8
/10

We Ask the Experts

What are companies getting wrong in flexibility?

PinkNews Premier Foods Glassdoor Vonage Weetabix

Despite it being a new year, some of the changes of 2022 are still here – flexible working being the primary one. With office leases being let go and working from home being shown to be so productive, while lowering business overheads, hybrid and flexibility are here to stay.

But what ‘flexible’ means is different for every person. To many, it means agility, plasticity and adaptability. To others, it means change, and change can be scary. HR leaders have realised that while policies and procedures are necessary, the pesky little devil in those details means that bespoke arrangements are almost always required – and that means more work for HR and mangers. And that in turn means that any tips on how to do that work smarter, rather than harder, are most welcome.

With that in mind, we’ve turned to some incredible HR and leadership experts and asked them the question, “What do you think is missing from most organisations’ current approach to flexibility?”.

Anthony James,

COO, Pink News

Like most organisations, at PinkNews we are still working out what flexibility means in our growing and evolving team. Key to our thinking around this is an appreciation of the long-term – so all members of the team are on a learning curve to experiment with what works. The first thing I, therefore, feel some organisations are getting wrong when it comes to workplace flexibility is focusing too much on rigid policies over working principles.

A policy that defines too rigidly what the accepted definition of flexible working is today, might be outdated and look very different in six - 18 months' time. Instead by exploring working principles – recommendations and examples of best practices, you can create a framework that empowers employee flexibility, while also allowing the space for continued experimentation with new ways of working.

There is also a tendency to focus too much on the concept of flexibility as opposed to what employees are really looking for – autonomy. In order to succeed, companies need to empower individual autonomy around working arrangements, providing the tools and support to enable team members to succeed and work in a way that best suits their individual needs, while allowing the company to progress. There is balance, consensus and compromise needed to achieve this.

Another key concept often missed is a consideration of client expectations. Flexible working practices are undermined from the outset if thought isn't given to how these may impact on client relationships and outcomes. This might mean setting clear boundaries with clients or organising rotas to allow team members to tag-team account management or delivery of services. If this isn't done and client relationships (and business outcomes) are negatively impacted, then flexible working will wrongly be seen as incompatible with certain industries, when actually this just needed greater planning from the outset.

 

Anthony James,

COO, Pink News

Like most organisations, at PinkNews we are still working out what flexibility means in our growing and evolving team. Key to our thinking around this is an appreciation of the long-term – so all members of the team are on a learning curve to experiment with what works. The first thing I, therefore, feel some organisations are getting wrong when it comes to workplace flexibility is focusing too much on rigid policies over working principles.

A policy that defines too rigidly what the accepted definition of flexible working is today, might be outdated and look very different in six - 18 months' time. Instead by exploring working principles – recommendations and examples of best practices, you can create a framework that empowers employee flexibility, while also allowing the space for continued experimentation with new ways of working.

There is also a tendency to focus too much on the concept of flexibility as opposed to what employees are really looking for – autonomy. In order to succeed, companies need to empower individual autonomy around working arrangements, providing the tools and support to enable team members to succeed and work in a way that best suits their individual needs, while allowing the company to progress. There is balance, consensus and compromise needed to achieve this.

Another key concept often missed is a consideration of client expectations. Flexible working practices are undermined from the outset if thought isn't given to how these may impact on client relationships and outcomes. This might mean setting clear boundaries with clients or organising rotas to allow team members to tag-team account management or delivery of services. If this isn't done and client relationships (and business outcomes) are negatively impacted, then flexible working will wrongly be seen as incompatible with certain industries, when actually this just needed greater planning from the outset.

 

David Wilkinson,

HR Director, Premier Foods

It is still early days for many businesses that are moving from a traditional fixed location work model to a hybrid one with more flexibility. Many organisations are not used to dealing with this degree of ambiguity, and there is no playbook or precedent to follow. As such, most managers don't have the experience to deal with hybrid working yet – they'd like a set of rules or guidance, but this in itself is counter to a truly flexible approach, so many are still finding their way.

Also, many businesses still don’t have office locations that support flexible working. Often, they are traditional workspaces that don't necessarily support the requirements of colleagues who are not attending the office in person, or are attending in a hybrid way, which makes it harder for teams to foster collaboration, teamwork, and learning in this environment. At Premier Foods, we continue to work collaboratively with all our colleagues to find the best balance for everyone – this is an ever-evolving process and we are continuing to listen and learn.

David Wilkinson,

HR Director, Premier Foods

It is still early days for many businesses that are moving from a traditional fixed location work model to a hybrid one with more flexibility. Many organisations are not used to dealing with this degree of ambiguity, and there is no playbook or precedent to follow. As such, most managers don't have the experience to deal with hybrid working yet – they'd like a set of rules or guidance, but this in itself is counter to a truly flexible approach, so many are still finding their way.

Also, many businesses still don’t have office locations that support flexible working. Often, they are traditional workspaces that don't necessarily support the requirements of colleagues who are not attending the office in person, or are attending in a hybrid way, which makes it harder for teams to foster collaboration, teamwork, and learning in this environment. At Premier Foods, we continue to work collaboratively with all our colleagues to find the best balance for everyone – this is an ever-evolving process and we are continuing to listen and learn.

Nisha McKay,

Senior HR Advisor,
Glassdoor

Companies need to broaden their interpretation of what ‘flexibility’ actually means; flexibility doesn't just mean working from home. Flexible work is possible across the vast majority of jobs and industries, even those which might have historically seemed more fixed, such as hospitality, retail or healthcare. You simply need to find the right fit for your business.

There’s no return from the pandemic pivot to flexible working. And to be successful, employers need to embrace this change and move beyond obvious executions of flexibility. Employees aren’t a homogenous group with a singular need. Your workforce is a complex mix of people at different life stages and with varying demands. Listen to the employee voice and ask your teams what they really want from flexible work. The feedback will allow companies to create various options that effectively meet the business' and its employees' needs.

With hiring set to remain challenging in 2023, widening your company's definition of 'flexibility' will be crucial to attracting and retaining good people. Glassdoor research shows that employees who discuss flexible/hybrid work are significantly more satisfied than their counterparts. And those without flexibility are twice as likely to apply for a new job.

Companies must find a definition of flexibility that is right for them and their teams. At Glassdoor, we have a 'Work Where You Want' policy. The policy empowers people with choice and ensures an equitable experience. It works for us – what might work for your business?

 

Nisha McKay,

Senior HR Advisor,
Glassdoor

Companies need to broaden their interpretation of what ‘flexibility’ actually means; flexibility doesn't just mean working from home. Flexible work is possible across the vast majority of jobs and industries, even those which might have historically seemed more fixed, such as hospitality, retail or healthcare. You simply need to find the right fit for your business.

There’s no return from the pandemic pivot to flexible working. And to be successful, employers need to embrace this change and move beyond obvious executions of flexibility. Employees aren’t a homogenous group with a singular need. Your workforce is a complex mix of people at different life stages and with varying demands. Listen to the employee voice and ask your teams what they really want from flexible work. The feedback will allow companies to create various options that effectively meet the business' and its employees' needs.

With hiring set to remain challenging in 2023, widening your company's definition of 'flexibility' will be crucial to attracting and retaining good people. Glassdoor research shows that employees who discuss flexible/hybrid work are significantly more satisfied than their counterparts. And those without flexibility are twice as likely to apply for a new job.

Companies must find a definition of flexibility that is right for them and their teams. At Glassdoor, we have a 'Work Where You Want' policy. The policy empowers people with choice and ensures an equitable experience. It works for us – what might work for your business?

 

Tracey Leahy,

CPO, Vonage

The workplace has evolved dramatically over the past few years and most organisations are still getting to grips with what this looks like in practice. One of the major limitations I’ve noticed is the application of a one-size-fits-all approach to workplace flexibility. We are living in a unique time where our workforce is now a blend of four generations, from Baby Boomers to Generation Z, who all define flexibility and benefit from it in different ways.

For some, an office environment can foster creativity and innovation, but for others, it can act as a distraction and place constraints on employees’ work-life balance. An entry-level graduate, for example, may benefit from accessing a busy and thriving office where they can learn and socialise with their peers and senior members of staff, which is invaluable for their career development.

But for new parents, the flexibility of working from home grants them the opportunity to manage their caregiving responsibilities alongside their professional ones, allowing them to re-join the workforce earlier and thereby boosting their career progression in the long term. By strictly enforcing either remote or office-based working, organisations are limiting the needs and desires of each generation within their workforce.

Another limitation that many organisations are now displaying in their approach to workplace flexibility is the amount of communication with employees. I saw that through the pandemic levels of communication were heightened but have since reduced significantly. Too many business decision makers are creating policies around workplace flexibility without actually consulting with the people that these policies will impact. Instead, businesses should create an open and constant channel of communication with their employees, so they can listen, learn and adapt in accordance with staff needs.

Many organisations are also demonstrating stagnancy in their approach to workplace flexibility, and have failed to re-evaluate their policies after the pandemic first hit. But as the macro-environment evolves, so too should workplace policies. For example, many workers who opted to work remotely to cut down on commuting costs last year are now returning to the office to save on energy bills.

Tracey Leahy,

CPO, Vonage

The workplace has evolved dramatically over the past few years and most organisations are still getting to grips with what this looks like in practice. One of the major limitations I’ve noticed is the application of a one-size-fits-all approach to workplace flexibility. We are living in a unique time where our workforce is now a blend of four generations, from Baby Boomers to Generation Z, who all define flexibility and benefit from it in different ways.

For some, an office environment can foster creativity and innovation, but for others, it can act as a distraction and place constraints on employees’ work-life balance. An entry-level graduate, for example, may benefit from accessing a busy and thriving office where they can learn and socialise with their peers and senior members of staff, which is invaluable for their career development.

But for new parents, the flexibility of working from home grants them the opportunity to manage their caregiving responsibilities alongside their professional ones, allowing them to re-join the workforce earlier and thereby boosting their career progression in the long term. By strictly enforcing either remote or office-based working, organisations are limiting the needs and desires of each generation within their workforce.

Another limitation that many organisations are now displaying in their approach to workplace flexibility is the amount of communication with employees. I saw that through the pandemic levels of communication were heightened but have since reduced significantly. Too many business decision makers are creating policies around workplace flexibility without actually consulting with the people that these policies will impact. Instead, businesses should create an open and constant channel of communication with their employees, so they can listen, learn and adapt in accordance with staff needs.

Many organisations are also demonstrating stagnancy in their approach to workplace flexibility, and have failed to re-evaluate their policies after the pandemic first hit. But as the macro-environment evolves, so too should workplace policies. For example, many workers who opted to work remotely to cut down on commuting costs last year are now returning to the office to save on energy bills.

Stuart Branch,

Chief People & Comms Officer,
Weetabix Food Company

I think the biggest challenge for any organization when it comes to flexibility is protecting the collaborative culture and collective needs of the business whilst also protecting the wishes and needs of individuals. It’s a delicate balance that can have a huge effect on the ecosystem of a company if the scales tip in favour of one interest over another – these needs must be considered and catered for in tandem. It is especially important in a business like ours, where the office-based teams and our manufacturing operations are on the same site and benefit hugely from cross-functional knowledge and shared experiences.

Organisations need to ensure that they are not being too prescriptive about when people have to be on site without helping them understand and appreciate the myriad reasons why physical presence is so beneficial. This is often better communicated in practice – we have seen the efficacy of this with team members who acknowledged they were reluctant to return to the office at first but have since appreciated the connectivity with colleagues and the spirit of Weetabix as a people and relationship-based business.

At Weetabix, we strive to deliver this by offering a middle ground of flexibility, a hybrid model of three working from home days and two office-based days; Weetabix Wednesday and Team Choose-days. The latter are agreed across individual teams, according to the days that work best for the majority. However – we firmly remain in the ‘test and learn’ phase. It’s still too early to be too prescriptive on what the answer is, and we have to remain agile in our thought leadership and open-minded to the ever-evolving nature of what flexibility really means in a modern workplace.

 

Stuart Branch,

Chief People & Comms Officer,
Weetabix Food Company

I think the biggest challenge for any organization when it comes to flexibility is protecting the collaborative culture and collective needs of the business whilst also protecting the wishes and needs of individuals. It’s a delicate balance that can have a huge effect on the ecosystem of a company if the scales tip in favour of one interest over another – these needs must be considered and catered for in tandem. It is especially important in a business like ours, where the office-based teams and our manufacturing operations are on the same site and benefit hugely from cross-functional knowledge and shared experiences.

Organisations need to ensure that they are not being too prescriptive about when people have to be on site without helping them understand and appreciate the myriad reasons why physical presence is so beneficial. This is often better communicated in practice – we have seen the efficacy of this with team members who acknowledged they were reluctant to return to the office at first but have since appreciated the connectivity with colleagues and the spirit of Weetabix as a people and relationship-based business.

At Weetabix, we strive to deliver this by offering a middle ground of flexibility, a hybrid model of three working from home days and two office-based days; Weetabix Wednesday and Team Choose-days. The latter are agreed across individual teams, according to the days that work best for the majority. However – we firmly remain in the ‘test and learn’ phase. It’s still too early to be too prescriptive on what the answer is, and we have to remain agile in our thought leadership and open-minded to the ever-evolving nature of what flexibility really means in a modern workplace.

You are currently previewing this article.

This is the last preview available to you for the next 30 days.

To access more news, features, columns and opinions every day, create a free myGrapevine account.