Over the past few years there has been a growing demand for more flexible work arrangements – and then came Covid-19. Very quickly most of us had to work from home full-time and adapt to remote working. Now with people increasingly returning to the office, it is clear flexible working has become the new “normal” and it is a huge incentive to attract talent and maintain the workforce.
At Marana we adopted flexible working practices a number of years ago and along the way we have learned how to make it work for us. We are now working with clients to make their adoption of flexible work practices a success for staff, teams and the organisation and its customers and/or clients.
To start with, it is important for organisations to meet the legal requirements. The Fair Work Ombudsman outlines these on their website https://www.fairwork.gov.au/tools-and-resources/best-practice-guides/flexible-working-arrangements.
Beyond complying with legal issues, our recent experiences with clients suggests the following approaches make flexible working positive for everyone.
1. Decide which flexible options the organisation and its work can support and then develop a Flexible Working Policy and communicate it to staff. For many organisations, it may not be possible to have everyone work from home all the time and it’s unlikely you cannot have some of your staff work flexibly. It is important the Policy outlines who can apply for flexible work and what arrangements can be adopted, how to apply, what the decision-making process for an application will be and how it will be monitored and reviewed. The Policy helps managers and staff understand the process and the reasoning behind decisions made and assists in achieving a consistent approach.
2. Have a transparent flexible work assessment system that can review which parts of the job can be performed remotely and which in the office or workplace. It will be important to consider the deliverables or outputs of people’s work and the customer’s or client’s needs in this. It is essential for you to have coverage for client-facing work.
3. Check whether you have the systems and technology to support the arrangements you want, including methods for knowledge transfer and training. Staff may need additional hardware for working remotely and some may require additional strategies and support when poor internet connection impacts productivity. This is especially the case for some parts of regional NSW – staff often tell us about their “technology rage”!
4. Ensure staff have a remote workspace that is ergonomic and fit for purpose. We have heard stories of people in share accommodation working whilst perched on the end of the bed. In other cases, clients are telling us about muscle tension and hip pain as a result of sitting for extended periods of time. Develop a checklist of what is required for safe effective working and discuss with staff what set-up they have and what you are prepared to provide.
5. Ensure that you have a Work-from-Home Security Policy that clearly outlines the rules regarding the use of devices and internet security guidelines. Importantly, the Work-from-Home Security Policy should provide guidance on how to work in a home environment that may be shared with others. We have heard about clients where the nature of the work is very sensitive requiring careful consideration of what can be seen on a screen and/or overheard in terms of conversations. One client has told us when working and discussing something in a public venue, they were approached by a member of the public saying “you shouldn’t be discussing that type of thing here!”
6. Good people management skills are critical. Flexible working requires managers to have strong facilitation skills, being able to coach and delegate effectively, give feedback, communicate through multiple media, and focus on outcomes and performance measures rather than on time spent in the office. This may require some management training or coaching so that People Leaders are confident in their ability to manage and/or supervise the team working remotely.
7. Trust and empower staff to do their work without constant monitoring. If people understand the organisation’s goals and have clear performance expectations, where they work is less important. This does, however, require People Leaders to set and/or clarify expectations, facilitate regular feedback and encourage staff to perform at their best, which creates a high performance team culture.
8. Ensure you have role model leaders at all levels who work flexibly and show it can work.
9. Ensure staff don’t miss out on knowledge transfer opportunities whether it be training, coaching and job opportunities just because they are not in the office or workplace 5 days a week. Where you wish to address any performance issues, it is vital to keep in touch to build skills and confidence. Regular coaching and one-on-ones can be conducted live online using tools like Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Miscommunication and misinterpretation are more common online and it is important to recognise the value of making the time to travel and engage in face-to-face dialogue.
10. Create opportunities for the team to all come together in one place and ensure time spent together is efficient. Some staff may have to alter their normal arrangements, say for child-care or drop off and pick-up of children, to come in for a team meeting, so ensure it is productive and their effort in changing their routine is worthwhile. Discuss and agree what type of team social activities can work for people.
11. Agree on your team methods of communication and how you will know where people are, say in case of a problem needing their input or an emergency. The use of shared calendars and/or online tools can be great for this. What are the boundaries around people being contacted – when is it too late or too early? What constitutes “time pollution” or “over-working”? Agree service standards for how quickly emails or texts might be answered to avoid frustration and misunderstandings.
Marana has been supporting clients with “Working Flexibly for People Leaders” and “Working Flexibly for Teams” workshops delivered face-to-face and Live Online. We’ve seen that when flexible arrangements are in place and work well, everyone benefits.
Other sites for reference: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/covid-19-information-workplaces/industry-information/general-industry-information/working-home
Stephen Bevan of Lancaster University did research as part of ‘Work After Lockdown’ in the UK and discusses his findings, He found among other things that 90% of people reported the same productivity in lockdown as before, however there were some mental health impacts of working remotely which will need addressing. (Remote working: why some people are less productive at home than others – new research (theconversation.com).
Over the past few days we have received an influx of promotional marketing material – one reads “Massive changes have come to the workplace. In the past weeks, these times of uncertainty require your workforce to be flexible and resilient, and to reskill for the changes ahead.” It went on to say; “The most successful organisations are the ones that can navigate uncertainty, tackle challenges and pull together to drive innovation.”
Well I think we can all say we are currently facing uncertainty and challenges that we have never personally imagined or experienced before. Every day people are having to change ways of living and working. There is a lot of fear, concern, confusion and sorrow out there about how lives are being affected and changed and the impact this pandemic is having on all of us, right round the world. For those lucky enough to generate an income, it is hard to focus when we don’t know what the next moment will bring and we hear so much negative news.
During this time it is heartening to hear from clients, their stories of adaptation; learning about remote working set-ups; what it’s like to work along-side or opposite a partner (pets included) and what can be accomplished through on-line platforms such as Zoom, Skype etc. Interestingly for a number of our clients, especially in Local and State Government, internal discussions are taking place around a key question; “What is an essential service?”
For Team Leaders, Supervisors, Managers and Directors discussing tougher questions such as, ‘Is our role essential and what is our purpose?’ can evoke a lot of fear for already anxious staff. People have heightened levels of emotions related to remote working, the challenges of home schooling, what to do over the up-coming holiday period and how to care for the vulnerable, including elderly parents. We also have a generation of people in management and supervisory positions with family members at home who are facing their first experience of a recession / major economic downturn. It is an incredibly difficult time for everyone right now and for many, the discomfort that people now feel is similar to grief. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We trust this is temporary, but we don’t know how long for, it doesn’t feel that way and we realise things will be different in the future.
This is a challenging time for people leaders with emotions for everyone running high and very close to the surface. It is important that Team Leaders, Supervisors, Managers and Directors let people constructively vent their feelings and be heard more than ever. Displaying empathy now is critical for staff to feel they are supported, understood and truly listened to, which means listening carefully and acknowledging feelings and not judging or dismissing emotions.
So what can people leaders do or say to support and assist staff:
- Let people constructively vent their feelings without interrupting and validate feelings.
- Focus on single-tasking as opposed to multi-tasking. There can be many distractions for staff whilst working remotely so when on the phone or online system the focus has to be on the other person and what they are saying. This can be a challenge when others may also be at home working, schooling and/or there are distractions in the background. Using headphones, minimising other applications, turning off other mobile devices and “ping” notifications, shutting doors and thoughtful workspace arrangements may help here.
- We often say take a deep breath when things are overwhelming and this is a great thing to do to calm the mind, support physical health and aid regaining focus. We would encourage you and others to BREATHE maybe use a meditation app that might work for you and/or your staff. Ask people “What can we both do to help support you focus and to feel OK this week?” and commit to making this part of a weekly check-in.
- Maintain team rituals. Consider what can still be done to celebrate monthly birthdays to accommodate social distancing or Friday social drinks via on-line platforms. A number of clients are encouraging staff within teams to share a happy picture each day and/or week. I’ve even heard of a remote team wearing the same colour top on a particular day. The team are based in Orange, NSW. I’m not sure the colour was orange!
- Help people with paradigms of control. What are staff concerned about but cannot control? What can be influenced and what can be controlled? Coach people on actions that can be controlled to build their sphere of influence. Support people to focus on what can be achieved in the week and/or a day. Celebrate daily completion of a will-do list as opposed to focusing on the never ending to-do list.
- If appropriate now could be time to work on those jobs or tasks the team always means to do but doesn’t have time for. Try asking “What work or jobs have we often wanted to do, systems to improve or cheat sheets to develop but lacked the time, that we could start on now?”
- If you decide your team may not be seen as an essential service you can focus staff on seeing how they can help others and feel useful. Try finding this out by asking “What can we do this week to make ourselves useful and supportive to the organisation and our other colleagues?”
- This is a time for us to be kind to ourselves and others, to praise and appreciate our colleagues and our amazing front-line workers. Patience while we all work it out is important. Recognise people and provide sincere positive feedback “I know it has been a really tough couple of weeks with the transition to this way of working. Thanks for quickly adapting and having things up and running.”
Reaching out for help is a sign of strength. Please feel free to reach out to us at any time if you need assistance. Look after yourself, your teams and your colleagues in the coming weeks and/or months. Our thoughts are with you. Keep safe and socially conscious – Sarah and Patricia
The following Harvard Business Review articles below have some great suggestions to help:
The number of projects and the amount of time spent managing projects is increasing in business worldwide to provide focus and flexibility. Some organisations have marshalled most of their resources into multidisciplinary project teams. Projects are often critical components of the performing organisation’s business strategy, so strong skills in project management are important employee attributes.
- Why do organisations need project management?
- How can good project management skills help you?
- Do you want to tackle projects with confidence?
People are faced with a range of projects throughout their life. In organisations in the current fast paced business world it is critical that results are delivered on time, within budget and to the right quality. Increasingly managers and staff are involved in managing projects even though they may not be called project managers. By applying the skills of project management in your personal and professional life you can maximise performance and ensure the best results every time. Project management enables you to focus on priorities, monitor progress and performance, overcome difficulties and problems and adapt to change. In fact nowadays projects are the vehicle for driving change in many organisations.
Key aspects of running projects effectively include:
- having a clear scope of work with a defined start and end
- developing a realistic project plan with a clear method for meeting the project objectives
- acquiring and managing project resources effectively including people, time, money, equipment and supplies
- developing a high performing project team
- effectively engaging and communicating with all project stakeholders
- minimising the risks of conducting the project
- ensuring quality is defined and achieved.
Nowadays projects are undertaken at all levels of the organisation. They may involve a single person or many thousands. They may be completed quickly or take years to complete. Projects may involve a single unit of one organisation or may cross organisational boundaries. Some examples of projects include:
When we work in the public sector our role is to support and provide service to a range of stakeholders. This includes serving the public, the Parliament, our Minister and the government of the day, our cluster/agency, other organisations and our colleagues. We are responsible for providing relevant, responsive and quality service and we do this in a way which reflects our core values. While every agency and Department is different, the NSW public sector has some common principles we all work with which make it a good place to work and to receive service from. Learning how it all works can make the transition to the public sector easier.
Many roles in the public sector require a good understanding of how government works and how to work with stakeholders both – both internal and external – to our organisation. It is important that employees know what each of the three layers of government – local, state and federal- are responsible for and how they interact. Knowing about the roles and responsibilities of individuals, committees and other groups in government provides people with the context for some of their work, such as writing Ministerials, briefing notes, developing policy or communicating with the Minister’s Office.
The NSW Public Service Vision is to have a highly capable public sector workforce characterized by a culture of integrity, trust, service and accountability. Often organisational values are great slogans on the walls or in corporate documentation. To make them “living values” every employee must be able to translate them to actions they carry out in their own role. This is an important component of how the government will achieve the 2021 goals.