Flexibility is becoming increasingly important for organisations across Australia as they begin to recognise it as a key enabler of gender equality. Attracting and retaining diverse talent is crucial to future-proofing the workplace and the Australian economy more broadly. Making workplaces more flexible and responsive to the needs of employees is a key way of doing this.
Flexible working drives employee engagement and productivity as well as boosting employee well-being and happiness. Access to flexible working is clearly linked to:
- Improved organisational productivity
- An enhanced ability to attract and retain employees
- Improved employee well-being
- An increased proportion of women in leadership
- Future-proofing the workplace
What is flexible work?
A flexible work arrangement is an agreement between a workplace and an employee to change the standard working arrangement to better accommodate an employee’s commitments out of work. Flexible working arrangements usually encompass changes to the hours, pattern and location of work. Flexibility is becoming increasingly important for all employees as employees and managers balance competing priorities in life.
Flexible working is not just for office workers. There are numerous examples of scheduled roles with access to flexibility. Some examples include:
- Giving employees the ability to design their own rosters with remote access through rostering and shift-swapping applications
- Flexible start and finish times
- Combining and sharing roles, for example: four days in an operational role and one day in a role that allows for remote working.
Managers can sometimes confuse some relatively minor and ordinary work adjustments with the idea of flexible working arrangements. For example, someone taking time off as carer’s leave, compassionate leave or parental leave is not the same as working flexibly. These arrangements fall into the same category as annual leave and personal leave, in that they are standard employee rights at work. While part-time work is currently considered to be a flexible working arrangement, the realities of part-time work are often much the same as those of full-time work and may not offer much flexibility around time or location of work. Part-time work, however, does offer flexibility in the capacity for someone to work even though they may not be able to work full-time.
|Flexible hours of work||This is where you may vary your start and finish times.|
|You may work the same number of weekly (or fortnightly or monthly) working hours, compressed into a shorter period. For example, a forty-hour week may be worked at the rate of ten hours per day for four days instead of eight hours a day for five days. Changes to salary are not required.|
|Time-in-lieu||You may work approved overtime and be compensated by time-in-lieu. It can include ‘flexitime’ arrangements where an employee can work extra time over several days or weeks and then reclaim those hours as time off.|
You may work at a location other than the official place of work. A wide range of terms refer to working at different locations, including ‘mobile working’, ‘distributed work’, ‘virtual teams’ and ‘telework’. These are referred to collectively as ‘telecommuting’ in this toolkit.
|Part-time work||A regular work pattern where you work less than full-time and are paid on a pro-rata basis for that work. Not all part-time work is necessarily flexible in nature, but it offers flexibility to workers who
have other commitments or lifestyle choices that are not compatible with full-time work.
|Job sharing||A full-time job role is divided into multiple job roles to be undertaken by two or more employees who are paid on a pro-rata basis for the part of the job each completes.|
|Purchased leave||A period of leave without pay, usually available after annual leave allocation is finished. Employers typically deduct the amount of unpaid leave from the worker’s salary either as a lump sum or averaged over the year.|
|Unplanned leave||Informal access to leave for unanticipated or unplanned events.|
|Flexible careers||You are able to enter, exit and re-enter employment with the same organisation, or to increase or decrease your workload or career pace to suit different life stages. This may be particularly relevant for employees transitioning to retirement. It can also include employees who are able to take a ‘gap year’ early in their careers and return to work for the same employer afterwards.|
|Other choices||Other options about when, where and how work is done, e.g. overtime and having autonomy to decide when to take breaks during the working day.|
The Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act) provides different groups of employees with the right to request a change in their working arrangements, specifically the hours, patterns and locations of work. While the FW Act specifies the groups that can statutorily request flexible working arrangements, any employee can approach their employer with such a request, but their request may be dealt with differently as it would not be governed by the current Act.
An employer who receives a request covered under the Act must provide a written response within 21 days. Employers covered by an award must first discuss the request with their employee to try to reach an agreement about changes to the employee's working conditions. A request can only be refused on ‘reasonable business grounds’.
A flexible working arrangement may involve a change in working arrangements for a fixed period or on an ongoing basis, to accommodate a range of personal commitments.
For more information on requesting flexible working arrangements, please visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website.
The Business Case for Flexible Work
Attracting and retaining diverse talent is crucial to future-proofing the workplace and the Australian economy more broadly. Making workplaces more flexible and responsive to the needs of employees is a key way of doing this.
Flexible working is increasingly recognised as a valuable way to attract and retain employees across all age groups and genders. It drives employee engagement and productivity as well as boosting employee well-being and happiness. Access to flexible working is clearly linked to:
• Improved organisational productivity
• An enhanced ability to attract and retain employees
• Improved employee well-being
• An increased proportion of women in leadership
• Future-proofing the workplace
The proportion of Australian organisations in the private sector with flexible working strategies has exceeded 70% since the 2017-18 reporting period. In addition, many organisations have informal flexible working arrangements with their employees. Access to flexible working arrangements is a key requirement of the WGEA Employer of Choice for Gender Equality citation.
The Benefits of Flexible Working
Improvements in productivity
Many studies have identified positive connections between flexible working arrangements, improved productivity and revenue generation. A successful flexibility policy leads to increased employee engagement and performance, which may lead to improved profits for businesses.
In 2017, the New Zealand financial firm Perpetual Guardian trialled a four-day working week on the condition that employees continued to meet their performance targets. The company reported that employees were happier and that productivity had increased by 20%. The company has now made the four-day week a permanent option for all of its full-time employees (SBS News, 2018).
A study by academics from Harvard University documented a working from home trial at a Chinese travel agency called Ctrip, which has 16,000 employees. A number of call centre employees were assigned to work from home for nine months. This led to a 13% increase in productivity and performance. Employees attributed the productivity boost to quieter working environments at home. They did 9.2 % extra minutes per day due to starting work more punctually and taking less break time during their shifts due to easier access to amenities such as toilets or a kitchen. Employees who worked from home also took fewer sick days. As a result, wages for participants rose by 9.9% extra a month due to higher bonus payments. The study also found that workers who had not performed as well at home voluntarily returned to the office environment where their productivity returned to previous levels (Bloom et al., 2015).
SBS News 2018, ‘No Downside: New Zealand company adopts four-day week after trial’, viewed October 12 2018, available: <https://www.sbs.com.au/news/no-downside-new-zealand-company-adopts-four-day-week-after-trial>
Bloom, N, Liang, J, Roberts, J & Ying, J. Z. 2015, ‘Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment’, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, pp. 165-218.
Employee attraction and retention
Employees are increasingly seeking more autonomy over where, when and how they work. For many employees, flexible working is a highly desirable workplace benefit.
Various flexible work trials that have been undertaken have measured the impact on attrition rates. The Ctrip pilot found that employees who were trialling working from home were approximately 50% less likely to leave as those employees who remained working from the office. Other benefits that are attractive to employees include time-savings as well as reductions on commuting costs. The same trial reported that employees working from home were saving the equivalent of 17% of their salary (Bloom et al., 2015).
Studies also indicate that younger employees have different expectations about how they want to work. One study found that millennials expect to work longer than previous generations but they also expect to have the flexibility to work the way that they want to work. In another study by EY, it found that almost 80% of respondents aged between 28-35 reported that they desired the option to work remotely (Manpower Group, 2016). Employers who are looking to recruit and retain talent from the next generation may find that having flexible working options gives them a competitive edge when it comes to attracting employees.
Suncorp bank has made significant changes to its operating model in order to accommodate a more flexible way of working for over 600 of its contact-centre staff. Suncorp has implemented ‘Work at Home Hubs’, which combine home work stations with working spaces attached to regional shopping centres. Contact-centre employees are now able to do most of their shifts from their own homes. Software enables staff to have more control over their own rosters and they can elect to pick up extra shifts when it suits them. Suncorp reports that, as a result of these changes, they have seen improvement in employee engagement, reduction in employee turnover and increased positive customer experiences (Cermak et al., 2017).
Bloom, N, Liang, J, Roberts, J & Ying, J. Z. 2015, ‘Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment’, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, pp. 165-218.
Manpower group 2016, Millennial Careers: 2020 Vision, viewed 5 December 2018, available: <https://www.manpowergroup.com//wps/wcm/connect/660ebf65-144c-489e-975c-9f838294c237/MillennialsPaper1_2020Vision_lo.pdf?OD=AJPERES>
Cermak, J, et al. 2017, Women in Leadership: Lessons from Australian Companies Leading the Way, McKinsey & Co, Business Council Australia, WGEA, viewed 5 December 2018, available: <https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/gender-equality/women-in-leadership-lessons-from-australian-companies-leading-the-way>
Unscheduled absences can indicate that employee well-being is low and may lead to staff turnover.
Flexible working can give employees the autonomy to balance their other commitments such as caring for children, people with disabilities, the sick or the elderly. Flexible working can also help employees to manage their time to allow for hobbies, studying or to keep fit. One organisation found that employees who participated in a work-from-home trial also reported higher rates of work satisfaction (EY, 2016).
A joint study conducted by the University of New South Wales, the Black Dog Institute and the National Mental Health Commission recommends flexible work as an effective workplace intervention. The report found that increased job control was linked to better mental health outcomes among employees. The report also illustrates the benefits that flexible work has for carers of people with mental illness (Harvey et al., 2018). Research undertaken by Beyond Blue identified workplace pressures as a contributing risk factor for high rates of depression among Australian men.
A 2010 survey by Bain & Co found that 94% of women and 74% of men surveyed were interested in flexible working arrangements. Despite this high level of interest, only 46% of women and 25% of men had used or were currently using flex. This indicates that not only is there a discrepancy between interest in flexibility and flex use, it also tells us that women are almost twice as likely to use flex as men (Coffman et al., 2019).
Consciously promoting flexibility to men is a good way to promote gender equality as well as employee health and well-being.
EY 2016, ‘Next-gen workforce: secret weapon or biggest challenge?’ viewed 12 October 2018, available: <https://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-next-gen-workforce-secret-weapon-or-biggest-challenge/$FILE/ey-pdf-next-gen-workforce-secret-weapon-or-biggest-challenge.pdf>.
Harvey, S. B, Joys, S, Tan, L, Johnson, A, Nguyen, H, Modini, M & Groth M 2014, Developing a mentally healthy workplace: A review of the literature, UNSW & The Black Dog Institute, viewed 12 October 2018, available <https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/developing-a-mentally-healthy-workplace_final-november-2014.pdf?sfvrsn=8>
Coffman, J & Hogey R, Bain & Co 2010, Flexible Work Models: How to bring sustainability to a 24/7 world, viewed 31 January 2019, available: <https://www.asx.com.au/documents/about/flexible_work_models_bain_and_company_2010.pdf>
Diversity & women in leadership
Family and caring-friendly working policies are likely to boost the number of female employees in the workplace.
There is a harmful assumption in the workforce that women’s priorities change once they have children and that they become less engaged with work. This is known as the ‘motherhood penalty’. Contrary to this myth, research shows that women who work flexibly are just as ambitious as their colleagues (Sanders et al., 2015). Research also demonstrates that companies with more part-time managers have better gender-balance at an executive level (Cermak et al., 2018). This underscores the impact that flexibility can have on promoting diversity and encouraging women to progress through the pipeline into more senior roles.
Sanders, M, Zenga, J & Fagg K 2015, The Power of Flexibility: A Key Enabler to Boost Gender Parity and Employee Engagement, viewed 04 February 2019, available: <https://www.bain.com/insights/the-power-of-flexibility/>
Cermak, J, et al. 2017, Women in Leadership: Lessons from Australian Companies Leading the Way, McKinsey & Co, Business Council Australia, WGEA, viewed 5 December 2018, available: <https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/gender-equality/women-in-leadership-lessons-from-australian-companies-leading-the-way>
Future-proofing the workplace
Australia has an ageing population and this is expected to have an impact on labour force participation rates as older Australians continue to retire. Overall, participation for all people aged 15 years and over is projected to fall from 64.6% in 2014-15 to 62.4% in 2054-55 (Commonwealth of Australia, 2015).
To meet workforce needs, the Australian government has acknowledged that it is important to increase female labour force participation rates at a national level. Changing the way Australians work and making the balance between work and life more realistic for employees at an organisational level is crucial to achieving this goal.
In 2017, the female wife or partner was employed in 70% of all coupled families with dependents (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018). The average Australian family has now evolved beyond the traditional bread-winner/stay-at-home parent model. Many workplaces do not reflect this evolution.
The female labour force participation rate in Australia is still relatively low when compared with a number of other OECD countries, including our close peers Canada and New Zealand (OECD,2018). The examples set by these countries indicates that there is potential to boost Australia’s female labour force participation rates even further. This will help to address the demographic changes across many industries and within organisations as older workers retire. However, Australian families must have the right support and incentives available in order to achieve this.
Commonwealth of Australia 2015, 2015 Intergenerational Report: Australian in 2055, viewed 17 September 2018, available: <https://static.treasury.gov.au/uploads/sites/1/2017/06/2015_IGR.pdf>
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, Labour Force, Australia: Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Families, June 2017 , available <http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lat estproducts/6224.0.55.001Main%20Features4June%202017?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=6224.0.55.001&issue=June%202017&num=&view=>
Assessing Flexible Working in your Workplace
Prior to developing your flexibility strategy it is important to conduct a readiness assessment to understand where you are now, determine your flexibility vision and identify key priorities. This section provides a summary of the key concepts of the flexibility roadmap.
Using the flexibility roadmap
The flexibility roadmap has been developed to help organisations think about the flexibility journey and their overall position. Does the organisation view flexibility as a compliance or programmatic issue, in the sense that flexible working arrangements are offered in a limited way, or does the organisation view flexibility in a more holistic way, where flexibility is part of the organisation’s strategy and factored into the way work is done? Or does the organisation lie somewhere in between?
The flexibility roadmap has been simplified into three distinct stages: ‘limited’, ‘basic’ and ‘embedded’, which are aligned to the six broad phases outlined in the gender strategy toolkit. You can use your assessment against the capability framework to plot your position on the roadmap and determine where you want to go. Each phase is outlined below.
For more information on supporting your organisation to diagnose it's progress on flexiblity, please access the resources below:
This tool provides you with a template to calculate your flexibility score and determine your position on the flexibility roadmap.
Prior to developing your workplace flexibility strategy, it is recommended that you undertake a readiness assessment. This toolkit provides the framework and practical guide to conducting a systematic diagnosis of ‘where are we now’.
Developing and Implementing a Workplace Flexibility Strategy
Adopting a strategic approach to flexibility ensures it is viewed as an important organisational issue. When issues are seen as organisational, rather than individual, there is an understanding that they need to be dealt with comprehensively, taking into account every part of the organisation.
A strategic approach to flexibility
Due to the increasing imperative for organisations to improve their flexibility capability, flexibility is no longer confined to the working relationship between an employee and their manager. It involves many parts of the organisation working together to create a successful transformation. Whether it be creating new processes and systems around work; requiring managers and employees to change the way they work; or implementing new infrastructure and technology, organisations need to create a holistic, integrated approach that involves all key stakeholders. Leaders also need to play a role in supporting flexibility, whether it be via resourcing, modelling flexibility themselves or creating accountability for the transformation. The strategic approach enables internal decision makers to make choices that support the overall business direction. This is the role of a flexibility strategy, to enable decision making, as well as support implementation more broadly.
The change process
The change to organisation-wide flexibility requires a comprehensive strategy that includes an ongoing learning process, which enables the organisation to handle the complexity. In the past, flexibility has been seen as a benefit to employees, with little focus on the potential benefits to the organisation. As a result, the focus is usually on individuals and their managers with many organisations yet to develop the capabilities needed for effective, productive flexibility. Often within organisations, flexibility begins with one trusted, valued employee adopting a flexible working arrangement with minimal imposition on operations. While this is an important first step, it is not sufficient to enable an organisation to deal with the important areas of change that facilitate organisation-wide flexibility. An organisation’s experience of flexible work with isolated individuals may reinforce, rather than challenge, existing misunderstandings about flexibility.
The resources below are designed to assist you with the design, implementation and review of a flexibility strategy and change journey:
A guide to building an organisation-wide approach to implementing and managing workplace flexibility.
These sample questions can be used in an employee questionnaire to assess perceptions and support of flexible working.
Developing a flexible working arrangements policy
A formal policy on flexible working arrangements states the principles, guidelines and procedures related to flexible working arrangements and conditions that support employees’ personal choices. It provides an overall framework for complying with legal requirements as well as for the responsibility and accountability of both employer and employees.
Why have a flexible working arrangements policy?
A formal policy on flexible working arrangements clearly outlines the organisation’s stated intent and practices to provide a work environment that enables employees to optimise their contribution to the employer. It assists employers to meet basic legal obligations and supports people managers to make consistent and reliable decisions, which promotes a culture of fairness. It assists employees to manage their participation in paid work while providing clarity around entitlements and expectations. It benefits both the business and its employees.
It is recommended that organisations have a formal flexible working arrangements policy, which will assist organisation:
- meet legal requirements
- increase staff loyalty, satisfaction and commitment
- improve workplace productivity
- reduce absenteeism and staff turnover, resulting in lower recruitment and training costs
- attract, retain and develop talents
- be recognised as an employer of choice
Informal versus formal flexibility policy
Flexible working arrangements for individual employees can evolve in quite a casual way, particularly with a stable team with the same leader for a long period of time. Having informal arrangements in place around flexible working can be a very effective way of introducing flexibility to a team quickly and with the minimum amount of paperwork and administrative effort.
However, a change in leadership can create difficulties informal arrangements, particularly if a new leader has more traditional ideas around working and workplace structures. For this reason, it is worth considering how long a flexible work arrangement is expected to be in place when determining whether it should be formal or informal.
If it is a short-term arrangement for a few weeks or a couple of months, designed to meet a specific employee need, then an informal arrangement should be sufficient in most instances. If it is a long-term prospect, then a formal arrangement may be more beneficial to everyone. To encourage formal uptake of flexibility, it is important to streamline the process so that employees may easily apply for and record their flexible work arrangements.
Leading practice snapshot
- Go beyond minimum legal obligations and strive to implement initiatives that benefit both business and employees.
- Consult to ensure the policy is tailored to the unique and specific needs of the employer and employees in a particular workplace.
- Communicate the policy to managers, particularly managers with responsibility for recruitment, performance reviews and training and development decisions.
- Communicate the policy to all employees, particularly during recruitment, performance reviews and training and development.
- Ensure that the flexible working arrangements policy is consistently applied across the organisation.
Key features of a flexible working arrangements policy
|Area||Key features that may be included|
|Guideline and procedures||
Eligibility and exclusions
An outline of the expectations imposed upon employees who have entered into a flexible working arrangement and their managers:
Performance and review
|References and resources||
Flexibility for Executives
As traditional ways of working are disrupted, CEOs and executive leadership teams increasingly need to develop the leadership skills to implement more flexible ways of working.
Providing flexible working arrangements for all employees and reducing work/life conflict has clear benefits for employers and research shows that flexibility is a key driver for all women and men at work, not just those with young children. Many women and men don’t conform to the full-time worker mould; they have other priorities and aspirations such as pursuing additional study, approaching retirement or being engaged parents.
Flexibility is a key driver and enabler of gender equality. Flexible working at all levels enables greater access to roles and leadership positions across an organisation for women and men. As there are fewer opportunities for combining flexible work, especially part-time work, with management and supervisory positions, a lack of flexibility is a barrier to greater workforce participation for women. Supporting women and men to work flexibly can help enable women’s increased participation in the workforce. Supporting men to work flexibly enables women’s increased participation in the workforce, a key to achieving gender equality.
When an organisation takes a strategic approach to implementing flexible working arrangements, flexibility capability is viewed as an important organisational issue, rather than an issue confined to the relationship between an employee and manager. When issues are seen as organisational, rather than individual, there is often a parallel realisation that they need to be dealt with comprehensively, taking into account every part of the organisation.
The transformation that occurs when an organisation improves its flexibility capability is far-reaching and can involve creating new processes and systems around work and require managers and employees to change the way they work. It can also require new infrastructure or technology. Organisations need to create a holistic, integrated implementation approach that involves all the key players who can enable flexibility.
It is also important to understand your obligations Under the Fair Work Act 2009. Certain employees may request a flexible working arrangement under certain circumstances. The National Employment Standards that are part of the Fair Work Act 2009 require employers to consider employees’ requests for flexibility.
The Fair Work Act 2009 also prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of factors such as family or carer’s responsibilities, among other things, and makes provision for ‘individual flexibility arrangements’. For more information see the Fair Work Ombudsman website.
What we say
- Make strong, consistent statements about the importance of flexibility to achieving the organisation’s goals.
- Talk to your senior management team about organisation wide flexibility.
How we act
- Be a visible leader on the issue of workplace flexibility.
- Role model working flexibly and managing a flexible team.
- Ask the executive leadership team to role model working flexibly.
What we prioritise
- Ensure workplace flexibility is an agenda item at the executive level and has an executive sponsor.
- Ensure flexibility is a priority for your human resources and diversity team.
- Prioritise the development of a flexibility strategy
What we measure
- Monitor the uptake of flexible work arrangements.
- Seek feedback and engagement with managers and employees through surveys and focus groups on their experience on flexible work arrangements in the organisation.
This toolkit highlights the role of the executive team in leading an organisation towards an successful flexible working environment, including:
- Why introduce flexibility?
- Flexibility strategy roadmap – how to develop clear strategic objectives
- The 10 leadership capabilities required for effective flexibility
- Demonstrating a strong leadership commitment to flexibility.
Flexibility for Managers
Organisations are under increasing pressure to improve their flexibility capability. Flexibility can no longer be confined to the working relationship between an employee and their manager, but must become a standard way of working to meet the demands of modern life. Flexible working arrangements help teams and individuals to work productively, be more strongly engaged with their work, and stay longer with the organisation. Implementing flexible working arrangements across teams and organisations presents a variety of challenges that managers and employees will need to negotiate. Teams that are working flexibly still need to operate productively with other teams and departments that are also working flexibly. This requires new and different approaches to management, drawing on individual abilities to connect, enable and collaborate with their teams and other stakeholders in the organisation.
The benefits of flexibility for teams and organisations
Research has shown there are a number of benefits for individuals, teams and organisations when employees are enabled to work flexibly.
- Improved output. For jobs that require concentration, working at home, working at hours when the office is quiet, or working from another location can help with the quality and speed of the work.
- Flexible workers can be more effective. Successful flexible workers are excellent self-managers who are both well organised and effective communicators.
- Improved ability to meet the needs of clients and stakeholders. An organisation that works flexibly can expand service delivery hours, meeting customer needs for out-of-hours contact with the organisation. Flexible work locations may extend the organisation’s ability to react more quickly to client needs, or to extend their reach to more or different clients. Extra levels of service can increase loyalty.
- Retaining knowledge, skills and experience / avoiding the cost of recruitment and retraining. In the current job market, flexibility has become an attractive feature of organisations and has been marked as a key influence in candidates’ job choices. Retaining existing knowledge and skills is also important to ensure maximum value is gained from the organisation’s investment in recruitment and training. Offering flexibility reduces the likelihood that employees will leave and increases loyalty to the organisation.
- Employers of Choice do flexibility well. If your organisation aims to become a WGEA Employer of Choice for Gender Equality, providing employees with flexibility may align nicely with that aim.
- Increased job satisfaction. Employees who have opportunities to work flexibly have been shown to have greater job satisfaction and this increases both their productivity and their sense of loyalty to the organisation.
- Improved teamwork. Teamwork often improves as knowledge and enthusiasm are shared among a more motivated flexible working team.
Understand your role as a manager of flexible workers
Managers play a critical role in enabling and embedding workplace flexibility. Key aspects of this role are to:
- ensure employees are aware of their rights and responsibilities around flexible work
- provide employees with support and build a team culture based on high performance, trust and outcomes
- ensure communication and resource management are enabled between teams and departments
- set an example by openly supporting flexibility and working flexibly themselves, which will help employees and teams understand that working flexibly is a normal and accepted part of work.
This toolkit is designed to help managers at all levels implement productive, successful flexible working arrangements. It is intended to be of particular use to managers who directly manage employees working flexibly.
The toolkit outlines strategies that can guide you as you seek to maximise the benefits of flexibility. These strategies can be applied to the implementation of flexible working arrangements across whole teams or for only a few employees.
Flexibility good practice 1: leadership
What is your leadership like now?
- Is the strategic context for your team’s work clearly communicated?
- Do you have a well-developed vision for your team that is known by each team member?
- Are roles clearly allocated within your flexibly working team?
- Have you clearly established your leadership?
- Do you support and model flexibility in your own role?
Good practice strategies
Leadership makes the difference
What leaders say, how they act, what they prioritise and how they measure results all have an impact on effective leadership. Flexibility, by its nature, is more likely to thrive in a collaborative, goal-oriented environment. Managers who can create such an environment are more likely to model successful flexibility in their teams.
Speak positively about flexibility
As the leader of your team, it is important to make strong, consistently positive statements about the benefits and importance of flexibility to achieving the organisation’s goals.
Role model flexibility
Consider adopting a flexible working arrangement yourself. This can be a powerful way of demonstrating successful flexible work, while enhancing your team’s supportive and trust based culture
Show that flexibility is important to you by making it a priority. One of the ways that you can prioritise flexibility is by ensuring that people who work flexibly are included in team activities and continue to receive rewards, training and opportunities for promotion.
Flexibility good practice 2: team culture
What is your team culture like now?
- Do all team members participate and have a sense of belonging?
- Are the organisation’s values modelled and communicated to each flexible worker?
- Are you specifically aware of what you do to create great teamwork?
- Are colleagues supportive of flexible workers or are there issues such as social isolation and communication breakdown?
- Does your team have a trust-based culture?
Good practice strategies
Foster good team dynamics
You may already have a great team dynamic and an excellent working environment, or these may be on your list of ‘things to improve’. Flexibility is often a way to ensure that what is working well continues to be successful, and it can be a very effective way of creating positive change in teams that may be struggling to cope. Consulting with your team members about how you could adjust your traditional or current practices is a good way to start understanding how flexibility might work in your team. This could include changing the ways that social time is organised, how new team members are introduced and how new project teams are formed. For social time and introducing new team members, some teams nominate events when everyone will attend, regardless of their flexibility arrangement. Others make a time to videoconference for a social chat, with no work talk allowed. Social media can also be a very useful platform for building social relationships in virtual teams. When forming new project teams, be aware that people in virtual teams often bond initially over a common vision and mission, i.e. the common tasks they share. People then bond after a period of time over personal characteristics.
Educate your team about flexibility
Ensuring that your team understands the benefits and challenges of flexible work is critical to the success of any flexibility initiative. Encourage input from team members about how they perceive flexibility and what they think would work for them, and consider running focus groups with different levels of the workforce (see the WGEA Focus Group toolkit). Discuss the role of flexibility in achieving business outcomes and address any misperceptions that flexible workers are disinterested, unambitious or poor contributors.
Establish a trust-based culture
Trust is an important aspect of a flexible working arrangement and is based on an expectation that an agreement will be upheld, as well as a belief or confidence in a person’s competence. Trust is also developed around a person’s commitment or good will. Having team members working flexibly can challenge these aspects of trust, so both manager and employee will need to work towards a mutually trusting relationship if flexibility is going to work successfully. Consider running workshops with team members to help them operate effectively in the absence of information, perhaps when you are not contactable or when they need to work autonomously.
Introduce transparent results
A results-based management framework where KPIs, objectives, goals, aims or other results are transparent and clearly described quickly reveals whether a person is meeting their objectives or might need some help. It also helps if roles are clearly established and communicated when new projects commence or when new teams form. Transparent objectives and results are best used as a collaborative mechanism for both managers and employees to work towards the stated goal/s, rather than as a stick to ensure compliant behaviour. There are a number of collaborative work platforms that can help when introducing a results-based management framework.
Allocate work to suit flexibility
Teamwork often involves dynamic, innovative and collaborative work and the manager’s challenge is how to undertake teamwork when members of a team are working flexibly. Improved communication and knowledge management systems, together with great team practices, will not only increase the breadth of work that can be done flexibly but will also enhance your team members’ sense of work satisfaction. At the same time, allocating work that can be done more independently to flexible workers is a good strategy to ensure that the flexible worker’s time is effectively allocated by taking into account the working context.
Create a sense of belonging for all team members
Managers who collaborate well with their teams can help all members feel appropriately included and overcome any feelings of isolation that can ensue from flexible work.
Manage communication across timeframes and locations
Communication – whether it is electronic or in person - is a valuable tool for enhancing team culture. Flexible work can require changes to traditional ways of communicating. It is important to choose the right communication platforms to suit the circumstances. Email is a very useful communication tool and often suffices, but there are times when face-to-face communication will be more effective and productive. This may be particularly important if sensitive or complex discussions are needed. Consider providing communication training to help team members navigate the challenges of communicating effectively when working flexibly.
Make team meetings accessible to all Team meetings when members are working flexibly can take a variety of forms. Sometimes face-to-face meetings may include all team members; at other times, a team may use a variety of telecommunications and videoconferencing technologies to bring people together in the same room. Regardless of the platform, it is important to have clear meeting protocols. This means that each meeting should have a clear purpose and clear roles. The importance of non-verbal communication should also be taken into account when some members are not physically present.
Flexibility good practice 3: active learning
What is your active learning practice like now?
- Do you actively explore new flexibility arrangements to make sure everybody’s needs are taken into account?
- Do some processes or activities in your team involve trial and error or tweaking and adjustment?
- Are you comfortable with establishing temporary solutions, testing their success, and then adjusting as needed?
- Do you use discovery activities to determine whether a flexible working arrangement is achieving its intended goals?
- Do you establish an expectation of open, honest conversations about issues to do with flexible working arrangements?
Good practice strategies
Discuss the active learning approach with your flexible team
The most effective way to establish productive, successful longterm flexible working arrangements is to use a trial-and-error approach. This gives you and your team an opportunity to learn what works in terms of communication tools, remote access, meeting times, results-based management, work allocation, team activities and so on. Discuss the active learning approach with your team and encourage their input.
Set up a trial period
A trial is when you actively test a flexibility arrangement to see how it works for your organisation, yourself, and your team. There is an agreed expectation that the arrangement may change in some way during the trial period. The Fair Work Commission recommends a 3-to-6 month trial period for a new working arrangement. If the new arrangement doesn’t work well initially for either party, use the opportunity to amend the arrangement to be more effective. Once a flexible working arrangement is in place, we recommend it is reviewed regularly, potentially every three months for the first year or so.
Use discovery activities to develop your perspective
Discovery activities enable you and your flexible team to get the information you need to make adjustments that improve the situation. This is best approached through open, honest discussions about flexibility that focus on facts. Refer to your results-management framework and be flexible.
Flexibility good practice 4: resource planning
What is your resource planning like now?
- How well are core business needs being met within your current resources?
- Are your clients and stakeholders being appropriately served?
- Are competing requests and deadlines balanced and resolved?
- Are any of your team members struggling to manage their workload?
- Do you have visibility of who could potentially take on another project?
Good practice strategies
Plan ahead to reduce issues
Planning ahead is a simple but powerful strategy to help ensure resources are allocated in line with people’s availability. Discuss resourcing with your team and develop strategies to deal with potential pitfalls. Planning the resources needed for flexible workers to do their jobs effectively can be quite a complex process and we recommend this is done at the earliest opportunity.
Allocate tasks to suit flexibility
Your process for managing your team’s workload may require some adjustments when many or all team members are working flexibly. Collaborative project management and communication tools can help your flexible workers to be involved in teamwork, if needed. A central project planning tool can also enable each team member to communicate changes to the project.
Manage under-capacity and the risk of work intensification
Be proactive to maintain awareness of your flexible workers’ workloads, to ensure that they are neither overloaded nor underused. If issues arise, it may be that the work within your team can be reallocated or jobs redesigned to better suit flexibility.
Flexibility good practice 5: information flow
What is your information flow like now?
- Are all of your team members able to attend all relevant meetings?
- Are any of your team members complaining of increased stress?
- Does your technology support remote or mobile access for those team members who need it?
- Do you have handover procedures or platforms (e.g. collaborative project management software) in place?
- Is there a smooth flow of information in your team or does a lack of quick access to information result in frequent errors?
Good practice strategies
Establish communication patterns that support flexibility
It can be a good idea to establish communications patterns deliberately, to ensure that information flows freely. By doing so, the patterns of communication that happen in your team can become part of your team’s norms. Here are a few examples of communication patterns that work in some teams:
- projects are updated daily via a collaborative project management software tool or a phone call
- handovers occur weekly via a written update and audio recording
- team meetings occur weekly via face-to-face meeting or videoconference
- sensitive or complex discussions occur ad hoc as needed via face-to-face meeting or high quality videoconference
- out-of-office notifications are handled by an automatic email response and phones are diverted to a team member
- all team members expect that no response is expected for emails received after hours.
Keep all team members updated
When it comes to flexibility, your team members will often need to catch up on developments that occurred while working offsite or for different hours. This may be particularly important for job sharing, compressed working weeks, telecommuting and part-time work arrangements, but could be applicable to every flexible working arrangement to some degree. It is important to ensure that everyone on the team is kept up-to-date.
Use email appropriately
Between face-to-face, videoconferencing, instant messaging and email there is a wide range of communication platforms at our disposal. Text-based communication technologies have their uses, but they are often not appropriate for communication tasks that need rich interaction. Email is usually less efficient and less successful than face-to-face conversations for discussing sensitive, complex or sophisticated topics.
Use collaborative technology tools to improve information flow
Collaborative communication tools and interaction platforms can expand the range of options beyond traditional one-way, textbased technologies. Examples include unified communications platforms, collaborative work rooms, collaborative project management software, wikis and social media platforms. Lastly, videoconferencing can be used to conduct team meetings, have discussions and keep team members up-to-date. Some team members may be less familiar or comfortable with some forms of electronic communication so you will need to consider providing for these team members so they can participate fully. When using any electronic communication option, it is important to ensure that security features are in place to protect remote and mobile access.
Keep cross-departmental channels open
Internal stakeholders can sometimes be an afterthought when it comes to planning and preparing for flexibility in your team. Communicate your team’s availability to your internal stakeholders. Find out how best to keep information flowing smoothly.
Flexibility good practice 6: results-based performance management
What is your results-based performance management like now?
- Does each position in your team have a framework of KPIs, goals, outcomes, objectives or similar that fully covers your expectations of their work?
- Are your expectations about the quality, timing, efficiency and stakeholder impact of the work clearly described and fully understood?
- Do you have a performance management framework that is closely tied to results delivered?
- Do you know without a doubt whether each member of your team is performing as expected in his or her role?
- Do you give your staff members a fair degree of autonomy in how they deliver results?
Good practice strategies
Flexibly working teams often need greater transparency about the work being done across the team, and this can help ensure accountability. Some flexible workers may also need more guidance in the early days to understand the standard of work that needs to be delivered.
Build in autonomy
Flexibility often means that staff members will work more autonomously. Research and experience clearly show that when staff members are given greater autonomy to decide how they achieve work outcomes, they work more productively and are more engaged. Make the most of this by loosening your grip on ‘how’ work outcomes are achieved.
Discuss performance as part of reviewing flexibility arrangements
Your employees need clear, factual feedback about how they’re tracking in relation to their performance objectives. These discussions should focus on objective, observable facts. If you have established a results-based management framework, there will be clear and readily-accessible information about the person’s performance to hand. Your employees will respond more positively if you resist any temptation to make subjective judgements based on your opinion when discussing a team member’s performance. Uphold trust in the relationship by being open to alternative explanations for behaviours you may initially see as negative. When specifically reviewing flexibility arrangements restate your ideal outcome - i.e. arriving at a situation that works as well as possible for everyone – and then discuss any issues. Approach issues with a view to finding a better solution. Manage your team equitably: even if only one or two members of your team work flexibly, manage your whole team using the same approach Remember to reward good performance. Not only does rewarding good performance contribute to stronger results, it also improves morale and staff engagement.
Flexibility good practice 7: self-management
What is your self-management like now?
- Are you flexible and willing to improve and adjust flexible working arrangements in response to feedback?
- Are you aware of whether you need to do additional training to manage flexibility?
- Are you adapting personally to a results-oriented management approach based on trust, letting go, and communicating expectations?
- Are you managing flexibility relatively easily within your existing workload?
- Are you aware of your bias towards or against flexibility?
Good practice strategies
Focus on learning
Focus on developing your knowledge and skills for good flexibility management. Permit yourself some time to learn the skills. Try things out and monitor your success. Change and adapt your management style in response to what works and what doesn’t. Overall, stay flexible and willing to learn.
Become aware of bias
Having a bias about flexibility may limit your opportunities to try it out, or it may render you less likely to see problems with a particular flexibility arrangement. It is good to become aware of your bias so that you can continue to learn, adapt and develop. Keep a regular journal to encourage self-reflection and increase your awareness of how you are adapting to new flexible working arrangements in your team. Encourage team members to do the same.
Ensure you have the resources you need
Use this toolkit to demonstrate the changes you need to make as a manager and the additional time and resources required. Take advantage of any available manager training on flexibility
Flexibility good practice 8: stakeholder management
What is your stakeholder management like now?
- Are your clients and other stakeholders being appropriately managed?
- Do you monitor the impact of your team’s work on your stakeholders?
- Do you minimise the impact of flexibility on your stakeholders?
- Do you work collaboratively with stakeholders, where possible, to resolve issues affecting them?
- Do you support your stakeholders through major transitions?
Good practice strategies
Minimise stakeholder impact
Explain how and why you and the organisation are committed to flexibility. For example, there may be a commitment to become an employer of choice, to attract great staff or to retain skills within your team. Discuss and resolve issues around flexibility that could impact significantly on stakeholders. Remember to keep your internal stakeholders informed and supported, not only your clients. This may include giving teams in work areas near you a clear explanation of why your team has different work patterns, to avoid rumours and confusion.
Clarify the stakeholder benefits
Outline the benefits flexibility can achieve for your stakeholders. For example, they may be more likely to keep dealing with the same person; they could expect greater engagement from contacts within the organisation; there may be potential to contact the team across a wider range of hours and so on.
Recognise that if flexible work results in a disruption to stakeholders’ business needs, it will take a significant shift, learning curve and adaptation on the part of your stakeholders to adjust to new ways of working with your team or flexible worker. Be sure to plan for crisis situations in addition to your business-as-usual stakeholder management.
Flexibility good practice 9: legal risk management
What is your legal risk management like now?
- Are you implementing flexibility with the impact on gender equality in your workplace firmly in mind?
- Are you meeting your obligations under the Fair Work Act 2009?
- Have you followed the requirements and regulations for flexible workers established by your jurisdiction’s work health and safety legislation and your organisation’s work health and safety policy?
- Are you meeting your obligations under the discrimination acts?
- Are you meeting your obligations with regards to the Privacy Act 1988, for example when it comes to security and confidentiality of company and client documents?
- Have you ensured that your flexible workers have followed all relevant policies, to meet the obligations of relevant legislation?
Good practice strategies
Find out your obligations
The first thing to understand about your legal obligations as an employer is that the Fair Work Act 2009 established that some employees have the right to request flexible work. Employees who make a request must receive a written response within 21 days. Read more on the Fair Work Ombudsman site. Managers should note that flexibility may cause other legislation to become relevant in areas such as pay and conditions, equal employment opportunity and other matters. Your obligations under the relevant laws may surprise you. For example, Work Health and Safety legislation may not be the same in your state or territory as in other states and territories. Be sure to find out what your obligations are. You may want to ask your organisation’s human resources area to provide you and your team with an induction in the relevant areas.
Actively review your compliance
Don’t be caught out by changing legal obligations. Instead, make time regularly – perhaps annually - to ensure that your practices are in line with each of the relevant pieces of legislation.
Flexibility good practice 10: change management
What is your change management like now?
- Do you clearly outline the vision of your team after the change, together with the reason why change is necessary?
- Do you actively uncover and constructively combat negative assumptions and attitudes about change?
- Do you ensure that all voices are heard?
- Do you provide support to help change long-held habits and behaviours?
Good practice strategies
Align with your organisation’s change management strategy
Your organisation may be undertaking an organisationwide move to flexibility. This will involve a tailored change management program that may impact your work. Aligning with this strategy may provide you with access to additional resources to support the change. This context can also form part of the vision you establish regarding the reason for change.
Work with your team to help them adjust
Your team may need some help adjusting to flexibility and the changes it may bring to team culture, performance management, resource planning, information flow and so on. To help them, outline a clear vision of how your team will benefit from flexibility. Team members can often see issues that are less visible to managers. Taking note of these issues and trying to address them will help each member of the team to align with the change. Constructively address negative assumptions and attitudes and ensure that all voices are heard. Give time and encouragement to those having difficulty changing long-held habits and behaviours, and overall, work with your team to help them adjust.
Flexibility for Employees
When you first think about flexibility, you might wonder: “How should I approach my manager to talk about this?” or “Is there even a chance that I will get this flexibility request approved?” The steps that you are most likely to go through in requesting and accessing flexibility are:
- What sort of flexibility would you prefer?
- What effect might it have on your team and your manager if you adopt this type of flexibility?
- What will your manager be most concerned about in offering you flexibility?
- What can you do to help flexibility work effectively for your manager and team?
- What are your employer’s legal responsibilities?
- What if you can’t have the specific type or amount of flexibility you want or need?
Note that adopting flexibility and making it successful in your team may require some deep personal changes on behalf of your manager and teammates. Don’t let this put you off asking for flexibility, but think about the whole picture so that you will be better able to negotiate effectively.
Depending on your particular workplace culture, you may find it helpful to have an informal chat with your manager first, or it may be more appropriate to submit a formal request straight away. A formal request needs to be in writing, explain clearly what changes you are requesting and the reasons for the request. In most cases, you will then need to discuss the request with your manager.
Identify a few flexibility options that could work for you
Are there particular hours and days that would make a difference to your work life balance? Would it work best for you to work in the office or away from the office? Do you need to be able to change your working hours or location very quickly in some circumstances? Some organisations limit the flexibility options available to employees. It is important to know what is possible within your organisation’s framework, for example telecommuting may only be available to staff members who meet certain prerequisites, such as a strong performance rating for the preceding six months. The flexibility options available to you will hopefully be quite broad, but they are defined by your organisation’s policy.
What will your manager be most concerned about?
It will help at this point to consider the challenges for your manager that may come with your request for flexibility, and to think how you might help your manager deal with those challenges. Some managers may also have mistaken views about flexible work and flexible workers, based on myths, many of which are not accurate. Preparing yourself to address your manager’s primary concerns in advance of your initial discussion could be very beneficial. We suggest that you first look at flexibility from your manager’s perspective and make some notes about the primary concerns they will have about flexible working arrangements. When you have identified some primary concerns, jot down some ideas about how to negotiate your way around them. Table 2 provides some examples.
Addressing manager concerns about flexibility
|Manager Concern||Sample Responses|
|Productivity: how will your flexible working arrangement affect the team’s ability to deliver their work on time and to a high standard?||
|Employee commitment: the belief that employees who want to work flexibly are not committed to their jobs.||
|Trust: that you will complete the work you need to, particularly if you are working off site.||
|Anxiety: that you may not always be directly supervised in your work.||
|Scheduling: how to schedule flexible hours so that they work within the team environment.||
|Communication: will need to be more formal via email or phone, rather than just wandering up and talking to you at your desk (particularly if you are working off site).||
|Snowballing: “If I do it for one, I’ll have to do it for everyone”.||
Expressing your interest in flexibility
How you express your interest in flexibility may have an impact on whether your request is viewed positively or not. Some points to consider when expressing your interest in flexibility:
- show your understanding that there could be challenges for your manager and team and explain that you want to find solutions to those challenges ➡ emphasise that you want to be flexible and results-focused in approaching any arrangement
- if possible, link your request to any stated aims the organisation might have to become a flexible employer or employer of choice; to improve its attraction and retention or to improve its gender diversity
- suggest that your manager and you each choose a small set of flexibility options that you can start negotiating about, to determine an option that has the best chance of success.
As you commence your journey towards accessing flexibility, it also helps if you understand your employer’s legal obligations.
What about the legal framework?
The Fair Work Act (2009) provides that certain employees, who have worked with the same employer for at least 12 months, have a ‘right to request’ flexible working arrangements if they:
- are the parent, or have responsibility for the care, of a child who is school aged or younger
- are a carer (under the Carer Recognition Act 2010)
- have a disability
- are 55 or older
- are experiencing family or domestic violence, or
- provide care or support to a member of their household or immediate family who requires care and support because of family or domestic violence.
Casual employees can make a request if:
- they’ve been working for the same employer regularly and systematically for at least 12 months
- there’s a reasonable expectation of continuing work with the employer on a regular and systematic basis. Such a request must be in writing, explain what changes are being requested and explain the reason for the request. The employer must respond to a request within 21 days and can only refuse a request on ‘reasonable business grounds’ and a refusal must be in writing and outline the reasonable business grounds relied upon.
Reasonable business grounds can include:
- the requested arrangements are too costly
- other employees’ working arrangements can’t be changed to accommodate the request
- it’s impractical to change other employees’ working arrangements or hire new employees to accommodate the request
- the request would result in a significant loss of productivity or have a significant negative impact on customer service.
Note: an employer does not have to accept or reject a request in its entirety. Following a request, it is best practice for an employer and employee to discuss the request and negotiate to come to an arrangement that balances both parties’ needs.
Employees that don’t fit into the above categories can also request flexible working arrangements but aren’t covered under this legal framework.
Further information about employers’ obligations under the Fair Work Act 2009 can be obtained from the Fair Work Ombudsman. Please note that entitlements under state or territory laws may provide additional flexibility-related rights.
Recognise that your preferred hours, days and location may not be possible
A number of factors may influence whether your preferred flexibility arrangement can be approved. It may conflict directly with the way your team currently achieves its business outcomes, or it may place an unreasonable burden on other team members. Later in this toolkit, we mention a few methods your manager and / or team can use to resolve the challenges of flexibility. For now it is important to recognise that your particular preferences may be difficult to accommodate without some significant adjustments. Be prepared with some alternative ideas if your preferred option is not available.
Making flexibility work
Preparing for flexibility
Be willing to ‘try it out’
While it is possible that you will get flexibility right first time and enjoy a happy, productive working relationship with your manager and your team, the more common scenario is that fantastic, productive flexibility is the result of a concerted effort to learn from mistakes and adjust arrangements until the right mix is found. That effort comes from your organisation, your manager, you the flexible worker and your team.
It may seem more beneficial to you to ‘lock in’ your flexibility arrangement by agreeing a permanent arrangement up front but in reality a period of experimentation creates more opportunities to discuss, review and refine your flexible working arrangement, which leads to a better outcome overall and greater chance of success over the long term. This may be particularly useful where there is strong resistance to the introduction of flexible working arrangements.
A trial period gives both your manager and your team an opportunity to see how it can work, and it gives you a chance to decide if a different type of flexibility might suit you better or not. A trial of around three months is usually sufficient, and during this time the flexible working arrangement should be actively monitored. Look at aspects such as team culture, information flow, resource planning, confidence in performance, stakeholder management and self-management. Identify areas that need to be discussed or altered, and make the necessary adjustments. Approaching flexibility as a cycle of learning enables you to avoid dramatic failure and to make the most of flexibility.
Aim to work collaboratively with your manager to identify the flexibility option that you can experiment with for a few months. If you and your manager prefer different flexible work options try to work these differences through, by:
- showing willingness to negotiate to find a mutually beneficial agreement
- identifying where there is agreement
- identifying a small set of preferred flexible working arrangements to further explore
- making further investigations if more information is needed
- thinking laterally to arrive at a solution
- ‘meeting in the middle’ with a compromise position.
Overall, you’ll achieve the best result if you act reasonably, look for solutions and attempt to address your manager’s concerns.
Document your agreement
It is important to document your agreement to introduce or to trial flexibility. Documenting the details of your flexibility agreement is a good opportunity to clarify whether both sides have the same understanding of how the flexible working arrangement will operate. The most important outcome is that clear expectations are established between everyone involved in the arrangement.
Be sure to note in the agreement that major adjustments may be needed initially. These should be given with fair notice.
Ensure that your agreement clearly establishes the main details:
- The specific flexibility option to be tested, including when, where and how the work will occur.
- The duration of the testing phase. A testing phase would generally go for between one and six months. A trial of around three months is usually effective.
- The methods that will be used to monitor the arrangement’s success and how often you and your manager will review the arrangement’s success. As noted above, look at areas such as team culture, information flow, resource planning, confidence in performance, stakeholder management and self-management.
- The agreed strategies that will be established by your manager, your team and yourself to resolve the possible challenges that may arise from the flexible working arrangement, together with timeframes.
Once your request is approved, or you have embarked on a flexibility test period, it is important to prepare the ground to create as smooth a transition to flexibility as possible. Here are a few strategies that can help:
- Team flexibility workshop: an opportunity to bring to the fore the potential issues and challenges each team member identifies with a new flexible working arrangement. The workshop should include scenario planning and a brainstorm of specific solutions. See the manager flexibility toolkit for more information about how to run a team flexibility workshop.
- Use communications technology: explore the availability to your team of tools such as videoconferencing and collaborative work platforms to meet and work with people who are working offsite.
- Find ways to make the results you deliver transparent to your team: a team project management platform is a good way to bring transparency to team members, so that they can see the part that each team member plays in delivering end results.
- Scenario planning: play out various scenarios that demonstrate what might happen when and where core business needs and flexible work options meet. Identify the times and places where this could be challenging, and brainstorm appropriate ways of dealing with any clashes.
- Access technology: use project management tools to provide updates on tasks. Use a central project-planning tool to communicate changes in the project to each of your team members. Find out which other emerging technologies can support flexible work.
- Cooperative team planning: get together with your colleagues to solve the problems of how to allocate resources to meet business needs and ensure information flows smoothly within the new flexibility arrangement.
- Flexibility training: become equipped with knowledge and skill to handle the challenges of flexibility through training or other learning and development opportunities.
- Results-based delivery: when team members are working flexibly, it is particularly important to establish clear goals, outcomes, KPIs and other measures of results, so that each team member’s work is clearly described and can be accurately measured and monitored.
- Minimise stakeholder impact: discuss and resolve scenarios that could impact significantly on stakeholders with your team. If your manager or team hasn’t already run a team flexibility workshop (see the manager flexibility toolkit), you will need to identify the scenarios where your flexible working arrangement could impact your stakeholders. You’ll then need to think of ways that these impacts could be reduced.
- Have a conversation with your stakeholders:
- Let them know the practical implications of your flexible working arrangement. For example, there may be days when you will not be in the office, or when a colleague will need to become involved in the work. There may also be new ways that they can contact you.
- Outline the benefits your flexible working arrangement for them - such as having greater engagement from a range of contacts within the organisation, or being served across a wider range of contact hours.
- State your interest in making the arrangement work well for your stakeholders and ask for feedback about how it works for them.
- State your commitment to continuing to prioritise your stakeholders’ interests.
- Recognise that there could be challenges for your stakeholders but that you are keen to find ways that these can be resolved.
- Support your stakeholders: recognise that flexible work can disrupt your stakeholders’ expectations and that it may take a significant shift to adjust to new ways of working with you or your team.
- Policy induction: ask the appropriate representative in your organisation to provide an induction to you and other potential flexible workers or team members with regards to relevant policies.
- Reimbursements and refunds: Your employer may provide reimbursements for some costs associated with establishing a home office or working flexibly, such as mobile devices. Some expenses associated with a home office may also be tax deductible.
Ideally, resolving the challenges of flexibility will not be seen as entirely your responsibility. We hope that this is the case in your organisation. Nonetheless, being well prepared in advance with options for addressing any problems is likely to help ensure a successful flexible working arrangement.
Monitoring, evaluating, adjusting and consolidating flexibility
Make quick adjustments to improve the flexible working arrangement
When an issue is identified, adjustments should be made quickly so that any downsides do not have a prolonged effect and new, more effective work habits become embedded early. Major adjustments should be made with fair notice, particularly if they could have a significant impact on your manager, your team or your stakeholders.
Encourage open, honest discussions about the trial phase
As a proactive employee, you know that it is vital that you get clear feedback about how your manager sees your progress. Here are a few tips about how to get the most out of these discussions:
- refer to your performance measures ahead of any meeting where the flexibility arrangement will be discussed, so that you have a fresh and clear idea of whether you are meeting targets, KPIs, objectives or similar
- remain open to seeing the manager’s point of view, particularly if you believe that negative comments are made. If you try to see the best in your manager, even when confronted with a negative response to your flexibility arrangements, you uphold trust in the relationship
- restate your ideal outcome for the flexibility arrangement i.e. that you want to arrive at a situation that can work as well as possible for both sides
- restate your willingness to adjust and adapt to ensure the best outcome.
Be prepared for ongoing adjustments
After the trial phase, you and your manager should have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t work in the flexible working arrangement. However, some issues that were not apparent during the trial phase may arise later, for a variety of reasons. To prepare for this, it is useful to agree that during the 3-6 month period after the trial, significant changes may still need to be made to maximise business outcomes and employee well-being. You and your manager need to remain open to the possibility that the flexible working arrangement may still need to change over time.
Keep your manager and team informed of your progress
It can sometimes be difficult for flexible workers to feel integrated into a team. Regular and thoughtful communication with the team becomes more important when a member is not always physically present in the team’s working environment. Aside from creating the sense of belonging to the team, formal communication helps flexible workers to demonstrate that they are delivering on expectations, are competent and accountable. Here are a couple of strategies you can use to keep your team up-to-date with developments:
- Provide weekly reports – it is a good idea to offer a weekly report even if this is a new practice. When you’re reporting, don’t just focus on how you spent your time, but on what you delivered in terms of results that contribute to the team’s business outcomes.
- Create a visible progress area – technology provides a range of options for how you could create a common area where people can see what progress is occurring on your work e.g. project management tools, wikis and shared files.
Ongoing management of flexibility
Manage negative perceptions
Some people at work may have negative ideas about people who work flexibly. They may believe that people who work flexibly are less committed to the organisation, less ambitious, less competent or even less deserving of promotion. Often these ideas are related to a belief that flexibility is primarily a benefit to employees. For flexibility to work effectively, these negative ideas need to be addressed.
What does it take to challenge these negative ideas about flexibility? It can be a simple matter of direct personal experience – “seeing with one’s own eyes”. This might mean observing improved productivity through successful delivery in the context of flexible working arrangements. It may be more complex, requiring a person to develop more understanding of flexible work through knowledge development (reading research, for example).
Having some knowledge of research findings about flexibility can help to counteract negative perceptions of flexible workers. For example, research indicates that flexibility is a powerful tool for the attraction and retention of employees:
- The Australian Institute of Management found in a national survey that more than 50% of employees who intended to remain with their employers attributed their loyalty to the availability of flexible working arrangements in their workplace (AIM VT, 2009 ).
- Many employees would rather stay with an employer who offers flexible work than leave for increased pay – in fact, 43% of employees surveyed said they would choose flexible work over a pay rise (UnifyCo, 204) .
- Flexible work contributes to greater employee loyalty (Working Families UK and Cranfield University School of Management, 2008).
Similarly, flexibility has been shown to improve productivity:
- Stanford University found individual productivity improved by 22% when employees were enabled to choose whether to telecommute or not (Stanford University, 2014). Increased productivity comes from decreased commuting stress, improved ability to manage work and life commitments and increased work satisfaction.
Finally, flexibility is an excellent way to improve morale and job satisfaction:
- Research has established a positive relationship between workplace flexibility that gives employees greater control over when they work, where they work and how they work, and satisfaction and engagement (AIM, 2012).
- Up to 83% of employees with access to flexible IT policies such as the availability of technology to work from home report feeling satisfied at work, compared to 62% without access to flexible IT policies (Deloitte Access Economics, 2013).
- Employees who work from home are generally less distracted and are grateful for the flexibility (London School of Economics, 2013).
Be deliberate about teamwork
Look into good team practices and become educated about what it takes to be a good team player. Flexibility often stretches people’s ability by challenging things that they took for granted in their traditional working pattern. Flexible workers may find that some means of actively contributing to the team are no longer available to them. It helps to proactively consider how to manage the changes that flexibility will inevitably bring to your work and your team dynamic. For example, how can you best continue to contribute to team meetings? How can you effectively support your colleagues if you are not physically present in the office? How will you stay in touch with developments relevant to the people and activities of your team? How will you get to know new team members? How will you use technology (or face-to-face meetings) to collaborate effectively? It might be a good idea to discuss these issues with your manager and with the team as a whole, and to brainstorm solutions.
Maintain a sense of belonging
Maintaining that sense of personal connection with people at work that leads you to feel part of a team, a group or an organisation can be difficult if you are not physically present in the workplace at the same times as other team members. Working flexibly can lead to some sense of isolation over time if it is not carefully managed. Balancing time out of the office with time in the office, joining in social activities and staying up-to-date with developments across the organisation can all help to reduce any feelings of isolation. You may be able to establish ways to continue your hallway or water cooler conversations while out of the office through social media or calling specifically for a social chat, for example.
Your preferred work style may be to plan ahead, or you may be a take-it-as-it-comes worker. It is good to be aware of your preferences because with flexibility comes a need to stay informed and to make sure others are informed so that work gets done even when you are not present in the office and able to meet face-to-face. This is particularly important for job sharing, telecommuting and part-time work arrangements, but could be applicable to every flexible working arrangement to some degree. Some teams may use collaborative work platforms, written updates or audio messages to reduce the time it takes for flexible workers to catch up. Whatever platform you use, you will need to factor in some time and effort to stay up-to-date.
Communicate effectively when telecommuting
Some forms of flexible work – telecommuting in particular – raise additional challenges to do with communication and teamwork, both of which can be supported significantly by using the right computing and communications technology in the right way, and knowing when to meet in person.
- Choose the right platforms. There is a risk of overusing some text-based technologies such as email and messaging, and it is worth considering verbal and video-based technologies instead of typewritten communication. Recognise that the greater the sophistication of the communication task, the more important it is to leverage non-text-based communication technologies.
- Seek out face-to-face meetings. While telecommuting has many advantages, home and elsewhere are not always the best locations for some work activities. Face-to-face meetings can be more productive when complex or sensitive communication is required, such as initial client meetings, providing a mid-project report and discussing a sensitive situation.
Keep communication clear and open Clear and open communication is vital to an effective flexible working arrangement. Keeping communication channels open with your manager and team members usually involves:
- establishing a regular meeting time with your colleagues and manager
- providing written information between meetings
- listening actively: avoid repetition and misunderstandings by checking that you have understood both major and subtle messages
- providing an appropriate level of detail
- creating empathy and connection: focus on your colleagues and manager’s needs and interests when appropriate.
Manage your time
It’s clear by now that flexible workers need to be competent self-managers who are able to communicate clearly to make flexibility effective. Another important skill is the ability to plan your work and allocate sufficient time and resources to achieve it. This is particularly important if you are telecommuting. Working at home can seem ideal, but the reality can be quite challenging. Making sure that you are able to work without toofrequent personal interruptions is one challenge. Making sure that you are not too easily distracted by things that need doing at home is another challenge. Planning, setting (and sticking to) boundaries, and raising issues early are all strategies that can increase the effectiveness of flexible working.
Manage your impact on others
Self-management is a valuable skill when it comes to flexible work. While we are often aware of what others need to do to accommodate our flexible working arrangement, we can be less aware of what we need to do to help our flexibility work for others.
Here are some strategies that help to increase selfawareness so you can become aware of issues:
- Keep a journal: it is important to become aware of the subtle issues that can derail the success of your flexibility arrangement over time. Differences in team dynamic, emotional distance between colleagues and frequent misunderstandings can all result in significant frustration for you, your manager and your team. Keeping a personal journal can help you become aware of issues so that you can play a role in resolving them.
- Take time to reflect: take the time to think about how things are working (or not working) and see if you can find solutions to any problems before they become too big.
- Attend flexibility training: use any available training on flexibility to become more acutely aware of the challenges that flexibility can present and effective strategies to resolve them.
- Seek out a mentor: mentors can help you resolve and understand issues that are unfamiliar. Seek out a mentor who is familiar with, or sympathetic to, flexibility.
Manage the interaction between your work and your home life
Whether you’re in the office or away from the office, near your computer or away from a communication device, it will help your work and the rest of your life enormously if you set clear boundaries and manage other people’s expectations about your availability.
- Use appropriate channels to communicate your hours, location or other availability. Some people use their signature block to provide a clear and accessible reminder e.g. Monday 8am-4pm, Tuesday 3pm-7pm and Friday 11am-3pm. Another strategy is to block out days in your online calendar. Internal stakeholders and clients will need your availability communicated on other channels accessible to them.
- Avoid creating an expectation that you’re available outside your work arrangement. People who respond to emails outside of hours often create an expectation that they are available out of hours, and over time this can evolve so that there is no boundary between work and non-work time. If your job requires you to be available for urgent contact or contact out of hours, then you’ll need to provide a way that you can be contacted urgently. Otherwise, it is advisable to resist responding to emails and other contacts outside the hours when your manager, team and stakeholders expect that you’ll be working.
- Draw clear boundaries. Achieving the right balance often comes down to whether each flexible worker is determined to draw clear boundaries. You need to draw boundaries with both your colleagues and your family and friends to ensure that your work time is clearly defined from your non-work time. It can be very helpful to have a conversation with your manager, your team, stakeholders and family about your availability under your new flexibility arrangement. This conversation may include defining ‘overtime’ in a way that suits your work.
- Act consistently with your boundaries. You may have heard stories of friends and family who seem to think “you’ve got a day off today, that means I can pop over” or “you’re working from home, perhaps you could just do me this favour”. As uncomfortable as it may be, the only way to establish a different view in the minds of your friends and family is to show clearly that you’re unavailable during work. Not only do you need to make it clear verbally; you need to act consistently by not responding to requests that are made during work time. No one else but you can play this important role.
What to do if problems arise
If you begin to experience issues with your flexible working arrangement, particularly the way it might impact on your workload or your family life, you may like to:
- keep a closer record of the impact of work practices on your work-life balance
- review whether there has been ‘scope creep’ in your role – e.g. the expectations of the role have changed since you started, but work practices have not been adjusted to suit
- have a conversation with your manager – it is better to do this early rather than let problems grow until they are unmanageable
- you may need to communicate how some expectations or behaviours are keeping you from achieving your agreed goals, increasing your stress or impacting on your family life. This communication should be assertive and respectful.
For trust to develop over time with any flexible working arrangement, your manager needs to feel confident that you are working and achieving your goals. To avoid any potential problems, it is important to be disciplined enough to meet your objectives and gain your supervisor’s trust in the process.
This toolkit explores how employees can negotiate and manage a successful flexible working arrangement, including:
- Identifying a few flexibility options that could work for you
- Expressing your interest in flexibility
- Preparing for flexibility
- Monitoring, evaluating, adjusting and consolidating flexibility
- Managing yourself
- Managing the interaction between your work and your home life
- What to do if problems arise.
Whilst this situation is extraordinary, working from home and flexible working arrangements are not new concepts and, in fact, are key enablers of achieving workplace gender equality. The Agency has developed comprehensive resources to help you plan and implement these arrangements.
Ahead of Mother’s Day earlier this month, the Agency’s Director Libby Lyons wrote an OpEd for the Sydney Morning Herald. You can read the full piece in this article.
When we talk about men and women balancing work and caring, it can be all too easy to frame the discussion in adversarial absolutes. For instance, when we discuss the gender pay gap and inequality in the workplace and at home, some might take the easy option of saying it is mainly due to men focusing on their careers and not “pulling their weight” at home.