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Is the construction industry ready for flexible working practices?

The provision of flexible working has been shown to lead to a massive improvement in wellbeing among construction workers with no effects on project budgets or deadlines, research has discovered.

Breaking through rigid work barriers in construction

The construction industry has always had a culture of long hours with very little flexibility when it comes to managing site-based workforces.

Since the pandemic hit, some contractors have chosen to maintain the flexible shift patterns brought in for directly employed staff during restrictions; after establishing that they had no adverse effects whatsoever on budgets or schedules and actually improved workers’ sense of wellbeing. A more output-based flexible working schedule is something that construction bosses should be considering, in an effort to move away from the notion of having to be on-site from ‘dawn ‘til dusk...’.

Consultative methods of setting shifts and tasks for example, at daily briefings, means the site operatives get greater control over their working patterns, they have more choice, giving them extra time in the day for their families and other non-work-related responsibilities. These pilots show that flexibility can be achieved if implemented successfully, despite the sector’s significant operational barriers.


Pilots were conducted with teams of between 14 and 120 workers over an 18-month period, and found that all of the projects were complete without any negative impact on deadline or budget.

Emma Stewart, director of development at Timewise, said the programme proved “beyond doubt” that flexible working worked even in complex, site-based industries such as construction.

“Wellbeing and balance should be possible to achieve for the whole workforce – not just those in office roles,” said Stewart. “Working practices no longer need to be a block to attracting the best and most diverse possible talent.”

However, the report said that because of the “complex operational barriers” faced by sectors such as construction, firms looking to implement flexible working needed have in place a strategic roadmap.

“Timewise strongly recommends that all firms carefully trial their plans to increase flexible working, on one or two sites, before rolling out,” the report said, adding that firms should consider what flexible options could be made available and should consult HR teams to ensure their flexible working policies are fair and inclusive.

Suzannah Nichol MBE, chief executive of Build UK, also urged firms to share their experiences of flexible working.

“By sharing what works, we can help companies across the sector create the working environment that will attract and retain a diverse workforce, making construction a positive career choice for everyone,” she said.