where some individuals may be working at different times or even from different locations, will require planning and organising if it is to be successful.

Exactly how to implement flexible working into your department will vary from team to team and it should be tailored to the individual needs of the team, department and employee. The role of the line manager will be key to establishing a successful flexible team and ensuring that it works in practice.

Managers play a critical role in creating and sustaining a flexible working culture, and in acting as a role model to their teams. Below are some key tips, ideas for establishing effective flexible working.

You may also find helpful our guidance on considering a flexible working request.

Talk about flexible working with your team

Start the conversation with flexibility in mind. As a manager you do not have to wait for someone to ask if they can work flexibly. Those in your team may want to take up flexible working but may feel uncomfortable or uneasy bringing it up, or they may simply be unaware of their right to request it. Initiate the conversation about flexible working at your regular catch-up meetings, at induction, at appraisals and at team meetings.

Provide opportunities to discuss flexible working with your team. Agreeing working patterns together will help people feel included and that they have an active voice. Flexible working won’t look the same for everybody but try and consider opportunities for customer facing employees as well as office workers.

Introducing new working arrangements to the team

It's important to introduce a new working arrangement smoothly into the team and address any perceptions of fairness or redistribution of work.


  • How/when to communicate the changes and the benefits to the whole team.
  • Check in regularly with all staff during regular one-to-one catch ups. By openly discussing any issues, you are better able to support individuals.
  • Set clear objectives and monitor performance for all employees.
  • If you have a team with varied work patterns, identify how communication will flow so that everyone is kept up to date. Consider how often you want everyone to all meet. Involve the team in thinking this through.
  • Ensure that you maintain team morale despite individuals being apart more often.
  • Encourage the team to focus less on hours worked and more on measurable outputs and achieving business objectives.

Dealing with negativity

  • Why are some individuals expressing negativity? Speak to them and talk about their concerns. Could it be because they are expected to pick up more work or regularly stay later to provide cover? Flexible working should not impact negatively on others and this includes the manager too.
  • When accommodating a request there may be a re-jigging of responsibilities amongst the team but there should not be a loading of extra responsibilities on to other people. If the team thinks this may be the case it is important for them to discuss alternatives that will suit them all better and still get the work done.
  • Agree and set realistic objectives for all team members.
  • Ensure that everyone is clear about when an individual is out of the workplace and when and how they can be contacted.
  • To ensure fairness, give everyone the opportunity to talk about the way in which they would like to work, even those individuals who have not made requests. Use your regular management conversations to do this.

 Speak to People and Culture should you need any further advice.

Create clear expectations

Set clear and specific objectives (.pdf) for team members. When people work flexibly their performance may be less observable. Trust becomes more important than control.

You will need to be clear with your team how you will assess their performance, and you will need to focus on desired results and outcomes as your main measure for performance. Give them deadlines so that they can have a thorough understanding of which objectives need to be completed first. This will help them to prioritise their day.

Provide regular feedback via regular check ins and development conversations. Mentoring conversations will encourage individuals to reflect on personal development, strengths and opportunities. Encourage your team to reflect on there own practice. You may wish to use the guide to reflective practice (.pdf).

Be careful not to tell them exactly how to achieve the goal, they will still need flexibility to work in a way that is most effective for them. Provided that they understand the required result along with the deadline and any other important factors, you can empower them to be effective and maintain morale.

Maintain regular 1:1s and team meetings

Ensure that you have regular one to one time with your team. This is good practice at any time, but when you may not be working in the same place or at the same time as your team, scheduling regular time to keep in touch becomes even more important. These meetings can be online or face to face.

Be sure to celebrate successes in these meetings so that it doesn’t just feel like task discussions each time. Maintaining these regular meetings will help your team members to manage their time and week.

Talk about development

Have open and honest coaching conversations with your team members. Ask them to reflect and think about their way of working. Is there anything that they would like further support with? Do they need to try a new approach or adjust their way of working in any way? Encourage creative thinking and ideas.

Find out more with the coaching remotely for managers course.

Team morale and connection

If all your team were in the office together, they would likely also be talking about their personal life as well as work. This helps with team connection and morale. They may also be joining each other for coffee or lunch. It is very easy for people to quickly feel isolated when working flexibly or from home.

Encourage your team to have regular quick catch ups themselves to keep these conversations going. You could create a ‘virtual coffee catch up’ via Zoom, where team members are encouraged to make their own tea/coffee and connect with others.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Managing a flexible team is facilitated by strong communication. Communication may need to be more intentional and planned in a flexible environment, as there might be fewer casual or ad hoc conversations.

Good communication is a shared responsibility across the team; engage the team in a discussion about the best ways to communicate. Consider some of the following:

  • discussing and agreeing arrangements for meetings. How often does the team need to meet, and for what purpose? When should meetings be online, and when should they be face-to-face? What other ways are there to communicate other than meetings?
  • processes for sharing working arrangements and locations. Agree a mechanism for sharing who is working where and when. This could include email auto-signature messages
  • ensure that your team can see each other’s calendars so that they know in advance when they may not be able to reach someone
  • consider sending a regular team good morning email. You could include a quote of the day, an update on yesterday’s tasks and your ideal outcomes for the day. The main purpose of this email is to ensure that everyone feels included and are receiving timely team updates
  • if you are working flexibly yourself, don’t forget to be clear with your team about when you are working, or in the office so that your team know how to get in touch with you - and always provide opportunities for employees to speak with you one-to-one.

Monitor goals not hours

It is important to stay focused on goals when your team are working flexibly. Spend less time on worrying about what your team are doing moment to moment and focus more on what goals are being accomplished.

Some managers find it difficult to let go of having oversight of everything. Trust your team members. Productivity is not a constant thing; it comes in peaks and troughs.

As long as you are clear with your expectations, goals and deadlines then you need to give your team members the opportunity to perform and work in the way that works best for them.

If you are concerned that goals are not being achieved, then you can reassess and decide upon new ways of approaching the goal. The important thing here is making progress and accomplishments rather than appearing ‘busy’.

Be a role model

Why not work flexibly yourself, and champion flexible working in your team. Either take up flexible working yourself or encourage others to. Show how flexible working can work for everyone and help to make flexible working the norm and not the exception.

Be fair to yourself and ensure your team members are fair to themselves

It can be tempting to keep working past our hours when we are working flexibly, particularly when employees are working from home (this is because the line between work and home becomes easily blurred).

It’s important to respect the work and home boundaries to keep your team healthy and resilient.

Inclusivity and fairness

Avoid creating a two tired workforce – those present and visible in the office getting all the opportunities and those who work at home/remotely missing out. Review our Automatic Bias Essentials Moodle course for more information about how our biases can influence decision making.

Ensure that everyone has access to knowledge/training and development. This may mean that training sessions/briefings/meetings need to be recorded for those that are unable to attend at the pre-arranged time. When holding meetings that may include people based in the office and people working remotely appoint a Chair to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to have their voice heard. Ensure information reaches everyone, wherever and whenever they are working. Equal access to information and knowledge is key to preventing communication issues and feelings of unfairness.

Challenge negative behaviour 

In some workplaces there is a still a stigma attached to flexible working, and an attitude that flexible workers are less productive than full time colleagues and contribute less. Challenge these outdated views that are not lived out in reality. Even where small actions remain unchallenged, invisible or played down, a culture can develop that is not inclusive and does not encourage flexible working.

New starters

Starting a new role can be both exciting and worrying for new staff members. If the new starter is working flexibly (or several their colleagues are) they may find it harder to ask the questions they need to.

Consider setting up a buddying system for your new members of the team. Pair them with a more experience team member and encourage regular communication. For employees working from home, you could suggest that they hold regular and short virtual coffee catch ups via Zoom to discuss any questions or concerns.

Wellbeing and health and safety

Talk about wellbeing with flexible workers. When people work flexibly they may find it difficult to manage the boundaries between work and home, and some people have a tendency to work longer hours. Notice signs of overwork. Help people to meaningfully disconnect and manage their technology and work life balance. Act as a good role model with your own working practices.

Please ensure that your team members working at home complete the Home-working Risk Assessment form (.docx) and return it to you for review. You should also encourage them to revisit the Computer Safety Essential Training module to ensure that they are working safely.

For colleagues that have complex DSE needs; please contact the Workplace Health, Safety and Wellbeing team for support and advice on home working with DSE. The Workplace Health, Safety and Wellbeing team at will be able to support colleagues on a case-by-case basis.


What IT systems/technology do your team members need to be able to fulfil their role and meet their goals? The more time you spend getting to understand these things the easier the transition will be.

The University has a number of tools you can use to help with flexible working and working remotely:

  • Box – file sharing online so that team members can access files remotely
  • Webmail – use Webmail for quick and easy access to your email using a web browser. You don't need to set anything up, just sign in with your University email address and password. It also works great on a mobile phone or tablet
  • Zoom – Zoom is the University's supported tool for video conferencing and online meetings. You can use Zoom from your desktop computer or mobile device
  • VPN – Our Virtual Private Network (VPN) service allows you to securely connect to the University's network when you're not on campus. (Please only request this if it is vital you have access to our networks)
  • Trello – If you haven’t tried Trello yet we encourage you to. It’s a great way to manage projects and teamwork. This could really help with staying on track whilst working flexibly/remotely. You can have individual boards, team boards and project boards
  • LinkedIn Learning – Encourage your team members to use LinkedIn Learning to learn new skills whilst working remotely. It could be as simple as learning to use Excel in a new way or even the ‘Managing Virtual Teams’ course we have suggested at the end of this guidance.

Hybrid working: Smart Working At Essex (SWAE) pilot

Hybrid working is a form of flexible working which allows employees to work from a variety of different locations, often combing working from home with the option to work in the office, or other public spaces. As with other forms of flexible working, for hybrid working to be successful you should consider all the points already covered in the sections above, including communication, clear expectations, goal setting, wellbeing, development, team morale etc).

Currently, the University does not have a hybrid-working policy. To help us to create one the University is currently piloting hybrid working in several sections (the project is known as SWAE). The SWAE project will maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of our physical and digital estate and embrace new ways of working acquired from the pandemic. We will do this within the context of our declaration of a climate and ecological emergency and of major constraints on the University's capital expenditure during the period of financial recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic.

During May, staff in the professional services areas of Estates and Campus Services, Finance, Planning and Data Insight, People and Culture and some staff in ITS vacated the spaces now designated to new SRES and HSC teaching facilities. As part of this project managers attend a manager support programme, delivered through a combination of training, psychometric profiling and group coaching to prepare them to manage hybrid teams. Individuals from these areas engage in a hybrid support programme with access to resources, networking opportunities and wellbeing support.

Guidance for individuals

Please encourage your team members to review the general guidance we have created for working from home. They may also wish to refer to working remotely from home or off campus IT information.

Learn more about managing teams remotely

If you would like to learn more about managing remote teams LinkedIn Learning has a number of courses such as this short LinkedIn Learning course on Managing Virtual Teams. The course is less than one hour and covers issues such as:

  • the benefits of remote working
  • building trust at a distance
  • removing roadblocks
  • nurturing team connections
  • managing workloads and deliverables
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