In this blog you’ll learn:
- What flexible work is
- Why it is important
- The laws around flexible work
- How to implement a flexible work policy
- What that looks like in a real company
Flexible work is the future. We say this without hesitation because all the statistics show we are correct.
It is becoming a top employee demand and more and more businesses are realising that softening rigid work structures can be advantageous.
In this blog, we take a deep dive into flexible work. We discuss what it actually is, the laws around it, tips for implementing these new work policies and more!
Are you ready to dive in? Let’s get to it!
What is flexible work?
Professor Barbara Pocock of the University of South Australia defines work-life balance and flexibility as:
“People having a measure of control over when, where and how they work. It is achieved when an individual’s right to a fulfilled life inside and outside paid work is accepted and respected as the norm to the mutual benefit of the individual, business and society.”
Flexible work is more than remote working and laptops. At its essence, it is the ability to have some control over when, where and how work gets done and that can manifest in many ways from reduced working hours to choosing your own start and finish times.
As Professor Pocock mentions, flexible work is about improving work-life balance in a way that benefits both employees and employers. And that’s why, before we delve any further, we will explain why it is important in the workplace.
Why is it important
There are so many reasons why flexible work is important. For the sake of being succinct, we’ve narrowed it down to a list of three.
1. Employees around the world want more flexible arrangements
There’s no doubt that flexible work is becoming a top demand for employees. In an Australian wide survey we conducted last year, we saw clear indications that it was on the rise.
Our results showed that:
- 45% of employees take flexible work into consideration when weighing up a new job
- 63% consider it to be a benefit that most helps maintain physical and mental health
- 59% nominate this way of working as a benefit they’d like to see their company provide, in fact it was the TOP benefit employees wanted to see in their workplace.
Now you don’t just need to take our word for it, there are plenty of other studies whose research corresponds with ours!
According to the Hays 18/19 financial year salary guide – 73% of Australian workers would like a job offering flexible work practices.
In Deloitte’s international 2017 Millennial Survey it was seen that while Millennials place a really high value on the flexibility freelance work offers, overall they would prefer to work for a single employer.
The survey showed that 5 to 1 Millennials thought that working as a consultant or freelancer provided greater job satisfaction, an enhanced sense of responsibility, more chances to work abroad, and increased opportunities to learn new skills or work in different sectors.
However, 61 percent of millennials in emerging markets and 70 percent of millennials in mature economies also said they would prefer full-time employment and would be inclined to turn down offers for freelance or consulting work.
The results make it clear that Millennials want the best of both worlds and flexible work is the way to provide that.
2. Flexible work reduces the gender pay gap
A second reason flexible work is important is that it helps reduce the gender pay gap. In fact, it is a primary recommendation made in audits and reports across the world in relation to reducing gender inequality in the workplace.
In a study conducted by the Victorian state government, it was seen that it helps reduce the gender pay gap for two main reasons.
- Flexible work offers the opportunity for women to juggle their unpaid work with paid work. Women continue to take on the bulk of unpaid work and care duties and often lose out on higher paid positions that unnecessarily demand a rigid presence.
- By normalising and valuing flexible work, both men and women are encouraged to take up the option. The more men who take up this way or working, the more likely they are to help with unpaid work. It also helps to equalise the pay gap because women have historically been at a loss financially because their outside responsibilities require time off work or part-time work.
A study by an international company, remote.co, also found that there were more females in leadership in 100% remote companies. They found that 29% of completely remote companies had women in leadership positions and 13% were CEOS. Compare this to the 5% of female CEOs in charge of Fortune 500 companies and the difference is quite significant.
3. Flexible work is good for business!
Believe it or not, flexible work is good for a business! Flexible work practices reduce absenteeism, reduces stress, improve morale, increase employee happiness and retention.
It can also save a business money. In a study by the Victorian state government it was seen that flexible work could save a business millions of dollars. In one case study featured in the report it was shown that the company Mercy Health stood to save $23 million per year just by implementing flexible work policies!
What are the different types?
Flexible work is about giving employees power over their work schedules and that can play out in many ways.
Here is a list of different types:
- Part-time work
- Purchased leave
- Unplanned leave
- Parental leave beyond statutory requirements
- Compressed working weeks/hours
- Time in lieu
- Flexible career management
- Working from home/telecommuting
On top of these “traditional” offerings, we’ve seen innovative companies like Netflix, Virgin and General Electric offer things like:
- Unlimited vacation time
- Extended paid paternity leave
- Extended paid maternity leave
- Paternity leave
- 4 day work weeks
- Choosing your own shifts and hours
What does the law have to say?
Now, before we discuss how you can implement a flexible work policy, let’s take a quick look at the laws around flexible work.
Please note, we’re giving an introductory overview here and strongly encourage you to do further research and to discuss specific questions with an expert.
Certain employees covered by the National Employment Standards and modern awards have a right to request flexible work arrangements. This can include, reduced hours, part-time work, time-in-lieu and so on.
Before responding to a request from an eligible employee, an employer must first discuss the request with the employee to try to reach an agreement about a change to their working arrangements. Requests can only be refused on reasonable business grounds. If employers refuse request, they need to provide the employee with a written response.
Employees with the right to request flexible work
So which employees have the right to request flexible work?
- Employees who are parents, or have responsibility for the care of a child who is of school age or younger
- Employees who are carers (within the meaning of the Carer Recognition Act 2010)
- Employees with a disability
- Employees who are 55 or older
- Employees who are experiencing violence from a member of their family or the employee provides care or support to a member of their immediate family or household who requires care or support because they are experiencing violence from the member’s family.
As an employer you want to make sure you handle all flexible work requests correctly so if this is the first time you are hearing about these laws, we highly recommend further research and discussion with a professional HR consultant and/or workplace lawyer.
Tips for implementing a flexible work policy
When it comes to implementing a flexible work policy the first thing you want to think about is what works for your business.
Once you determine what types of work will benefit your business (and please your employees) it’s time to implement a policy! Click here to learn more about implementing a flexible work policy.
A real-life look at a company with successful flexible work initiatives
Now, let’s take a look at what flexible work policies look like in real life. The company we are going to look at is Konica Minolta Australia.
Konica Minolta is openly committed to workplace gender equality and the company has been the proud recipient of a Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) Employer of Choice for Gender Equality (EOCGE) citation.
In an interview with HRD magazine, Dr David Cooke, the chairman and managing director of Konica Minolta Australia, said the company is committed to promoting gender equality in the workplace.
“We do this because it is aligned with our core values as a company, but also because we understand what it means for employees to work for a company that values gender equality in today’s society.” Konica Minolta implements a range of flexible work policies that promote gender equality (and employee happiness of course!).
Konica Minolta’s policies include:
- Job sharing
- Flexible hours- 51% of managers work flexible hours
- Remote working- 42% work from home at least one day per fortnight
- Gradual return to work programs
- 12 weeks paid leave offered to primary carers and 10 to secondary carers
- Gendered language removed from parental leave policies, actively encouraging men to take parental leave.
- Formal procedures put in place to achieve pay parity
- Active management of representation of women across the business. If there are less than 40% of women in sector or management role, targets are set to rectify the discrepancy.
How to manage a flexible team in a flexible workplace?
Flexible workplace arrangements are becoming a top priority for businesses and employees. Thanks to technology, we can work just as easily outside the office as we do on location.
There are plenty of reasons to implement flexible work arrangements. Flexible work can help reduce stress levels, increase productivity, boost morale, reduce lateness and absenteeism, reduce employee turnover and enhance the image of being family friendly.
It’s also quite clear that flexible work options are becoming a decisive factor in recruitment and retention. 45% of Australian employees look for a job with flexible work conditions and that number is only set to grow.
Here at Employment Hero, we have a flexible work policy and we implement it! Our marketing team makes particular use of flexible work arrangements and we have seen great results.
I am definitely an advocate for flexible working but I also know that for a business to successfully implement flexible work policies, there are a few parameters that need to be put in place. Here are my top 4 tips for managing a flexible team.
1. Get the technology right
Technology is great, but only when it works. If you are going to have a flexible workplace then you need to have the tools to make it work. You don’t want to spend the first 15 minutes of every meeting or chat trying to hear each other.
At Employment Hero, we use Google drive. So, all our staff need is an internet connection (and passwords plus security clearance) to access their work files.
We’re in the process of putting video cameras in all our meeting rooms so that it will feel like remote attendees are sitting at the table.
Our fortnightly all-hands meeting is streamed and due to the size of the room and the number of speakers, it took us a few goes to get the camera and microphone right.
We’re happy to say our remote attendees now enjoy a better audiovisual experience when attending large meetings remotely.
2. Communication is key for a flexible workplace
The first rule I teach my team is “If I don’t know, then I can’t help” and with flexible working conditions, over communication is absolutely critical to making it work.
We have systems in place, as a team, to ensure we all know what each other is working on.
First, there’s our marketing Slack channel. Remote workers let the team know via Slack when they are starting and ending their day and when they will be away from their keyboard for an extended period (i.e. AFK lunch, 45 mins).
We also use the team management tool, Asana, to manage our projects and workflows. This means as a team, we’re able to quickly and easily assign tasks to each other and understand what each other is working on from anywhere in the world.
As a manager, I make it a point to over-communicate the bigger vision to ensure everyone is always on the same page. In our daily communication, meetings and 1:1s, I make sure I am over-communicating why we’re doing something and what we’re trying to achieve to make sure everyone can make the right decisions for the business from any location.
3. Set clear objectives in your flexible workplace
There are so many reasons why you should measure people on objectives rather than output. At Employment Hero, objectives are critical to our moving forward as a business and they are also critical to managing a flexible team in a flexible workplace.
I really do not care where my team work from as long as I am seeing progress towards our team objectives. Basically, as long as I’m seeing results, all is good.
Focusing on objectives allows my team to work when and where they are most productive and it forms a framework to have conversations when things fall behind.
4. Check-ins are sacred
Feeding out of communication and objectives is hugely important when it comes to managing a flexible team. That’s why our weekly marketing WIP and individual 1:1s with my team are sacred times.
When you’re working flexibly, there have to be some non-negotiables and for me, this is it. Our weekly meetings are a chance for my team to touch base together as a group.
Having direct time with my team during 1:1 meetings allows us to discuss anything that might be unclear and raise any concerns around objectives.
In short, to manage a flexible team it’s important to get your tech in order, determine how you will manage and keep track of your team and set up a meeting cadence that suits your company objectives and team workflow.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You should now know enough about flexible working to seriously consider its viability for your business.