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Making flexible working work for everyone

Whether we like it or not, the global pandemic has catapulted flexible working into the day-to-day realities of business life. Those that were hoping it was just another fad are sadly mistaken, because flexible working is here to stay. In fact, it is increasingly being seen as a mandatory for future employees and has an impact on whether staff choose to stay with a company or not.

Off the back of this, organisations across Aotearoa are grappling with how to make flexible working work. We are seeing a combination of approaches, but many of them aren’t flexible enough (such as requiring people to be back in the office almost full-time) or can’t be applied fairly and consistently across the business. Hybrid working, a combination of working in the office and at home, can work for people in “desk-based” roles, but what about the people working on the shop floor, at the coal face of your business? Just because they’re not in the office, doesn’t mean they can’t, and shouldn’t, get access to flexible working too.

By not having a flexible working strategy that works for everyone, we’re limiting our ability to tap into the benefits of diversity. A good example of this is caring responsibilities. A lack of appropriate flex is a key contributor to the shortage of women in senior leadership roles. If they can’t make the responsibilities of senior roles fit around their personal commitments, they’re being forced to decide between one or the other. Our approach to flex can also significantly impact the wellbeing of our people, with the World Health Organisation identifying “inflexible working hours” as one of the key risks to mental health at work.

After several years spearheading the implementation of flexible working into organisations, here are the key considerations I believe organisations need to consider when creating a flexible working strategy that works for everyone.

1. Understand your flexible working culture

Understanding your organisation’s culture in relation to flex is the most important place to start. You can have great documents, but without the right attitudes and behaviours that support your people to work flexibly, that are consistently role-modelled by your senior leaders, they won’t have any real impact.

Action: Speak with your people to understand what messages they’re receiving, directly and indirectly, about what is “acceptable” flexible working in your organisation. Do they support or contradict your desired approach?

2. Clear and fair policies and procedures

Your flexible working policy should be clear and broad enough to apply to all roles and likely scenarios in your organisation. A major piece of feedback I hear relates to the lack of fairness in regard to which parts of the business, and even who, can work flexibly. This can lead to resentment and a disconnection in the workplace.

Action: Ensure your policies are built on a set of core principles and guidelines that can be applied in a fair and consistent way across your organisation.

3. Identify and address the barriers

Whenever I talk about flex, I hear a lot about barriers! “People can’t work flexibly in our manufacturing team because we need a full team to run a shift”, “you can’t do a senior leader role flexibly because you must be available from 8am-6pm every day”. Some barriers may be real, but many aren’t.

Action: Find the barriers to flex in your organisation. You can gain these insights in many ways such as running group workshops, reviewing your data, taking insights from 1-1 conversations etc. Understand which barriers are perceived rather than real and then think of creative ways to resolve them. For example, could a manufacturing shift team to agree to work four longer days from Monday to Thursday so they can finish at lunchtime on Friday?

4. Make it easy to have flex conversations

Working through flexible working arrangements can be complex because you need to marry up what works for the individual, with the needs of the wider team and organisation. Make it as easy as possible to have conversations by having tools and information readily available. For leaders, this could also mean initiating conversations and letting people know that it’s OK to work flexibly by sharing your flex plans for the week.

Action: Provide your leaders and people with templates and tips to help shape their thinking. This could include a list of the different types of flex available, a one-pager to support your people to scope their flex options, and working together to brainstorm and co-create a flexible working structure that works for your team.

5. Check what’s really happening

Hearsay abounds in many organisations in regard to “how flex works here” which may or may not be the case. I often hear things like: “no-one in a leadership role works part-time”; “there’s no-one in the office on Mondays so it’s not worth coming in”. But is this really the case, or are there some biases at play?

Action: Gather a broad range of flex information to get a baseline. People data, statistics, commentary from surveys and things like site access data are rich sources of information to include in your flexible working strategy.

Make no mistake. Flexibility is not a nice-to-have. It’s a baseline requirement now. If you want to attract and retain the best people, you need to have a flexible working strategy, supported by the right culture, policies, and processes.

If you’d like to discuss how I can support you to build and embed successful flexible working in your organisation, please get in touch. From culture to policies, I can help you with almost anything flex. This includes my Flexible Working Review that supports you to understand the barriers and provides practical guidance on how to address them. You can reach me via

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