5 steps to help make flexible work a reality

Empowering people to take control of their flexible arrangements is both good for employees and good for business

5 steps to help make flexible work a reality

by Helen Lea, Chief Employee Experience Officer, MYOB

Research consistently shows that greater flexibility at work results in happier, healthier and more productive teams.

It is a critical piece of the puzzle for both recruitment and retention, so what does this mean for businesses unsure where to start? Here are five steps we’ve experimented with and learned from at MYOB that may help you get closer to making flexible working a reality.

Understand the priorities of your team
This has a dual application. Importantly, our work is a contract with an employer to deliver value. We’ve learned that the most critical first step is your ability to detail the outcomes you’re expecting from your team. Being clear on what we’re working together to deliver allows everyone to align on these priorities.

With that agreed and understood, you can turn your mind to the team itself. What are their expectations with regards to flexible work? What are their personal circumstances, work preferences and how much support do they need from you and/or colleagues? Now expand your horizons to consider future hires. What type of talent do you hope to attract and what are their expectations around culture and flexibility?

Just like with any new product to market, research is a critical stage in the development of any new employee experience initiative. A combination of surveys, discussions and observation will give you the data needed to make informed decisions - both from what is reported and the behaviours that are manifested.

At MYOB, our team routinely tells us and shows us that flexibility is a priority for them. In the latest MYOB employee engagement survey, 83% indicated they made use of flexible working options and 87% agree they have the flexibility they need to manage their work and non-work interests (caring responsibilities, study, sport etc). Armed with this information, we continue to invest in developing flexible working conditions that work for our team.

READ MORE: Flexible working can make or break employers

Approach flexibility as a mindset, not a prescription
Flexibility is a powerful enabler, but we’ve learned that we need to think broadly in the way we design and lead flex initiatives. While many companies may have flexibility policies in place, this means nothing if leaders are not able to challenge their own assumptions about work, if people are afraid to ask or if technology doesn’t facilitate collaboration and remote access.

Flexibility is not just about creating a policy, it is about adopting the right mindset. At MYOB we’ve tackled this by developing a “flex mindset” which is undeniably a critical aspect of our program’s success.

Rather than policing through policy or a detailed rulebook, a mindset of trust and confidence in our team, their abilities and commitment to their work is important. We’ve found that assuming good intentions and expecting people will do the right thing means that our team has rarely disappointed us.

Consider a team-based charter
Workplace flexibility is not a new concept, but when you approach it from a ‘we’ not ‘me’ perspective, it really opens up the organisation to new possibilities for inclusion and ownership.

For example, as part of the ‘Flex mindset’ at MYOB, we’ve co-designed a series of principles that everyone commits to with regards to their work and team. Before any discussions around flexible work take place, we encourage everyone to proactively identify their own working styles and readiness to ‘flex as a team’ before drawing up a charter for how they plan to work together. This ensures everyone gets the most out of the full ‘flexperience’.

Flexibility goes both ways and it requires collaboration and understanding from the individual, the team and the organisation to truly make it work. At its heart, flexibility can’t be a selfish decision – it has to be made in the spirit of the broader team, as the impact will otherwise be felt by colleagues and outcomes may suffer.

Diversity across and within teams often means there is no one size fits all solution, but good discussions about how we can be successful together whilst getting the full benefit of flexibility has been a game-changer for us.

READ MORE: Flexible work practices now a ‘given’

Offer flexibility in all its forms
Despite the frequent focus on parenting challenges, flexibility is not just parent centric. Knowing they’re empowered to deliver and have some choice in how to succeed in their work and home lives is really important to all employees at all stages of their career. For this reason, at MYOB we developed a broad approach to flexible work which encompasses flexibility for all team members across time, leave, place and choice in the context of their work.

A holistic flex program offers flexibility in when, where and how work is conducted.

It provides employees with a wide variety of different leave options, empowers choice around the location of work (both on- and off-site as well as in a variety of onsite spaces), offers flexible scheduling and shift swapping to help manage life and commitments outside of work, as well as opportunities to determine when and how employees take leave throughout the year.

When you consider each of the aspects of flexibility above, you may find you’re more prepared or able to flex than you first thought.

Support the transition then continue to evolve
For HR Managers and practitioners looking to introduce or encourage remote or flexible work, it’s important to recognise that it requires ongoing attention, and new ways will evolve to improve the employee experience.

At MYOB we recently introduced 5 additional days of ‘flex-leave’ for all permanent employees – once they have used their 20 day allocation – bringing total leave up to 25 days per year. The 5 days of flex leave are designed to help employees manage their wellbeing year-round and can be used creatively. For example, an employee may want to use their 5 days flex leave to have a long weekend for five weeks or to take one day off for each week of the school holidays.

The anticipated savings to the business each year in terms of reduced turnover, sick leave and leave liability far outweigh the costs of the program, and we suspect we’re onto something big. Within a week of introduction, over 100 MYOB employees had applied to use their flex leave.

As technology continues to develop it facilitates remote work, the gig economy normalises flexible conditions and corporates increasingly see the value in offering a customised employee experience.

The costs of stress, burnout and the inevitable string of sick days or turnover are costs too high to bear for employee and employer alike. Our experience at MYOB has demonstrated that empowering our people to take control of their flexible arrangements is both good for employees and good for business.

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