When it comes to the economics of flexible working, there is currently a supply and demand issue with demand far outweighing supply. According to research undertaken by the recruitment company Capability Jane, only 10% of UK advertised jobs offer flexible working. In contrast, 80% of women and 52% of men would look for flexibility in their next role. The last 2 years has seen significant campaigning towards changes to current flexible working legislation in particular the introduction of an immediate right to make a flexible working request without the requisite 26 weeks continuous employment currently needed. Previously, flexible working may have been considered an issue concentrated in only certain working groups, it is now more widely relevant across the working population with 92% of millennials identifying flexibility as a top priority when considering job roles.

Despite the desire for flexibility gaining more traction across all sectors of the workforce, lack of flexible working opportunities continues to disproportionately affect women than men. This view was confirmed by the Construction Industry Skills Council reporting that women left the construction sector at a faster rate than men with a lack of flexible working arrangements cited as a determining factor. (A Blueprint for Change, 2016)

When it comes to construction and house-building, there appear to be few cases where on-site roles have been adapted to work flexibly rather than in more traditional working patterns (although given the less formal nature of the industry, is flexible working perhaps more common in practice, but organised on a more ad hoc basis with local Management?).

Given the nature of site-based roles and their interdependency on one another, there are evidently more obstacles to overcome to make flexible working a viable option.  However, there are signs of progress in this area and examples of successful implementation of flexible working at site level. In 2019 a “construction pioneer programme” co-designed by Timewise and Build UK piloted flexible working in site-based teams to understand whether flexible working could be effective even in site-based positions. The results of their programme, documented in “Making construction a great place to work: can flexible working help?” identified that there was strong potential for implementing flexible working patterns successfully without negatively impacting budgets or project timeframes. These were considered to be significant barriers to the implementation of flexible working.

With flexible working seen as a significant benefit for individuals this could be key to attracting talent if organisations adopt a proactive stance towards this way of working. Global construction firm Multiplex introduced a flexible working model as a means of “addressing structural issues linked to gender equity, improving health and well-being as well as driving improved performance and productivity” recognising that addressing these issues could go some way to encourage entry to the industry particularly during a time of skill shortages.

Added to this, the continued problem of the industry’s ageing workforce could also be addressed through increased adoption of flexible working practices.  Capability Jane and Timewise both identify that those over 50 would prefer to ease into retirement through a reduction in hours and the ability to work flexibly and that a proactive approach taken by employers will lead to positive outcomes.

The requirement for adjustments to working patterns globally as a result of the Covid pandemic over the last 2 to 3 years as well as the more deliberate initiatives briefly alluded to above indicate that there is scope for flexible working to be successful even with the hurdles of site-based roles, however leadership buy-in to produce a cultural shift is vital to make flexible working a normalised working practice.