Flexible work: Here’s what’s really happening

flexible work

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.

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18 comments

  1. I think having the opportunity to work flexi is so important. It wouldn’t work in my current job but in previous ones I’d of loved to have worked less in the office to be able to drop off and collect my son from school x

  2. It’s so sad that lots of companies still don’t get this. In the organisation I work for we actively encourage all colleagues, not just mum’s and parents, to work from anywhere and to work flexibly. I truly believe that if you trust people to do this and measure output rather than hours at a desk it can work for many more businesses.

  3. I never understood why some of the places I worked for wouldn’t allow flexible or remote working. I worked in social media, and could easily have done work from home e.g. if there was something with my kids. Granted, I wouldn’t maybe have got as much done, but if you have a sick kid that is sleeping for several hours, it just seems like wasted time that I could have worked – lost hours I’d have to make up later.

  4. I couldn’t agree more with this “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” -it is very true. I left my last role due to a change of circumstances meaning I needed to work more flexibly. My female boss suggested they could find me a part time role, but it would be less senior. I wasn’t willing to accept this, so I resigned – from a job I loved in an industry I am passionate about. I couldn’t understand why my boss would find this at all appropriate, she is senior, she has children – but then I also had to remember this may have been how she was treated and she may have thought this was appropriate. I now work for myself to try and make work fit around life, at least for now.

    I’ve also had conversations with male peers who don’t really understand flexibility and see it as inappropriate for certain types of role or more senior roles. As they still make the majority of the decisions in business the change has to come from them. They also have worked and learnt from their workplaces, their bosses, and what needs to change is an ecosystem that accepts women (the majority are women) stepping aside and making way for up and coming younger team members. The impact of changing the world of work for these changes the dynamic for those younger workers too – it affects the roles available for them to move into. I am glad we want to disrupt this cycle – but bosses today have to take a leap of faith in accommodating staff differently to what they may have seen or experienced themselves until now. I am not sure what, if any, incentive they have to do that today.

    I have to hope that as the gender pay gap gets closer scrutiny that the real reason for women not being so prevalent in senior management is revealed to be solvable by supporting women to stay in work through the early and school years of parenthood. Many businesses are attempting to solve their glaring gaps by promoting a female or two to their board. This simply doesn’t fix the root cause of the issue. I have seen lots of case studies from companies helping parents back from maternity or paternity leave – but honestly, nurseries are usually open from 8-6 (at least) so working hours are hardly the main issue for those with new babies. Parents managing children around school hours is a much more difficult issue!

  5. I think it’s super important for people on work Othman to be open! Flexible hours are an essential as a parent, that’s why I love blogging! I Earn a part time wage and I’m still able to do the school runs.

  6. I love my flexible hours. I cant go back to being at an office 5 days a week. I can get a lot done in 1 day at home without all the extra questions you get when you are at the office.

  7. I agree that is hard to be flexible in a company in which the management doesn’t trust its employees. I always thought that as long as the work gets done and it is up the standards, it doesn’t matter if the employee takes one hour to complete instead of three for example and then do his own thing. This is flexibility.

  8. As technology advances there will be less of having to work a full day at work. This type of flexibility is only the beginning of not working 40 hours a week.

  9. Nice post and I love the idea of working in a flexible hours or working remotely by having that chance I can do my task as an employee and my duty as a mother at the same time.

  10. Im all for flexi work. Getting the opportunity to do a lot of things and just not stay in the office for 8 hours surely is an advantage.

  11. Thanks for all your comments. Looking forward to looking back in a year’s time to see the progress made. Here’s to nailing the flexible work ageda!

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