A couple of weeks ago I went to Flexpo – the first dedicated conference focussing on – you guessed it! – all things flexible work. While flexible work definitely feels like it’s the way forward for the workforce of today, sometimes it can be hard to get a sense of what is actually happening with regards to the flexible work agenda – and moreover, what is working.
The day was a brilliant insight into all the things that companies are getting right with regards to flexible work – but also that we still have a long way to go to make it work for everyone.
Making waves for those returning to work
I was so inspired talking to one employee and mum who had been through the Barclays Encore Return-to-Work programme which helps those who have taken a career break to prepare to re-enter the workforce. Barclays is a huge advocate of what they call Dynamic Working and recognises that 42% of employees say they would be uncomfortable aking their bosses to let them work flexibly.
Barclays however proactively encourage staff to talk openly with their line manager about making a Dynamic Working request and to see how it can be made to work so that they can design a working day to suit their needs. They even have fewer desks than team members signaling that – hey! it’s okay not to be at the office every day.
But flexible work needs to diversity
But I couldn’t help but thinking while Barclays ethos is very much to be applauded, there is still much to do to make flexible work a more viable option for all. Sophie Smallwood from Roleshare explains how most roles are closed off to talent purely because they’re not looking for the full-time:
“Flexible work needs to be treated with an eye toward diversity. The term is broad and has its own 50 shades. Remote work might be fantastic for some, while role sharing ideal for others. Companies need to realise diverse career models and walk the talk. Listing out flexibility perks in the terms of a contract isn’t transformative. To drive meaningful change inside companies, we need a focus on sharing success stories with leadership role modelling in this area as a minimum requirement.
Employees can help companies make flexibility happen by presenting solutions and ideas instead of challenges. Think about “what’s in it for the company” and how to “make it easy for line managers.”. See our Roleshare guides on how to move forward with pitching role shares to managers.”
The role of technology
So with all this boundless technology at our fingertips, why is this not making flexible work a total no brainer? Matt Ballatine from Stamp London – explains why this might be:
“For many of us we are no longer tied to a specific physical place of work. We are unconstrained by either location or time of day. But the way in which many people are managed has failed to keep up in many organisations.
Managing teams that are physically and geographically distributed takes new skills and is reliant on trust far more than the old world of 9-5 in the office. Until new management skills are more evenly distributed, I fear that organisations will struggle to implement more flexible working practices without negatively impacting on productivity and, crucially, staff morale.”
Enter the trust crisis
Essentially, from what I can decipher, the success of flexible work is a matter of trust. Annie Auerbach, author of FLEX: The Modern Woman’s Handbook, shares how there is a deep trust crisis around flexible working and what needs to be done to overcome that:
“When leaders don’t have faith that their workers will keep to their side of the bargain, they don’t believe in them. They don’t think the flexible working arrangement will succeed and they hand down their suspicions to the rest of the business. The upshot is low trust permeates the whole organization. This is partly to do with the embedded doctrine that a good worker works long hours (wrong on so many levels).
Stories of successful and productive flexible working need to be told loudly and proudly around the organization. People who are brilliant at what they do, and who are flexing with elegance and excellence, need to become famous at work. The CEO of Pepsi Australia and New Zealand Robbert Rietbroek ‘Leave loudly,’ to pick up his daughters at 4pm and tells people around him that’s exactly what he is doing. Leaving loudly is a sign that the business respects parenthood, rather than asking its people to leave their parenthood at the door.”
Mind the gender gap
I had a really lively conversation with Paul Holbrook, founder of Diary Detox on the day and couldn’t help but agree with his sentiment that the current state of play of the flexible working agenda is mirroring what has happened within the gender equality space:
“The real problem facing gender equality isn’t that women don’t want it, it’s the men (and sometimes women) that stand in its way. If we can do more to change their attitudes, we will get there more quickly. Now spin that around to the flexible working agenda. It’s great that Anna Whitehouse, and others, are encouraging more people to search out flexible working options and share great stories of where it has been successful, but we need a two-pronged approach.
After all, we have a law stating that workers have the right to request flexible working but it feels like a company can reject the request with very little justification. Low levels of psychological safety also mean that many requesters won’t pursue the matter further.”
I feel like flexible working can provide so many exciting opportunities. And this, of course, would be truly great for parents. But for it to work in more companies as exemplified at Barclays then a widespread corporate culture of flexibility and mutual trust needs to be developed to ensure that flexible working options are offered, adopted and supported every step along the way.
I hope you found this round-up of what is happening in the flexible work space interesting. I can’t wait for next year’s Flexpo to see how things have moved on in the flexible working arena. Do leave a comment and share your take on what you think is happening with regards to flexible work practices below.