There’s more to flex than remote

How to design and deliver flexibility when homeworking isn’t an option

The pandemic has triggered a huge focus on remote working, but it’s not possible in every role or sector – and it’s not everyone’s first choice of flex either. Here, Claire Campbell, Timewise’s Programme Director, shares tips on how to design and deliver different kinds of flexibility that will be equally beneficial for your organisation.

There’s no doubt that the remote working explosion caused by the pandemic has opened people’s minds to flexible working. Necessity has shown that, actually, lots of tasks can be done from home, and there’s evidence from the CIPD suggests that productivity and wellbeing have improved. And while clearly there were huge challenges created by lockdown, particularly for those juggling family life and work, the overall sense is that many workplaces are undergoing serious transformation.

But what about the people working in frontline roles, or organisations in which remote working really isn’t an option? Should they just have to and live with the fact that their job is un-flexable? It’s hardly fair, and would be likely to lead to a split between what we’re calling the flex ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ – with a knock-on impact on team cohesion, employee motivation and retention.

Additionally, what about the people for whom a full working week, even if remote or hybrid-based, isn’t manageable? There is a real danger that part-time is getting forgotten in the rush towards remote; yet, for many key groups, part-time is the only way to balance work with the rest of their lives. And businesses will struggle to live up to their D&I and gender pay commitments if they only offer full-time.

Here at Timewise, we believe that all jobs can be made more flexible in one way or another; they just can’t all be made to work on a remote basis. And we have the experience to back up our claims; in recent years we’ve run a number of pilots in frontline sectors such as retail, nursing and social care, testing and rolling out innovative approaches to designing flexible roles.

Along the way, we’ve gained clear insights in how to tackle hard-to-flex roles and sectors; here are five core principles that will help you get started.

1. Find a vision that works for everyone. Keep it broad enough to be inclusive – for example, “We want to support all our colleagues to work in a way which suits their wellbeing and work-life balance” rather than focusing on a particular working pattern or patterns.

2. Focus on what you CAN do, not what you can’t. Fine, your receptionists can’t work fully from home. But you might be able to offer them a job share, occasional late starts or early finishes (covered by a colleague) or part-time hours. And there might be some tasks that they could complete remotely.

3. Accept that being fair doesn’t mean giving everyone the same. Being fair means giving everyone the opportunity to have a conversation about their working pattern, the right to make flexible requests without judgement and the reassurance that you will do what you can to meet them within the remit of their role.

4. Embrace the best of new technology. From remote medical consultations and clinics to safety checks by drones, and even the use of VR headsets to help everyone feel they’re in the same room, innovative technology can massively support different ways of working. It’s worth the investment.

5. Encourage open, honest conversations about wellbeing and work-life balance. If we have learned anything from the past year, it’s that our colleagues are real people, with real lives and personal challenges, in and outside of work. By supporting them to be open about what they need, and to work in a way that matches their lives, you will empower them to do their best work, as well as stay healthier and happier.

It’s also worth remembering that the search for better working practices isn’t a one-off project; it’s an ongoing process of evaluation and review. So explore what works, refine and adapt, and don’t worry if you don’t get it right first time. None of us predicted the workplace revolution that the pandemic has triggered; who knows what the next big shift will be? By keeping a flexible attitude towards flexible working, you’ll be best placed to ride the changes.

In the meantime, keep your eyes open for innovative approaches to flexible working within your organisation, and champion them openly, so that others feel able to follow suit. And if you need any support with anything flex related, we can help, so do get in touch.

Timewise is a social consultancy that supports employers on flexible working. They aim to make flexibility a success – embedding hybrid working, helping to attract and retain the best talent, and ensuring that workplaces are fair, inclusive and progressive. www.timewise.co.uk

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