Flexible working – no longer a nice-to-have HR initiative

By Circle In

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Combining career and caregiving is a reality for most families across the globe. While flexible working during the pandemic benefited parents with less time commuting and more time with family, it highlighted a lot of the invisible work that working parents do outside their day jobs.

As the restrictions took effect, another dimension was added to the working parent juggle for some – caring for and homeschooling children while balancing deadlines at work. Everything was new – a new remote-working dynamic, managing teams from home, sharing a workspace with a partner, and maintaining a work output with kids hanging off either arm. Working flexibly during COVID-19 meant having (nay, needing) the freedom to choose their hours around the other responsibilities at home.

At Circle In, we have read, witnessed and been part of many flexibility conversations. We have observed leaders who have role modelled flexibility and others who simply choose to tick the box with a stand-alone flexibility policy. Further,  we have heard from thousands in the Circle In community, who have voiced both their frustrations and positive experiences.

Over the last three months, organisations, most of whom positioned flexible working as a benefit, were thrust into the deep end. What we have seen and heard is that managers, crucial to the success of any flexible working arrangement, were not equipped to handle this shift. Working flexibly for most managers meant that their teams had to deliver the 9-5 day from home. 

And therein lay the gap. 

If the last few months have proved anything, it’s that flexible working is not a mere policy-enabled, box-ticking exercise. COVID-19 has changed people’s demands and expectations on flexibility from their employer. The opportunity right now for businesses is to create a culture that truly embraces flexibility and hardwire it into their business strategy and values. 

Hardwiring flexibility into your business 

Prior to COVID-19, Circle In’s survey of 1,000 working parents revealed that 41% felt the most challenging aspect of returning from parental leave was combining work and family responsibilities and 38% said their return to work experience could have been improved by better access to more flexible working options¹. 

This is certainly not a job singularly tasked for HR teams, but one that requires rethinking traditional ways of working and providing a consistent employee experience.

One of the most important steps toward this is training managers and equipping them to manage flexible working teams. In fact, this has been the most requested area for support during the last 3 months. During COVID-19, we have equipped our customers with tools such as managing flexible working requests, having more inclusive operating setups for employees with different caregiving responsibilities and leading remote working teams. 

Our research also showed that 53% working parents felt their managers fail to role model support for working parents on their teams¹ and 54% say their managers are not equipped to lead a flexible team². In response to this, we have updated our Circle In platform with a manager resource hub; this contains everything from conversation guides to practical tips on how to manage different employee requests during different stages of parenthood and caring responsibilities. 

For tips on role modeling support for your working parents during COVID-19 and beyond, click here.

What our customers have to say

We spoke to a few of our Circle In customers to understand their status quo and how they’re readying themselves for the future workforce:

An employee poll at Officeworks revealed that 63% of their workforce would like to work from home 3 days a week (50% of respondents were males). Rebecca Oakley, GM of People, says that this data is enabling leadership to fast track the normalising of flexible work arrangements.  This has also shifted their internal narrative from “mums want flexible hours” to “working families need more flexibility”. 

At Western Power, 740 parents have flexible working arrangements while at MYOB, 83% of their parents work flexibly (pre-COVID-19). ARUP is shifting their strategy to a more output-based model with the option to work anytime and anywhere as long as they fulfill their weekly contracted hours. 

Through their practices, these organisations have become trailblazers and family-friendly workplaces that will not only retain but attract the best talent in the marketplace.

Where to from here?

For organisations that want to set themselves up for the future, it’s time to
re-think our workplaces and build fully empowered and productive flexible teams. Ask yourselves: What are you offering potential candidates with different needs? Are you advertising flexibility from the onset? Is your position description offering those from regional areas a fair shot? 

For existing employees – how are you setting up technology to support a seamless boardroom? Do your working parents have the freedom to work when/ where they choose to? Are you equipping managers/people leaders to handle requests from working parents (e.g. flexible working, breastfeeding, etc.)? Are your cross country teams set up to function without interstate travel (to be more inclusive)?

We’ve seen monumental change over recent years with companies providing increased support for working parents. Businesses can’t afford to stay static and not meet employee’s evolving expectations. With parents and carers comprising the majority of workplaces,  it’s clear that when you support working parents, everyone benefits with greater staff retention, a more engaged workforce, higher advocacy levels, a stronger employer brand and access to a wider talent pool.  So, are you up for the challenge?

To receive further insights into parental benefits and how organisations are supporting working parents, subscribe to our industry newsletter here.

¹Circle In Return to Work Survey 2020
²Circle In and Beam Australia Future of Work Survey 2020

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