Under new legislation brought in by the government at the end of June, UK employees are now legally entitled to request flexible working arrangements – a right previously only available for carers and people who look after children.

But what will this mean for Britain’s SMEs? The government believes this arrangement will help firms to keep hold of their top talent, with people having better options for balancing priorities outside of work.

Businesses are expected to honour any requests made for flexible conditions in a reasonable and timely manner.

Business Minister Jo Swinson said: “Extending the right to request flexible working will help to create a cultural shift towards more modern, 21st century workplaces where working flexibly is the norm.

“Firms that embrace flexible working are more likely to attract and retain the best talent and reap the benefits of a more motivated workforce.”

A short code of practice has been published by Acas to help employers understand the changes and advise them on how to process requests.

Is flexible working good for business?

According to government statistics, businesses that already offer flexible working arrangements to their staff have reported a 40% boost in productivity and seen a 38% drop in absences.

Yet, when it comes to SMEs, concern has been expressed about the hassle multiple flexible working requests could have on firms with smaller teams. This is likely to be a particular shock for more traditional companies that are new to the idea of flexibility and unsure how this could be implemented into the current work structure.

If a recent study by Citrix and You Gov is anything to go by, around 55% of small businesses are completely unaware of the changes and, of those who are aware of the new legislation, only 43% are in agreement with it.

Richard Smith, head of employment law at Croner, a HR consultancy firm, stressed that this law change does not give employees the right to work flexibly but provides the right to request it.

He said: “Changes to the law are not bad news for employers – they will receive some flexibility too. The new law replaces the statutory procedure for consideration of flexible working requests, with a duty on employers to deal with requests in a ‘reasonable’ manner.

“Employees can request a change to working hours, working time or working location once every 12 months.”