Let’s Talk…Flexible Work


Since the inception of the World Wide Web in 1991, technology, business and daily life has changed significantly. Who would have thought that billions of people across the globe would conduct business from the palm of their hand? And with technology rapidly advancing and more and more people seeking flexible work arrangements, it’s no wonder savvy business owners are investing in innovative technology, such as Cloud based storage and project management tools, enabling their employees to work from anywhere at anytime. A move that has left many businesses reaping the rewards from greater productivity and job satisfaction among employees  – “A win-win for the business and employee,” says BlueJeans International General Manager, James Campanini. However, not all flexible work arrangements are successful, and if not implemented correctly, can have disastrous consequences.

For this week’s “Let’s Talk…” we asked more than a dozen business leaders for their viewpoint on “What businesses must consider when implementing flexible work…”


Michael Morris, Head of HR and Talent, Employsure: “Flexible working seems to be the hot topic when it comes to a good workplace culture and preferred employee benefits. Not surprisingly, and most importantly, employees want employers to understand that they have a life outside of work, and Employsure research reveals flexible work as the best method of rewarding and retaining staff. Almost 40% of the employers surveyed say that sometimes you just need to be flexible to reward and get the best out of employees.”

“Consider all your options and talk to your employees on what flexible work means for them whether it’s telecommuting, flex-place options, part-time employment, flexible leave, job sharing, career breaks or phased retirement.”

“The bottom line is flexible work is here to stay and it offers the potential for productivity gains and greater levels of employee engagement for your business.”

James Campanini, GM at BlueJeans International: “Increased job satisfaction, simply through employees knowing they have the option to change their work days based on their personal needs means increased productivity and loyalty to the business they work for. A win-win for the business and employee.”

“The first step in allowing for flexible work, is to invest in enabling technology. Whether it’s a cloud-based document storing application, instant messaging program, project management tool or a meetings platform, investing in innovative technology is vital to help employees work remotely successfully. Lack of or poor implementation results in frustrated employees, which ultimately leads to high employee turnover and wasted dollars.”

“Businesses should also consider proactive preparation. A lot can come to a business from simply sitting down with your employees to discuss the challenges they’re facing with their current working arrangement, and potential solutions. As a team, the entire business can work together to agree upon channels of communication to help foster flexible working.”

Chanie Hyde, Head of Marketing at BlueChilli: It might seem an obvious statement, but it’s worth remembering that flexibility means different things to different people. A company might have “policy” around what flexible working means to them, but it’s not going to be a one-size fits all saviour. Taking the time to understand and listen to specific needs and accommodate a situation that suits both your team and company are key. Finding the right balance can lead to greater productivity, autonomy and happiness for everyone.”

“For example: Trying to encourage people who like working socially, into working from home can be counterintuitive to their happiness. Some people appreciate having standard hours to work within to provide structure and assist work/life balance, where some enjoy the fluidity of sleeping and working late. So long as neither is treated as the superior option, harmony can hopefully be achieved.

Stephen Barnes, Principal at Byronvale Advisors:“Flexible working requires some planning from both the business and the worker. Roles need to be clearly established, and forward planning of resources is essential. Information flow to insure the flexible worker is still included and a team culture of support for flexible workers will make the flexible work arrangement successful for everyone. Trust and self-management can be a challenge initially but a skill that can be developed. Stakeholders also need to be considered to ensure their needs are met. Lastly, legal risks such as workplace health and safety need to be considered.”

Grace Lin, CFO at Retech: “Employee engagement and staff retention comes down to encouraging a supportive work culture and environment that is tailored to individual employees’ needs. Having a flexible working policy is a key part of keeping your employees both happy and engaged, ensuring that they can be more productive and efficient when managing their workload.”

Natalie Goldman, CEO at FlexCareers:

Leadership

Flexible working needs to be acknowledged as a business imperative. The CEO and senior leadership team need to actively support and champion workplace flexibility; this includes being authentic by implementing flexibility into their own roles.There are many misconceptions about flexibility, one of which is that leaders and managers can’t work flexibly, that they need to be present at the workplace during business hours to manage their people.

Trust

During consulting assignments, one of the biggest barriers to workplace flexibility that FlexCareers is tasked to overcome, is a lack of trust.If flexibility is to work, we need to trust our people. We need workplaces to be more human, and to approach each person as an individual, bit simply human capital.

Clarity

Another huge barrier to workplace flexibility is a lack of clarity about what flexibility actually means.We recently carried out a survey of 1,000 people across Australia and found that most employees and managers are still stuck viewing flexibility as meaning working part-time or starting and finishing a bit early. There are so many more options to give people flexibility in their role and giving your employees and managers that clarity will enable organisations to make better progress.

Story Telling

Through effective story-telling, organisations can show how flexibility is working in practice in different areas of the business, and for a diverse range of people. It will encourage people that may have been dissenters, to be more open to trying to work flexibly, or allowing others to. Focus on areas where you’ve had resistance and try to bust the myth that flexible work is only for working mums.

Front Line Management

In all of our consulting assignments and conversations with employers across Australia and New Zealand, there is one common theme – managers are the lynchpin to success. Managers are at the front line, they are at the absolute heart of implementing flexible work and it’s important to involve them in the process from day one and support them to be successful. They will implement the strategy and bring it to life.

Mick Spencer, CEO and Founder at ONTHEGO:“At OTGhaving a flexible work policy is actually one of the core values which underpins the way we operate and is a strength in our business. For us, flexibility doesn’t just come down to the hours worked, but it also includes how we hire and the locations worked by our employees. Being a tech business, we encourage the use of tools like Zoom (a video call conferencing service) to enable us to connect with our employees no matter where they are. A flexible work policy is so integral to our business that even though we have staff performing different roles in various locations, our employees still feel extremely connected to the business, its founder and its culture.”

Emma Perera, Co-founder at WellBeing GROW:“The future of work will no doubt involve various flexible work policies, in fact many workplaces already do. Flexible work practices are an investment into your businesses greatest asset – its people. They allow your staff to spend more time with their children, commute to the office during off-peak times, work from home in an emergency, work during hours convenient to them, and essentially provide employees with a sustainable work life balance. One of the key things to consider when implementing a flexible work policy is your company’s technology set-up. The systems and software you use needs to support working remotely, working when others are offline, and accessing tech support out of hours. Another important element to consider is strong communication channels so that those working remotely or on flexible hours are still up to date with what is taking place within the company, and remain engaged with their projects. Setting up weekly updates that teammates can attend online, and group chats that people can use rather than having face-to-face conversations ensures everyone remains on the same page.”

Michelle Gibbings, Founder of Change Meridian and author of Career Leap: “Flexible working is part of the modern workforce, and when implemented well it enhances the organisation’s culture. Leaders need to be clear on the scope of the flexible working – the nature of the arrangements, who can access, when they can access and how it works on a practical level.  To ensure expectations are clear this is best discussed with the team, along with how they work together effectively, and respect and appreciate the different flexible needs people may have. It can help to have the scope and expectations written down so there is no confusion. In essence, an agreement about how flexible working works!”

Karen Gately, Founder of Ryan Gately and author of The People Manager’s Toolkit: “To attract and retain the best talent in the market it’s essential that organisations work to understand the flexibility people want and the ways in which work can be managed to accommodate those needs. Success of flexible work practices agreed depends greatly on clear expectations, effective communication and strong collaboration. For example, clarity around how people are expected to work, deliver on results and remain connected to the rest of the team is essential when implementing work from home policies.”

Dermot Crowley, Founder of Adapt Productivity and author of Smart Teams: “Implementing flexible working practices into a company’s productivity culture is critical to the future of work. But it is not easy, and many competing demands need to be balanced and accommodated. How do staff stay productive when working flexibly? How does management keep track of work and deadlines? How do we collaborate effectively when we cannot see each other? Leveraging technology is the first critical piece of the puzzle. Not only having the right technology in place, but also giving staff the right skills to leverage it. The second critical piece of the puzzle is having good team agreements in place about we work together to maximise personal and team productivity. It takes work, but it is worth the effort to retain great people in a way that works for you and them.”

Dr Amantha Imber, Founder of Inventium and author of The Innovation Formula: “Flexible work is a very broad term – it can mean anything from flexible hours, flexible days, through to flexible locations. The first thing to be clear on is what are you willing to be flexible around. This should largely depend on people’s roles (for example, customer-facing roles ideally need to work when customers are working). Also, make sure you trust your team. If you don’t have full trust in all your staff, you’ll probably end up paranoid and wonder if people are actually working when they are “working from home”. And paranoia is a culture killer. At Inventium, we have had flexible work policies in place for several years. Based on our staff survey results, it’s one of the things that people value the most, in addition to the trust that Inventium places in them to do what’s right for the business and for their team, no matter when and where they happen to be working from.”

Andrew Joyce, Co-founder of Found Careers: “Flexible working can be wonderful when implemented correctly, however done without care can be incredibly destructive to both productivity and team collaboration. While there are an endless number of tools which ‘enable’ remote working, ultimately there’s an obligation and burden on both the team-members and their manager to ensure that a flexible relationship doesn’t impact negatively on the business’s goals.”

Graham Moody, People & Culture Manager, Ansarada: “It’s important for businesses to be clear about why they want a flexible work policy and how far they’re willing to take it. It comes down to what kind of business you want to be and what level of talent you want to attract.”

“At Ansarada, we understand flexibility is a priority for people. We want to ensure we’re attracting the best talent, so we’ve created an environment which allows us to tap into different talent pools. If you hire smart people and set clear expectations on what needs to be achieved, they’ll deliver their best work, no matter how many days they work or where they’re working form.”

“Our flexible work policy has become more than a guideline, it’s become part of our business ethos. We’ve created a culture of trust and given our employees the tools to succeed. This has ensured our continued growth and business success.”

Peter Cook, CEO of Novatti:“At Novatti we believe in an accommodating and flexible style approach to work. Employees are not restricted by the conventional 9am- 5pm work hours and instead have the responsibility to determine the hours when they work most efficiently and effectively. We believe flexibility engenders a greater degree of employee morale and commitment to the company, as they become more independent and empowered with their work. We also believe that flexibility promotes employee satisfaction and happiness which facilities more innovative, creative and “out of the box” type thinking.”

“All employees are provided with bring your own devices such as laptops which enables people to work from home. Video conferencing is used to bring remote teams together for frequent meetings. Holistically, employees leverage off this flexibility by allowing themselves time to develop their personal and professional endeavours and better achieve an optimal work life balance.”