Embracing flexible working – Three New Year Resolutions for business

Now the Christmas festivities are over and we’ve welcomed in 2019, thoughts are no doubt turning to New Year Resolutions. Often these are about things we intend to do more of in order to improve our lives in the coming twelve months.

If you’re an employer considering extending your flexible working offer, here are three resolutions that will support you:

#1. Resolve to challenge your workplace culture by declaring ‘all roles flex’. You’ll be in good company – both Unilever and Mercer have a stated commitment to allowing all roles to be worked flexibly unless there is an insurmountable business reason for not doing so.

Of course it’s not enough to simply make the statement. Your staff will need training in how to structure and manage the most appropriate flexible arrangement for a particular role. One way to do this is to designate someone in the organisation as the Flexible Working Champion; and to have that person become an expert in flexible job design.

In addition, a briefing for managers – either in the form of a workshop or intranet guidance – will allay their concerns, enhance their skills and enable them to support the new policy.

#2. Resolve to keep the conversation going all year. Organisations are made up of people; and those people have conversations about ‘how we do things around here’. So an organisational culture is the sum total of all the conversations people are having. If you want to embrace different ways of working you’ll need to get people talking about them.

Find internal role models and showcase them. Talk about the business benefits of offering more flexible working. Keep the conversation positive by focusing on how to make a flexible arrangement succeed rather than getting tied up in the knots of all that could go wrong.

Cultures take time to change so it’s important to keep the conversation going all year (and perhaps top it off with an employee survey or focus groups at the end of the year to measure what has changed). We live in turbulent times when organisations often fall into the trap of launching a new initiative every month – resulting in cynicism and lack of enthusiasm among staff. Show your commitment to extending flexible working by making sure the conversations continue.

#3. Resolve to collect tangible evidence of the benefits. There’s a lot of discussion in the media about the many benefits of flexible working. Identifying those that apply to your circumstances will be a persuasive motivator for your managers. Spend some time thinking about the biggest HR challenges for your business. Are they in attracting and retaining staff? Or in keeping staff engaged and productive? Or perhaps employee wellbeing is your biggest concern? Decide what it is you want to measure and do so at the start of this year. Take an interim measure six months down the line and measure again at the end of the year. It’s likely you’ll find the figures telling a positive story.

You might also choose to include flexible working as a metric in your managers’ targets and your board reports. Both of these are powerful actions that tie your commitment to extending flexible working to your business performance.

Many years ago a colleague observed “flexible working is not rocket science”; and I wholeheartedly agree. In 2019 why not take the same approach to extending flexible working in your business and reap the benefits.

Anna Meller is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD whose early career was heavily recruitment focussed. https://www.linkedin.com/in/annameller/