How employers are flexing differently after the pandemic

Australian workplaces have embraced flexibility like never before. In fact, according to the results from the 2021 WGEA employer census, four in five workplaces now have a formal flexible work policy or strategy.

Employers have a clear role in managing how this new, flexible way of working unfolds across Australia from 2021 and beyond. Here’s how six WGEA Employers of Choice for Gender Equality have redefined what flexibility means.

Extending flexible work to anywhere, including overseas

For professional services firms KPMG and Deloitte, flexibility has been transformed since the pandemic to recognise the needs of staff.

KPMG National Managing Partner People & Inclusion, Dorothy Hisgrove, said the firm is now focused on evolving the way they work.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to working – our lives are different, our roles are varied, and we have proven that we can adapt and flex to get the best outcomes for ourselves, each other and our clients and communities. It’s not just about where we work anymore but how we work,” Ms Hisgrove said.

In 2021, the firm announced their new remote policy will be expanded to allow work and travel to be combined.

“Our new ‘Work Anywhere’ policy aims to allow our people to flex and work in a way that makes sense and suits them. The options are broad and many, including from home, at a client site, in an office, or in another country when visiting friends and family overseas.”

It’s a change that has gained traction in the sector.

Deloitte Australia’s Chief Human Resources Officer Tina McCreery said the firm has restructured their flex policy to allow staff to extend an overseas trip in specific countries, and work remotely for up to eight weeks.  

“With the re-opening of the borders, we have had a lot of feedback from our team about their desire to travel overseas for extended visits to reconnect with family,” she said.

“The Deloitte leadership team wanted to support and facilitate this travel by providing our people the ability to combine a holiday with the ability to work remotely and stay connected with their teams and clients.

“This has been a complex exercise due to the need to navigate different working visa and taxation rules, but we are really pleased we will be able to offer this in multiple jurisdictions to enable our people to work remotely where this option makes practical and individual sense.”

It is just one of the 12 flexible working options under the refreshed DeloitteFlex framework, that allows employees to design their work week around their work and life commitments.

Normalising flexibility for operational roles

Rewriting rituals

Viva Energy has a CEO who is leading the company’s push to make flexibility work for frontline jobs.

The energy company owns and operates the Geelong Refinery in Victoria, and manages bulk fuels, aviation, bitumen, marine, chemicals and lubricants businesses supported by more than 20 terminals and 55 airports and airfields across the country. Men comprise approximately ¾ of its workforce.

Normalising flexibility in operational jobs is a work stream that CEO Scott Wyatt is leading as part of the Champions of Change coalition.

“We have seen a significant increase in flexible working opportunities for those in office-based roles, though it is important to challenge our thinking on how we can enable it for our frontline employees,” Mr Wyatt said.

“It’s more complex to improve flexibility for shift and site-based roles. There are gains to be made in engagement, diversity and productivity if we continue to challenge the ways we have worked in the past.”

The company is prioritising these key areas to make this happen for frontline roles.

  • Challenging rituals and leveraging technology – such as changing habits around the operational pre-start meetings at the refinery to hold these remotely, allowing flexibility for offsite dial-in.
  • Influencing mindsets to create change - Frontline supervisors are encouraged to participate in inclusive leadership training, and the company looks to share stories where norms have been challenged – like at Sydney Airport, where part-time arrangements have been embraced for refuellers.
  • Enhancing flexibility via Enterprise Agreements - recently introduced different shift rates for refuellers at Perth airport. This gives team members the flexibility to work Monday to Friday, rather than weekend shifts at times when they need to spend more time with family.

Flex on the menu

Food manufacturing company Kellogg’s Australia has been embracing flexibility since 2018 and has maintained the momentum in the time since COVID started.

Acknowledging that each employee will have different needs, the company offers a ‘flex menu’ to allow workers to select an option that suits.

Training is prioritised for managers on how to role model and implement flexible work in their teams, and an online Family Konnect Hub keeps flexibility and working parents front and centre.

The company has been trialling ways to encourage employees to manage work and life commitments, through initiatives such as:

  • Lunch and sun - all calendars are blocked out between 12 and 1pm to drive greater wellbeing and an opportunity for a break from meetings;
  • Video free meetings -  from 4pm everyday;
  • Meeting free days  - trialled as part of World Mental Health Day, with positive feedback from staff;
  • Half-day Fridays’ – encouraging employees to finish at 1pm on Fridays, if they’ve completed their working hours for the week through condensed hours.

Brett Mortensen, Senior Director of ANZ Human Resources said the revised offerings have been crafted with a focus on staff.

“Our new flexible working initiatives will help us continue to foster a supportive and inclusive work culture where our employees can be at their best, at work and at home.”

Creating structures for hybrid work

Creating team charters

Australian beverage company Lion employs around 1,700 people in Australia, with men accounting for approximately 60% of the workforce.

While flexible work options were already in place, they’ve used the pandemic to reshape the balance.

Under their ‘Collective Flexibility’ model, each team has a Co-Flex charter, to gain agreement on how individual flexibility arrangements work together for the team.

Alicia Purtell, Lion’s People & Culture Director, says the company is challenging itself to rethink flexibility.

“Right now, we are asking ourselves what does flex look like for different types of work patterns across functions like sales and supply chain, and what are the expectations of our people and our future leaders? We will continue to talk to our people and evolve and adapt our approach,” she said.

For office-based roles, Lion has opted for the hybrid model of working. The peak office days are Tuesday – Thursday, and teams are encouraged to use those days together for collaborative projects and leave Mondays and Fridays for individually-driven work.

In their most recent employee survey, their work in mainstreaming flex policies led to 84% of staff saying they felt they had the flexibility needed in their work schedule to meet both work and personal commitments.

Redefining work as ‘something to do, not a place to go’

Insurance and health services company Medibank has more than 3,800 employees, including over 1,400 health professionals.

They used the pandemic to evolve their thinking about how and where work needed to be done.

“Central to the new Future Fit model is the belief that work should be something we do, not somewhere we go,” Kylie Bishop, Medibank Group Executive - People, Culture & Sustainability explains.

The company uses the three filters to help inform decisions around where work can be done: collaboration, connection and concentration

“We have designated our offices as being places to collaborate, connect and, if needed, concentrate.

“Our people no longer need to come into the office just because it’s Monday and that’s what they’ve always done.”