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Credit: Annie Spratt

Let’s talk: Flexibility in the workplace

2020 has been a year where the discussion of workplace flexibility has been at the forefront of every company in Australia. 

With what has been a pretty unpredictable year, it has been difficult for business owners and leaders to create lasting company policy regarding the flexibility of their employees and their workplace culture.

There’s a fine balance to strike between being accomodating and being realistic for the profitability of the company. In today’s Let’s Talk, we hear the thoughts of business leaders who are considering how to tackle the topic of workplace flexibility in their companies.

Sam Pratt, CEO at Render

Let’s talk: Flexibility in the workplace

Any leader or founder that ignores workplace flexibility is cheating themselves of potential productivity gains. In my experience, it requires a behaviour shift in how, where and when work can be done including moving the focus from hours to activities and outputs. Adapting the way we work requires making the decision to move away from autopilot and invest in building an open culture that fosters trust in teams.

As a global business, we can’t operate any other way. Multiple time zones mean work is being completed at any hour of the day and as a result, we’re doubling down on collaboration tools and practices. Recognising the lack of a ‘9-5’ environment, initiatives like ‘Render Hour’ is a time you can drop into your calendar each day – outside the standard lunch hour – to step away from your desk for general wellbeing, family or sporting commitments. From a tooling perspective, Slack provides a platform to connect and share both on personal and work-related topics if used in the right way. Equally, we want to humanise the collaboration while working remotely, so simple ground rules like If you engage in multiple responses on a Slack thread, we encourage this to switch to a call to ensure there is no misinterpretation and we stay open to ideas and conversations.

A strong team has a sense of responsibility to each other, not just their manager or the rules. Ultimately any conversation about flexibility in the workplace boils down to building and role modelling trust from founder to middle management down to every person contributing to the success of the business.

Ben Leeds, Country Manager at Perkbox Australia

Let’s talk: Flexibility in the workplace

Flexibility has always been seen as somewhat of a privilege within the workplace. But I think this pandemic has changed the conversation on this. Offering flexibility is now a necessity of modern business. This doesn’t just mean waiting for your employees to ask permission though. You need to be proactive and actively seek feedback on how you could be providing a better experience for your team. For us, this took the form of a global day-off for our staff, to recoup and an ongoing understanding that your work is based on outcomes rather than time spent on it.

It’s also worth acknowledging that some businesses are in a better position to be flexible than others. Some may require office work due to security reasons. Others may need people to work set hours. The biggest mistake you can make when you aren’t able to offer flexibility is to just shoot down requests for it without explaining why to your staff. In a world where most workers can do their job from anywhere, those that can’t need to at least understand why.

David Piggott, Managing Director of Jabra ANZ

Let’s talk: Flexibility in the workplace

It’s no secret the modern workforce is happier when they have control over their work day. Now that business leaders have equipped teams with the tools and technology needed to maintain business continuity, focus must shift to long-term flexible working and building a positive workplace culture in this new environment.

This can be achieved by advocating for social interactions through video conferencing, and tasking people with creating fun ways to spend time together. These non-work interactions help build trust and deliver returns by accelerating the pace of project teamwork. Consider organising lunch-and-learn days, or work to develop more extensive virtual training programmes and modules for employee development.

While providing flexibility is important, focusing on a positive culture ensures the workforce can benefit from this change in workday structure. Tools that enable seamless collaboration, regardless of location, are key to keeping flexible employees productive and engaged.

Alex Hattingh, Chief People Officer of Employment Hero
Let’s talk: Flexibility in the workplace

Offering flexible work options means creating a work-life blend that allows your team to prioritise what is important, commit to it and place good communications cadence around it. This ensures their managers, colleagues and stakeholders know where they are (by keeping a transparent calendar) and can be flexible around that, as well as ensuring they log off work at a reasonable hour.

I strongly believe that you also have to practice what you preach and lead from the front when it comes to flexibility.

Family dinner is a really important part of my daily life. Having a flexible work-life blend means that I prioritise this. I will leave the office to make sure I can be at the table for a family dinner – or in this new remote world, log-off. This might mean that I log-on after dinner to finish a project, or check emails and internal messages on Slack later in the evening.
Being flexible with your own team allows them the freedom to put their important life commitments first, whether that’s picking up a child from school; starting work later to attend a yoga class; or perhaps, they are looking after a dependant during a health need. Support them, and make sure you allow your team to benefit from remote working – give them that trust.

Being flexible with your own team allows them the freedom to put their important life commitments first, whether that’s picking up a child from school; starting work later to attend a yoga class; or perhaps, they are looking after a dependant during a health need. Support them, and make sure you allow your team to benefit from remote working – give them that trust

Alex Paine, CEO and Co-Founder, The Virtual Conference Network

Alex Paine

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of customer communication and how approaches to customer communication could be “make or break” for business leaders. Those who go quiet risk customers being lost to more proactive competitors, while those who find innovative ways to stay connected are more likely to be remembered and engaged with throughout the ongoing changes to the economy.

In the pre-pandemic world, conferences, tradeshows and events were a highly effective way of attracting and retaining customers, but with social distancing and lockdowns to navigate, virtual conferencing is proving to be just as dynamic and impactful while also drastically reducing the financial risk to conference owners. The Virtual Conference Network and other innovators in the conferencing industry are experiencing first-hand the high demand for cutting edge technology platforms that help brands and membership bodies stay connected with their customers, without having to give up all the benefits conferencing and events can deliver. The future of customer loyalty will depend greatly on business leaders’ openness to trying and testing new technologies.

Bruce Perry, COO at Wontok

Let’s talk: Flexibility in the workplace

Giving staff flexibility is critical both for them and for us as a business as it leads to higher productivity, happier staff, fewer sick days and much higher retention rates. In the pandemic era, it also makes it much easier to manage workplace hygiene and social distancing, enabling those at higher risk to remain employed.

Businesses can be much more agile and access skills in regional areas rather than being confined to a limited local talent pool. Flexibility also means people who need more flexible options, such as working parents or people with physical ability issues, can apply for roles they previously couldn’t.

Learning to gauge productivity by output is also a much more effective way to track performance than counting the number of hours employees spend in the office each day. It can lead to more efficiencies, as the need for expensive CBD space may be reduced, as well as the high cost of replacing staff, from recruitment to training new people.

Ultimately flexibility builds trust between employers and employees, and is going to be the “new normal” for all progressive organisations.

Nick Cloete, VP APAC at Lightspeed

With the pandemic propelling uncertainty and change into many areas of business operations and permanently altering the future of work, business owners and leadership teams should look beyond the traditional 9-5 and support their staff with flexible options. At Lightspeed, the health and safety of our employees is a top priority and as such, offices will remain closed until 2021 – cementing flexible working as the new normal.

Flexible and remote working arrangements have allowed staff to take control of their working day, whether that’s integrating family or personal commitments into break times or offering variable start times which are no longer dependent on commute. This flexibility and appreciation of employees’ individual remote working situations has resulted in boosted productivity and morale, in addition to reduced commute time and improved attendance. As we begin to move into a post-COVID world, it’s important to remember the lessons learned during these months, to evolve in the future of work.

Christy Lake, Chief People Officer at Twilio

This year has brought great change for employers and employees across most sectors. As remote work has become the norm, employees’ perceptions of traditional working arrangements have shifted, with many realising the benefits of flexible work. As a result, businesses can no longer rely on perks, such as ping pong tables and kombucha, to attract and retain talent. Rather, flexible work arrangements, even in a post-COVID world, need to be front and centre.

At Twilio, shifting our 3,200+ global employees to remote working was an immense challenge, but it has helped redefine how we approach work, and elevated flexibility as a priority.

Looking beyond 2020, flexibility in the workplace will help reshape the future of work. To attract and retain talent in this new reality, businesses of all shapes and sizes must factor in flexibility as a critical part of their overall employment strategies, rather than approaching it as a ‘nice to have’.

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Ellie Dudley

Ellie Dudley

Ellie Dudley is a journalist at Dynamic Business with a background in the startup space and current affairs reporting. She has a specific interest in foreign investment and the Australian economy.

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