Blog Workplace Culture

Flexible working and how to embed a great flex culture

Greater productivity. Improved employee engagement. And access to better candidate pools. Just some of the benefits of remote working. It’s no wonder one in three companies say it’s here to stay for at least half their employees. So why aren't more of your people adopting flexible working at work?

With people told to "take advantage of policies", support for flexible working feels insincere. So people just don’t apply. And you wander why flexible working doesn't work. It’s HR’s job, therefore, to tackle those reservations. And help managers embed a flexible working culture across the business.

Global pandemic equals rapid, but essential, change to working practices. Increased homeworking. More flexible hours. And for some, a complete shift in how companies operate overnight. But the panic is over, or at least subsiding. So now it’s time to step back and take a more structured approach. Making flexible working truly part of your culture takes effort. As HR Director, it’s your responsibility to move managers from reluctant approvers to active custodians. And it all starts with a plan:

  1. Change the language of flexible working
  2. Address manager concerns about flexible working
  3. Create a culture of flexibility and support

The language of flexible working and how it needs to change

Flexible working comes in all shapes and sizes. From compressed, part-time or annualised hours, through to home-working, remote working and job shares. But just listing the options doesn’t get them used. Employees must feel adopting flexible working won’t count against them. And that starts with a shift in the language.

Make all employees eligible

Many countries have legislation for flexible working (e.g. US, Australia, UK). But most have limits on who it applies to. When creating a truly flexible culture, organisations must stop considering eligibility. And instead make flexible working available for all. You’ll positively impact existing teams. And potential recruits too, as you show commitment to flexibility from the start.

Stop "taking advantage" of flexible working

Managers often talk about employees taking advantage of flexible working. Historically it’s been followed with jokes about “working” from home. And unfair comments about parents leaving early to collect the kids. These statements undermine flexible working. And cause employees to fear that it limits career progression. So change the framing. Employees should simply apply. Or, even better, openly say they want to change hours so they can drop kids off or even go to the gym.

Start talking results

For flexible working to get truly embedded, you must have trust. And that starts by managing results, not inputs. The pandemic proved flexible working works. People achieved great things. And they didn’t have to be micro-managed.  So, focus on clear objectives and key results (OKRs). Managers provide clear direction; employees deliver. The how, where and when are no longer relevant.

But some managers are reluctant to change. And some businesses believe everyone should be in the office. So you’ll need to work harder to change their minds otherwise flexible working doesn't work.

Recognising and addressing managers’ concerns

Many companies adopted remote working for the first time during the global pandemic. And over 90% of employers saw no drop in productivity. So it’s clear. Employees make meaningful contributions at home, in the office, or even from their local coffee shop. And managers recognise that. But they were also forced to accept it.

Embedding a flex culture isn’t just about managers accepting requests. It’s about making it an essential way of life, both for them and their teams.  FlexAppeal identifies three core management concerns you’ll need to overcome:

Protecting tradition

For some, flexible working practices challenge the status quo. The business is moving forward. And they’re getting left behind. The speed of recent implementation meant no introduction. Just action. So, revisit flexible working with managers. Explain what it means, the options, and how their teams can benefit. And explore opportunities where they can use it too. Managers need to be active participants, not passive bystanders.

Lack of control

You can’t manage what you can’t see. Or at least, that’s what some managers believe. Focusing them on results helps. But you can’t force managers to trust their teams. So, meet them where they are. It may not be concern about teams performing. For some, it’s concern that when they do, you won’t need a manager any more. So, offer re-assurance and give them emotional support to deal with the change.

Managers dislike change

The pandemic forced change. It was essential, but some managers don’t like it. Instead, they like their existing processes, habits and routines. So look for the blockers. The managers who continue to find reasons to reject flexible working requests. And then challenge them. Understand their resistance. It may be fear of not knowing how to manage people remotely. So help them build new skills to manage effectively in a hybrid world or your flexible working policies just won't work.

How to build a culture that embraces flexible working

Where it's truly valued, flexible working isn't considered a benefit. It’s just how that company works. It’s fundamental to how they do business.

As you change your culture, promote flexible working in all its forms. If remote working isn't possible, offer different hours instead. And encourage employees to take accountability and ownership of their success, productivity and development. Enable flexibility for managers. And encourage decision-making to reflect what’s best for their teams. And make sure senior management role model the behaviours. Nothing will change if the top team all still sit at their desks Monday to Friday.

Finally, be transparent. Where there are genuine issues with providing flexibility, explain them. Allow employees to suggest solutions. And help them to take ownership for working out options that support a culture of flexibility.

It’s time to make a permanent change. So start by managing results, not inputs. And use Weekly10 to set OKRs that drive accountability and more flexibility all round.