It’s useful to start by thinking about why flexible working is important for individuals and the organisation.
To me the reason for flexible working is straight forward: so that people can do their best work. If someone is doing brilliant work, their job satisfaction increases and so does the value they’re contributing to the organisation, everyone benefits. I encourage leaders to dedicate time to being as specific as possible about what needs to be achieved, both individual and team objectives, and then trust people to figure out how to get that work done in the best way. We should focus on outcomes not time spent, particularly not time spent sitting in an office.
We’ve also got to challenge our assumptions and some of the myths that surround flexibility. Flexibility is for everyone. Not just for parents or senior people. A Marketing Week survey found that 87 per cent of people would like the option to work flexibly, and yet only 34 per cent have actually been able to. In addition only 1.7 per cent of people are on flexible working contracts.
I am one of the 1.7 per cent and have been for a couple of years. I worked flexibly (a four day week) before having a baby so I could spend time on my side project, Amazing If. And after having my son Max I’ve continued with the same four day week, and with more flexibility on when I can be physically present in the office to give me the opportunity to do nursery drop offs and pick ups, which I share with my partner.
Working flexibility comes in all shapes and sizes. This poses a dilemma for organisations. How do you offer employees flexibility in a personalised way that is practical to implement? There’s no one model for getting this right, though in my experience there are some essential elements that need to be in place to create a flexible working culture.
The single most important thing about creating a flexible working culture. There needs to be mutual trust between everyone in an organisation. I once worked for a leader who shared her point of view ‘I start with 100 per cent trust and hope it stays there.’
Actions speak louder than words. Employees need to see flexible working role modelled by their leaders. I love an example of this I read about in Australia where a leader at Pepsi encouraged his senior team to ‘leave loudly.’ Whether you were leaving work to go surfing or see your kids, that’s something to be celebrated, not to hide or apologise for. From experience this is easier said than done, but the more we can practise feeling confident about our way of working the better.
A practical point, you need the right tools in place to support flexible working. This might be software like slack or basecamp that help teams to work together effectively.
Flexibility should be for everyone, and we shouldn’t need to justify the reasons why. There are significant workplaces challenges that flexibility can help address ranging from mental health to the high costs of childcare in UK.
Finally I’d love to see more jobs advertised as flexible roles. For every existing and new role in your organisation I’d encourage you to start with the premise that it can be done flexibly, and then work out what needs to happen to make this a reality. A more diverse workforce delivers better returns for the business, so it’s in everyone’s interests to support a culture and processes that make this a reality.
And finally some organisations doing interesting work in this area: Timewise, Hoxby Collective, Digital Mums and Flex appeal.
About the author
Sarah is Managing Director of Gravity Road. A creative company whose clients include Sainsbury’s, Uber and Three. She’s also co-founder of Amazing If, a business set up to help people develop the skills they need to succeed in a squiggly career. You can listen to her weekly career development podcast by searching Amazing If on iTunes.