Managers and employees in Australian organisations are struggling to implement flexibility in ways that actually improve performance and wellbeing, with a critical stumbling block being a failure to redesign work with the team, according to Diversity Council Australia.
In new guidelines developed for employers across all sectors of the economy, organisations are being urged to move away from ad hoc arrangements for individuals and towards involving their teams to redesign work.
“Employers should be thinking about flexibility quite differently,” said Lisa Annese, DCA’s CEO. “Are they implementing flexible work just to accommodate ad hoc requests from individuals, or are they thinking more broadly about the potential benefits of a wider application of flexibility? Smart employers understand that redesigning work at the team level is critical to embedding flexibility and to leveraging the benefits,” said Lisa.
“Flexibility is an important part of the way we do business at NAB, and many of our people work flexibly,” said Kristy Macfarlane, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at National Australia Bank who sponsored the Future-Flex project. “We support people to work flexibly where it meets the needs of our customers, our business, teams and individuals.
“We are always looking for ways to innovate and make flexible work even better. This is why we supported the DCA Future-Flex research and conducted a pilot program based on the Future-Flex guidelines. We are looking forward to reviewing the outcomes of our pilot and considering how the guidelines, which provide a framework for how teams can work together to find flexible work solutions, can be applied more broadly at NAB,” said Kristy.
Anna McPhee, CEO of the Retail Council who also sponsored the project believes this new approach is the critical next step required on flexible working.
“Practical guidance for managers, teams, and individuals on how to mainstream workplace flexibility will help businesses wanting to capture the benefits of flexibility,” said Anna.
DCA’s Future-Flex guidelines recommend a new approach to flexibility that involves:
- Reviewing the components of all team members’ jobs (e.g. tasks, duties, responsibilities, location, timing), rather than just one individual employee’s.
- Having employees and managers work together to come up with team-based flexibility solutions, rather than managers doing this in isolation or with just one employee.
It is recommended that organisations adopt a mindset with the following four defining characteristics:
- Start with the Team. Future-Flex is about redesigning work at a team level – rather than just redesigning one individual’s job. Employees are key partners in developing team?based flexibility solutions that work.
- Challenge Assumptions. Future-Flex recognises that organisational and team cultures are critical to the success of flexibility at work. Shifting to a Future-Flex mindset involves being aware of and challenging our own biased assumptions about what it means to be a flexible worker (e.g. about people’s career aspirations, commitment to the organisation what makes an ‘ideal worker’, ‘ideal work’ and ‘ideal careers’.)
- Use Flexibility as a Business Tool. Future-Flex focuses on flexible work that boosts the performance and wellbeing of organisations, teams, and individuals. Meeting business goals in areas such as customer service, innovation, growth and efficiency is central to Future-Flex.
- Define Flexibility Broadly. Future-Flex defines flexibility as including a variety of ways for team members to work flexibly, which can involve either formal or informal arrangements, all roles including managerial roles, and be accessed for any reason.
The following organisations are experiencing the benefits of adopting the Future-Flex mindset:
- Future-Flex principles are being piloted in a Business Banking Centre in National Australia Bank with the team designing innovative flexibility options (e.g. flexibility in work location) and work redesign options with a flexibility link (e.g. improving technology could enable flexibility in work location).
- Allens is rolling out a national program which is building the skills of partners and people managers to manage flexible teams.
- BAE Systems Australia’s Agile Work Project has challenged assumptions that flexible work design was not possible in the organisation’s operating environment and has delivered measureable success.
- IBM’s overall approach to flexible working has improved client and employee satisfaction.
Future-Flex project is a partnership initiative between Diversity Council Australia (‘DCA’), the Retail Council, National Australia Bank, Allens, IBM, BAE Systems Australia and IAG, which aims to generate practical guidance for managers, teams, and individuals on how to implement and mainstream workplace flexibility through work design.