Jo Geraghty


How to create a culture where flexible working works

Date added: 10th May 2019
Category: Organisational Culture Change

Financial giant BNY Mellon was in the news recently when it tried to end its flexible working arrangements – and then reversed the decision. The company had said all employees would be expected to work from their offices, sparking an outcry from those who had flexible working built into their contracts. We all know that flexible working has lots of benefits to employees, companies and society as a whole.

When we talk about flexibility, we recognise its importance in keeping hold of great talent and getting women back into the workforce but then what? How do you create a culture where flexible working works?

Creating a happier, healthier workforce

The benefits of flexible working for businesses and their employees are well documented. It’s key to retaining top talent in the workplace as people move through different stages of life. What worked for each of us in the workplace when we were in our 20s, doesn’t necessarily fit when we’re in our 30s, 40s, and beyond. To make it more complicated, what worked for 20 year olds in the 80s also doesn’t resonate with 20 year olds today. Flexible working has also been shown to improve productivity and be better for people’s health.

Who doesn’t want a happier, healthier, more productive team which isn’t stressed about juggling other aspects of their lives?

Four building blocks need to be in place to successfully create a culture where flexible working thrives: 

1. The right flexible working options for the individual

2. Non-hours based performance and objectives

3. A culture of trust, teamwork and over communication

4. Technology and tools which are fit for purpose

1. Flexible working options

Personalisation of benefits is key in today’s workplace and that includes how you flex your work. Whether it’s compressing your work hours into fewer days, working from home, job-sharing or staggered hours, the important thing is that it works for the individual employee and is not a set directive from the leadership. The pattern that a working parent might chose vs a sports enthusiast vs someone who is setting up their side-hustle could be very different. The most important thing is that the team is joined up and the work gets done. You need to ask the person what they want and educate and engage others as to why that way works for the team/org.

At the Culture Consultancy we know that education and engagement is essential for successfully embedding culture change. They are two pillars of our 4Es Methodology™ which we use to help organisations through this process.. Flexible working is different for everyone and every organisation. Deciding what form it will take for you is only part of the process. It’s all about setting the parameters to make it work rather than being prescriptive.

2Base success measures on what gets done, not when it gets done

Performance measures and objectives need to reflect the work achieved not the hours worked. You might be in a situation where some employees work part-time and others full-time. Your part-time staff are no less valuable to you because they work fewer hours and that needs to be understood by the team. There’s a danger these days that people are working too much to compensate for the fact that they are not as visible. You need to ensure strong guidance and support is in place to avoid feelings of isolation and burnout.

Being ‘Always On’ can really affect mental health and productivity. Agreeing a cut off time for answering emails, for example, can set boundaries and parameters.

Everyone needs to make a cultural shift to understanding that it doesn’t matter when (or where) the work is done, so long as it is completed. What are your key objectives and deliverables? These should be your focus.

3. Reflect, refine and communicate

Likewise, deliverables and outputs need to be set, rather than hours at a desk. There needs to be a clear definition of responsibilities and next actions. Project planning is of key importance here. Knowing the tasks required, setting deadlines and identifying clearly who is responsible for meeting them so that workflow isn’t interrupted is vital to your success. Planning also enables people to work with everyone’s commitments, such as deciding meetings will not start until after the school run. Simple measures like this make a huge difference to the smooth running of your business.

Communication will be a key part of ensuring things don’t hit a roadblock and that changing business priorities are fed back to team members wherever they are. Facts and information that are seamlessly absorbed when a team is sitting together in the same location will need to be shared in a more formal way to ensure that projects don’t stall.

The move from an hours-based culture to an achievement-based one needs to be embedded in your organisation from the top down. All levels of management need to be on board. Create an open conversation and help people to adjust. A trust-based culture, where people can see that things don’t grind to a halt because everyone isn’t at a desk in the same building at the same time, is needed for everyone to feel valued and accepted as equal team members.

4. Empower and enable flexible workers

Your team also needs to work together to make it happen. Remember the importance of project planning, ensuring responsibilities and outcomes are clearly set out. They should feel empowered to make this new way of working work for themselves and your clients.

A sometimes overlooked or poorly implemented part of creating a flexible working culture is ensuring people have the technology and tools they need to enable them to work effectively. Many companies work remotely these days and there are no end of project management systems and means of keeping in touch such as Slack, Asana, Trello and Zoom. Not all of them will suit your team’s needs. Make sure the right tools for you are in place from the beginning so that time isn’t lost trying to connect to cloud-based systems or creating workflows that don’t work for your organisation.

Once you’ve introduced flexible working, as BNY found out, you can’t walk it back. But this is no reason not to do it. Leaders and managers buying into a culture change for flexible working to work make it possible. Through educating people, engaging them in the process, enabling them with the tools and technology they need and empowering them to do their jobs effectively by setting appropriate objectives and deliverables, creating a culture of trust and working together as a team, you can create a flexible working culture which works for your workplace.

If you need help in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace or developing a culture of trust where flexible working and returning staff can thrive,

Read about our book Building a Culture of Innovation here or get in touch with me at Culture Consultancy here.

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