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Wise practices will embrace the potential of flexible working

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Employers are unlikely to be quaking in their boots at the latest regulations giving parents the right to flexible working conditions. This, after all, is legislation with a get-out clause - eight get-out clauses to be precise.

Employers inclined to refuse a request for flexible working hours have recourse to eight different excuses, one of which, crucially, is the catch-all charge that it will hamper the firm's 'ability to meet customer demand'. Practitioners who work antisocial hours can always be accused of failing to meet the needs of clients who expect an immediate response to their every beck and call.But employers should think twice before clapping down on flexible hours as a knee-jerk response to change.

The intelligent client will value long-term delivery over constant communication. Anybody who has ever worked late into the evening in an empty office knows that solitude engenders efficiency. Decisions which would normally be discussed ad infinitum are made in seconds.Work which, mediated by meetings, emails and coffee breaks, could easily take all day, is rattled off in a couple of hours. The real threat posed by the 'antisocial'worker is that they develop the ability to think independently and that their productivity puts those who work conventional hours to shame. No wonder colleagues and employers are suspicious.

Critics of the regulations have, rightly, expressed fears that allowing parents to work flexible hours could breed resentment among non-parents, especially those who find themselves left with the administrative burden of day-to-day office life and all the sales calls, office politics and general annoyances it entails. It could be that the intelligent way to respond is to offer everybody the right to negotiate the hours they work, eroding the distinction between the downtrodden nine-to-fiver and the mysterious few who appear to come and go as they please. If the majority of employees were given such freedom, the polarisation between 'office hours'and 'after hours'would cease to be so acute, giving the flexiworker more chance for interaction with colleagues, and the nine-to-fiver a little more peace and quiet.

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