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Flexible Work

Technology is changing the way we work, providing more opportunities for flexibility. Willis Towers Watson supports work/life integration and believes flexibility plays a key role in employee engagement and retention.

How the way work is done is changing

Technology is changing the way we work, providing more opportunities for empowerment and flexibility for work-life integration.

These changes mean that employers offering access to flexible working options no longer stands out as a competitive advantage; it’s an essential component of work to attract, retain and engage employees.

Workplace flexibility practices

There are opportunities for flexible working for all employees at different stages of their careers:

Phased retirement – The gradual reduction of workload, hours and responsibilities alongside the introduction of retirement benefits.

No meetings Wednesdays – Setting aside a particular day of the week/month where no meetings can be scheduled, allowing time for employees to focus exclusively on work deliverables whether in office or from home.

Results-only work environment – Employees are evaluated solely on the quality and outcomes of work and deliverables rather than face time or hours worked, enabling them to set their own schedules and location.

Breaking down barriers to flexible working

Many employees still report not being able to work as flexibly as they would like. The most recent Willis Towers Watson Global Workforce Study showed only 44% of employees felt senior leadership at their organisation has a sincere interest in their wellbeing.

For employees to use available policies, they need true permission to do so. Business leaders need to show that working flexibly won’t have adverse effects on their experience at work or their long-term career prospects.

With stress identified as one of the biggest health risks (and lack of work/life balance as the number one cause of stress from the employees’ perspective), leaders should be more concerned about the wellbeing of their teams and the role of flexible working in supporting employees to manage stress.

What does ‘true permission’ look like?

There are a number of ways leaders can demonstrate true permission:

  • Role model: Role modelling the use of flexible working arrangements is a powerful way to endorse use of the available options. Leaders who haven’t traditionally worked this way may find this a challenging shift but working one day a week from home or letting the team know you will be leaving early on a particular day to attend a family event sends a message that it’s ok for other people to do this too.
  • Use technology: Communication is a key element to a successful flexible working approach as it ensures people can remain connected no matter where they are and what time they choose to work. The array of communication channels now available and the increasing range of online tools means staying in touch has never been easier, but just having these tools is not enough – leaders have to commit to using them consistently and embed them as part of the everyday functioning of the team.
  • Make it a given rather than the exception: Clearly outlining the flexible options that people can use and the boundaries will help to remove any ambiguity. Setting the expectation that people can access these as and when they need, rather than having to ask every time will free up any angst associated with ‘seeking permission’. Setting up a protocol around always letting your manager know where you are and when you will be working is likely to empower people to manage the intersection between their work and non-work life much more effectively. It will also send the message that flexible working is for everyone, not just certain demographic groups.
  • Determine performance based on outcomes not face-time: The question is often posed: ‘if people aren’t here in the office how do I know they are working?’ Measuring performance based on time in the office is a concept of the past. There’s no guarantee that the person who sits at their desk the longest is generating the most work and that certainly doesn’t indicate quality of work. Shifting the focus to measuring outcomes means everyone can be held accountable for their performance whether they are working flexibly or not.

Considerations for implementing flexible working

Get input

Focus groups can be a good way to learn what’s important to employees and understand potential differing perspectives and the readiness across the business to implement flexible workplace programs.

Align to culture

Be careful of doing too much and going too far if the organization isn’t ready – if everyone works in the office from 8-5, moving to a 100% flexible work schedule straight away, will likely not be effective.

Establish governance

Ensure that policies are in place to create consistency and a common understanding across the business.

Test the approach and create ‘quick wins’

Start with a pilot to test flexible working programs with a small group of employees or begin with a single program.

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