Today I’m speaking at the CIPD / ACAS flexible working conference. I’m going to be sharing what I believe are the five, key elements of a flexible workplace.
Together, these elements will lead to a culture where flexibility is truly embraced for the benefit of employees and the organisation alike.
1 Flexibility for all (or as many as possible)
When I say flexibility for all, I recognise that there are some jobs where introducing more flexibility is easy – in theory at least. There are of course some jobs where it is more challenging if not impossible, such as those where a physical presence is required at set times. But with creativity and open minds, flexibility is often much more feasible than it first might seem – or some believe. Too often, the stereotype of someone wanting flexible working is a mum returning from maternity leave, or a new parent. This stereotype is extremely limiting.
Flexibility is about inclusion at its widest sense. It is about tackling the gender pay gap. Despite what I have said about us challenging the stereotype, we also know that many parents want flexible working – and this includes senior roles. Less than 10% of quality jobs are advertised as flexible. If we want true representation throughout our organisations, then we need flexibility throughout the hierarchy.
Because employees want flexibility and that demand is not matched with supply, this makes flexibility a talent issue both in terms of acquiring it and retaining it. A survey by HR Magazine in 2013 showed that a third of people would take more flexibility over a 3% pay rise. If you offer people the flexibility to work how they want and when they need, this is a clear retention strategy.
Flexibility is also a wellbeing issue – the stress of long, difficult commutes takes a toll on work life balance. This isn’t about parents, this is about everyone. Flexible working can also open up our workplaces to staff with disabilities.
2 Acceptance of flexibility in all its forms
Flexibility doesn’t just mean working part time or working from home one day a week. It isn’t a family friend benefit.
Work can be flexible in time and place. Where and when the work is done.
There can also be flexibility in the how.
We don’t have to work in an office, we can work wherever we are inspired. The park, the library, a co-working space, a coffee shop. Where the role permits, we can organise our own work. Use different technologies to complete it.
3 High Trust
For flexibility to really work, you need trust.
There is no place for the belief that if you can’t see someone doing their stuff then you can’t manage their work. If you have to have someone in your eye line to make sure they do their work, you’ve got bigger cultural issues to address.
You have to trust the people you work with, unless you have a very good reason not to.
But many organisations are riddled with blame, arse covering, and presenteeism. All too often we reward the latter. It is seen as commitment and graft.
Whenever I have introduced flexible working the issue of trust has come up in a roundabout way. Usually through the questions about how people will be managed and measured. My answer is often flippant. Manage them on output, not time at the coalface. Desk time and productivity do not go hand in hand.
4 Enabling and supportive managers and leaders
Managers who understand the benefits – and that they exist for both parties.
Managers who get that flexibility is a talent issue, an engagement issue, a wellbeing issue.
Managers who recognise that flexibility will help them keep good people.
Managers who don’t see flexibility as a pain in the ass to be managed and seek reasons to say no, but see it as an opportunity.
A senior leadership team that does the same.
Managers who are open minded to try stuff.
Managers who work flexibly themselves.
Managers who don’t search for barriers that don’t exist, or bring their personal opinions to the table.
Managers that are trained.
5 Good Policy
A good flexible working policy is one where there’s no gap between the rhetoric and the reality.
Good policy isn’t a document that explains how to say no, but encourages innovation, working together to find solutions, experimentation.
Good policy goes beyond the statutory minimum.
There is stuff around the policy like guidance and good advice on how to implement and trial new ways of working.
A good policy is one that easy to read and understand, and there’s a place or a person for more questions.
A good policy has an encouraging, welcoming tone.
Together, these elements will create a culture in which flexible working and flexibility can thrive for the good of both people and organisations alike.
Together, our challenge is to create them. And there has never been a greater need for us to do it.