“Flexing” the schedules

The rigid working shackles are off for many employees as organisations embark on formulating flexible working policies. However, how can firms go about crafting its own flexi-work practices without compromising on productivity? HRM finds out

While ample examples abound of flexible working, Katherine Mancuso, Global Vice President of Human Resources, ShoreTel, cites two really unique instances when her own firm had to resort to this measure due to unforeseen circumstances.

“We had a fire drill in New York a couple of weeks ago and staff was asked to evacuate the building,” she says.

“We didn’t know how long they’d be on the street, and so the guys grabbed their laptops and rather than waiting around, went to the local coffee shop and in some instances, they went home and they were able to continue to look after our customers and do their jobs.”

“It was great, because as it turned out, the building wasn’t opened again until five hours later. In this instance, our employees were more productive as a result of our approach to flexible working than they would have been if we were a traditional, nine-to-five type organisation.”

Another occasion of unintended flexible working occurred during the recent “once-in-a-century” storm in Sydney, Australia, on 21 April 2015 that caused chaos throughout the city and in the suburbs.

“After a request from the New South Wales State Premier for people who were able to stay at home to do so, ShoreTel management encouraged employees to work from home, yet ShoreTel Australia remained ‘open’ and available to customers,” adds Mancuso.

Jennifer Wu, Senior Talent Manager, APAC for LEWIS PR, also recalls a scenario whereby an employee’s child was sick at home for a week and that the employee was able to be with their child and also work from home.

“This allowed the parent not to worry or focus on how many days they were out of the office for; for us as an organisation, not to worry about deadlines not being met and most importantly, the child had their parent by their side 24/7,” she explains.

“We also have a flexible work arrangement in place for a working father who needs to work from home once a week due to personal circumstances.”

According to The Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) biennial employment survey, nearly one in two companies (or 47%) in Singapore offered at least one formal flexible work arrangement, a rise from 38% in 2011.

However, while flexible working is increasingly being adopted by many organisations, firms are still continuing to calibrate their flexible practices while negating drops in productivity levels.

Making a case for flexi-work

Kate Colley, Head of People for National Australia Bank, says results from their annual employee survey show that employees who work flexibly tend to score higher in engagement and enablement; they are also more likely to stay with the organisation for longer.

“National Australia Bank’s flexible working principles are a fundamental part of the way we do business and are critical to NAB being recognised as an employer of choice,” she explains.

“We believe that everyone has a part to play in making flexible working a reality – individuals managing their own work and life well-being, people leaders recognising the benefits of flexible working and colleagues being supportive of their workmates’ arrangements.”

Dyanne Ierardo, HR Director, Asia Pacific, Verizon Enterprise Solutions, concurs with her counterpart.

“We believe that our employees contribute their most impactful and effective work when they are engaged, have workplace flexibility coupled with access to integrating work/life demands,” she explains.

“In Asia, we have been enabling and supporting flexible working practices for well over a decade.”

According to Ierardo, flexible working practices are common across its company throughout the Asia-Pacific region and the organisation has an over-arching philosophy that requires for both managers and employee to share accountability for business performance.

Likewise, Mancuso explains that ShoreTel, along with many other global organisations, have identified that a traditional nine-to-five day does not necessarily support the company’s business needs.

“For example, employees who work cross-functionally or have regional responsibilities, with colleagues and partners in different timezones, may not be able to join a conference call in an office at 9pm,” she says.

Tellingly, Mancuso discloses that 36% of its global workforce is not based in a traditional ShoreTel office – they work from home, or on-site with customers.

In fact, according to the Smart Business, Smart Surroundings report by Regus, out of the more than 22,000 workers globally who were asked to identify the location where they are most productive apart from the main office, 53% selected a business centre.

Surprisingly, only 34% of respondents selected their homes, although this rises to 63% for those who are able to invest in a professional workspace within their home.

Wu says LEWIS keeps its flexible working policy flexible.

“We don’t set a specific day, number of days, in which employees can work from home. If and when an employee does need or want to work from home, they just need to let their office head know,” she explains.

“Our main policy is that the employee is available and contactable on all of our standard communications channels. LEWIS has a completely mobile policy, so this means they could even be working from another country (which happens) and they are still completely accessible to the team.”

In fact, Wu explains the organisation puts a lot of trust and faith in their employees.

“It’s not about where employees work, it’s about the work they deliver,” she stresses.

“Flexible working is exactly that – flexible. The employees know it’s there, so in the event they need to use it, they do.”

Crafting the apps for flexi-working

Over at accounting firm KPMG, the company offers a whole suite of flexible working arrangements such as compressed work schedules, job sharing and flexible work contracts, says Quek Shu Ping, Head of People, Performance and Culture at KPMG in Singapore.

“These include flexi-time arrangements which allow employees broad variations in their working day and permanent individual arrangements allowing bespoke home-working or part-time working arrangements – created and designed with the needs of the individual in mind,” he says.

According to Quek, the firm’s part-time arrangements consist of employees working four hours a day and between two to four days a week.

“This benefits both employer and employees as they may attend to their childcare and elder care needs, and yet be able to complete their work in a timely manner,” he explains.

“Our Tax function also piloted the Work From Home scheme in 2012 and further introduced a Flexi-Working Hours Scheme in 2013 to allow staff greater work mobility. This implementation helps to support our employees to achieve both a successful professional career and a fulfilling personal life.”

Ierardo elaborates that in Asia-Pacific, Verizon is transforming the physical workspace into an “activity-based working “ model with upgraded facilities and technology to enable employees options when they are in the office and in/out of customer visits.

“We also support different start and finish times as we are operating with a global mindset, compressed work weeks, part-time and home-based working – everything from one day a week to full-time. The demands of the business and the individual job role are factors that determine what agreements are in place on an individual level,” she says.

Ierardo states there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all policy at Verizon.

“Different employees will have varying needs and requirements and all managers work closely with their respective HR Business Partner to address any requests that are out of the ordinary,” she adds.

While Mancuso acknowledges there is value in having employees work from an office to work collaboratively, meet face-to-face, and engage with colleagues, she says ShoreTel encourages its people to focus on the work that needs to be done, rather than enforce a requirement to sit at a desk for a set period of time.

“There are examples of jobs that require a level of face-to-face service, for example a receptionist who needs to be available during certain business hours, but for other types of employees, we focus on outcomes and productivity rather than hours clocked up in the office,” she elaborates.

“Our engineers are an example of a group of employees who tend to work non-traditional hours. They often prefer to start work a little later in the day, and will work long into the night, because this is when they are most productive or most creative.”

Mancuso reveals every employee at ShoreTel has a laptop, and the company’s mobile Unified Communications application, ShoreTel Mobility, is available as an app to download onto smartphones.

“This application allows our people to use their mobile device as a desk phone, to take and make phone calls from their office phone number, join conference calls, transfer people into and out of calls and collaborate with desktop sharing,” she explains.

“For example, with ShoreTel Mobility, our calendar and conference dialer are integrated on our smartphone or tablet, so we know what conference calls are on our schedules and can join them with a single click of a button in the application.”

All of the company’s business calls come through on its mobile device through ShoreTel Mobility.

“Even if we missed a call, we can quickly view voicemail messages using the visual voicemail application and select those that need immediate attention, allowing us to quickly review and respond to a customer with a question or a co-worker with a problem – all while on the go,” she says

“So, by making the tools available to everyone, we provide our employees with the flexibility to do their job, where ever they may be.”

According to her, the benefit of this is that not only is the organisation providing greater flexibility to its workforce, but it is also making their people more productive.

“A sales person can spend a great deal of time travelling and away from their traditional office. With a laptop and ShoreTel Mobility, they can work in an airport, in a taxi, in a hotel – they’re not constrained by geography or logistics,” adds Mancuso.

Over at NAB, Colley elaborates the organisation possesses flexibility in when and how leave is taken, job sharing, compressed working weeks, part time work and working from home.

In addition, she discloses that all roles at NAB are open to applications from NAB people proposing full time, part time or other flexible working arrangements.

“At the Group level, we have recently made our 12-week paid primary carer’s leave policy more accessible to new fathers and other non-birth parents and we are looking to roll out a similar policy for our offices in Asia,” says Colley.

Furthermore, to formalise its range of flexible working arrangements that allow NAB employees to work in a way that better suits their lifestyles, Colley explains NAB at the Group level has developed a comprehensive “Flexible Working Toolkit”.

According to her, the toolkit provides holistic information, resources and e-learning support that are centred around NAB’s flexible working principles including ensuring equity for all, enhancing business outcomes, an efficient approach, effective partnerships, empowering and transforming, and evolving and improving.

Colley says some NAB teams have adopted staggered working hours among the team members to allow for those with family commitments in the morning to start and end their days later.

“We also have a number of staff in Asia who have opted for shorter work weeks, part time hours (e.g. working for 5 half days a week) and working from home on some days in the week,” she says.

On a personal level, Colley explains that throughout her career at NAB, the bank has supported her need to work shorter day weeks in order for her to meet her family commitments.

“As a people leader, I also encourage my team to work from home and now have two members formally working from home once a week,” she adds.

“A large part of the success of flexible working is ensuring that our people have the right infrastructure and support to work well in an offsite environment.”

Merits of flexi-work

While firms are ramping up their flexible working practices to accommodate the diverse needs of employees, some hard-lined bosses will always be suspicious of the merits of flexible working and its perceived productivity levels.

According to Wu, she stresses the important aspect to focus on is actually not flexible working.

Rather, she says the key is to focus on is making sure the organisation hires the right people to join the business who believe in the same vision and who has the same values as the firm.

“If you get this right, then things like working hours, whether an individual is more productive working in the office or from home, how many sick days they’ve had – they no longer matter,” she explains.

“We have seen where we’ve accommodated individuals that they in fact work even harder on days they work from home to ensure the team in the office doesn’t potentially suffer from them not being there. It’s also about communication and making sure both sides communicate clear expectations right from the beginning.”

Wu says LEWIS also understands that circumstances change.

“So for us, if a flexible work arrangement has been agreed, it should also open to potentially changing due to employer or employee needs. We make sure we keep an open and flexible mindset and we ask our employees to do the same,” she adds.

From NAB’s perspective, Colley says the firm’s “Flexible Working Toolkit” provides comprehensive guidelines and checklists for both its people and their managers to ensure that flexible work solutions continue to support the way the organisation work and the business outcome it needs to achieve.

“In Asia we have also observed through our recruitment process that people seek to join NAB because of our strong diversity and inclusion agenda as well as our strong commitment to advocating work-life balance through policies such as our flexible working policies,” she explains.

Ierardo maintains that managers and employees are accountable for performance.

“We have a transparent performance management cycle embedded in our culture and our managers are equipped to address performance concerns when they arise, rather than waiting until the year-end review,” she explains.

“If a flexible arrangement is not working, the manager is responsible for addressing and correcting any issues that are impacting business performance.”

Nevertheless, Ierardo says the company has a strong employee engagement score of 85% from a recent internal employee opinion survey in the region.

“As we have been implementing the workspace upgrades around the region, our employees respond with an 80% agreement that the new style of working improves collaboration and enables flexibility,” she adds.

According to Mancuso, ShoreTel has encountered examples of employees who planned on resigning due to family relocation or other personal needs, and in some cases, the firm has been able to retain talent due to accommodations that could be made that suited both the business and the individual.

“We also benefit from having a workforce that is 25% female, which matches the industry standard in technology companies, with 25% of management positions also being held by women,” she says.

“We believe that our flexible work arrangements support women to take on more demanding and higher level roles. This is not the case in many industries, and you will find that a woman’s decision to have a family can negatively impact career goals and advancement.”

Wu points out that just last year, LEWIS had an average growth rate of around 25% in APAC.

“So what we can say is that flexible work arrangements has not hampered or slowed our growth in any way,” she says.

Enduring a “backlash” for flexible working?

According to a recent survey conducted online, by Harris Poll on behalf of EY, approximately one in 10 US workers claimed they have “suffered a negative consequence as a result of having a flexible work schedule” and the proportion is even higher for millennials, or nearly one in six.

Other findings revealed that:

  • Across the board, millennials highly appreciate increased flexibility and paid parental leave and claimed they would be more prone to recommend that company to others, be more engaged, less likely to quit, more likely to join the company and work longer hours if they were offered.
  • US Millennials are the most likely generation to say they would change jobs or careers, give up an opportunity for a promotion, and to “take a pay cut to have flexibility.”

 

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