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.
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).