11 steps for HR and People leaders to create a flexible working culture

Charlotte Nicol
Last updated on 14th August 2020
4 min read

Employees have wanted flexible working for a long time now.

Yet, almost half of global HR and People leaders we surveyed last year said they hadn’t yet made flexible and remote working an option for employees.

Over the past few months, that’s changed. HR and People leaders grappled to shift their workforces – practically overnight – to remote working, in response to the global pandemic. In fact, more than half of employees in the United States, and a similar number in other countries, have started to work from home full-time.

Now, organizations are at a crossroad. Should we enable employees to work entirely from home forever? Do we introduce a revised flexible working policy? It seems, the topic of flexible working – and getting it right – is more important than ever before. 

Companies who simply say they offer flexible working now are unlikely to stand out from the crowd. Instead, HR and People teams will need to create a holistic, strong and successful flexible working culture that’s well thought through; created for employees, with employees in mind.

Here’s 11 steps for HR and People teams to create a successful and considered flexible working culture.

1. Make a strong business case

If your board or C-suite is still undecided about the future of flexible working, it’s up to you as an HR and People leader to build a compelling business case that will convince them of its continued value to the organization, and even why it’s key to step it up a notch.

By now you should have plenty of data to support your argument, such as figures related to employee engagement and productivity. By matching this data to the business’s future priorities, you can show how remote and flexible working could help the organization to achieve its objectives in the future.

2. Get input from employees

What do your employees want? Have you asked them?

Have a two-way conversation with a number of people from your workforce. Find out what they have enjoyed about remote and flexible working and what they would like to see changed.

Knowing employees’ feelings and opinions not only means you can be sure your approach is employee-centric, it will also give you a benchmark to return to after implementing your policies and procedures to determine if they were successful.

3. Get buy-in from management

As well as understanding how employees feel, CIPD recommends obtaining senior support too.

While the senior management team should be just as versed in remote working as other employees by now, they may have encountered unique challenges and pressures that should be heard before figuring out a way forward.

Speak to senior managers and ask how they envision the future of remote working in the organization. Discuss any challenges they have encountered and look for ways to mitigate these.

4. Build a plan

It’s time to get writing.

Building a clear plan, with timelines, responsibilities, tasks, questions and stakeholders is vital. This will help you to understand the milestones left to achieve and measure the continued success of remote and flexible working across your organization.

For example, how are you documenting your approach? What support should you be offering to managers? Do you need to upgrade systems in order to better support your remote workforce and ensure maximum productivity?

5. Rewrite the rulebook on working hours

Is it time to ditch the 9-5?

Redefine your organization’s approach to working hours by allowing employees the flexibility to choose their own (so long as they can meet their obligations and fulfil their contracted hours).

If your employment contracts include a paragraph on ‘normal working hours’ it’s time to scrub that section out and replace it with a statement that reflects your new flexible working guidelines.

If you’re anxious that employees could take advantage of your policy, follow the example set by many companies and include a section in your employment contracts to define your company’s flexible working view. For instance, if you expect employees to deliver a certain quantity of deliverables per week, make this clear in writing.

6. What about the office?

You may have spent months out of the office now. If so, you may be wondering what to do with the space.

Remember that many employees will still want the option of an office, even if they don’t intend to work there every day. Also, your headquarters are an important asset when it comes to maintaining company culture, building client relationships and attracting talent.

While you may wish to find more cost-effective ways to utilize this space, there’s no need to get rid of this space just yet.

7. Invest in tech

Investing in tech is a must when it comes to maintaining a successful flexible working environment.

You will need to ensure your business has a scalable and futureproofed technology roadmap to make sure your organization is able to meet the changing technology landscape. This includes investing in robust HR solutions for your own team.

When it comes to choosing communication applications, Matt Goddard, UK remote working consultant, recommends asking your people which tools they prefer and allowing choice. He says the cost of a few licenses is negligible compared to the benefits of having a strong, well-connected team.

8. Make sure employees have adequate resources at home

If your employees are going to be spending long periods of time working from their own homes, you may want to help them redesign their living spaces for work.

For instance, some employees will need a new desk, a suitable chair and perhaps hardware such as a printer or scanner.

You could offer to make a small investment to help your employees get set up or get their work equipment from the office delivered to them.

9. Encourage regular one-to-ones

The UK’s Mental Health Foundation reported that the number of adults in the UK experiencing loneliness increased from around 10% to 24% during lockdown.

To combat this, HR teams should encourage managers to schedule face-to-face meetings with their colleagues, teams and managers at regular times.

Having one period every week where teams can meet online for ‘water cooler conversations’ can help make everybody feel more in touch with the business and their co-workers.

Managers should also book in regular meetings with their teams to ensure they are aware of their workload, and any pressure or difficulties they are experiencing.

10. Communicate clearly to employees

Clear and consistent communications are vital for your new approach to flexible working to be successful.

Discuss with employees how you’re acting on feedback. Show them how they’re empowered to manage their working time in your organization. Make clear what’s changed, what it means for them, what the next steps are, and where they can go to for more information.

11. Show off in your recruitment strategies

Did you know that over 80% of employees value flexible working highly?

So, don’t be shy about communicating some stand-out data or anecdotes about your flexible working culture in your recruitment strategies – it could open up your organization to a wider talent pool, and not just geographically.

Download our research report ‘The changing face of HR’ to discover how 500+ HR leaders are evolving to respond to today’s changing world of work.

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