PepsiCo HRD on how to make a flexible working policy successful

PepsiCo's HRD on the challenges of managing return to work across Australia

PepsiCo HRD on how to make a flexible working policy successful

It’s almost a year since COVID-19 arrived in Australia and still, normality for office workers in some states looks to be far off.

Melbourne is grappling with yet another lockdown after the recent Holiday Inn cluster sent the state back into stage-four restrictions.

Neighbouring NSW is celebrating 28 days without any community transmission but after the Christmas cluster, residents know how dramatically things can turn.

As the country remains in a precarious state of restrictions and snap lockdowns, HR professionals are having to remain on their toes. So, what does a return to work look like for some of Australia’s biggest brands?

HRD spoke to Anita Patrick, PepsiCo’s human resources director, about the challenges of managing the varying degree of workplace restrictions across Australia’s states and territories.

“We’ve got a really strong COVID management team, which consists of myself, government affairs and EHS. We're responding to the changes, both in Melbourne and Sydney as and when they come up, so it's really a live decision-making process.”

Read more: Flexibility at Unilever: ‘I was there the first time she said Dad’

As well as offices in Sydney and Melbourne, PepsiCo operates manufacturing plants across Queensland, Victoria and South Australia, with employees moving between locations.

“In addition to sort of the office regulations, we also have to consider how we can safely move people around the country,” Patrick said.

It’s imperative for members of the COVID management team to stay on top of the ever-changing state government advice and remain agile to quickly respond to those challenges they’re facing.

Last July, PepsiCo brought in a FlexTime policy, essentially putting an end to the traditional 9-5 working day.

It allows employees to decide their own start times, as well as work split shifts to suit their family or personal needs.

Reflecting on that policy, Patrick said it has been successful in opening up the dialogue around flexibility between employees and managers.

“It’s created a sense of permission that people can ask for flexibility,” she said. “That has been the most significant shift and it was built on the trust that had been created during that COVID period where everyone was forced to work from home and leaders learnt that it didn't result in a loss of productivity.”

Read more: 'Being able to offer staff flexibility is the future of work'

Now, they’re seeing employees in the Sydney office spending around 30-50% of their time in the office and the rest at home, or at client sites.

As well as suiting the needs of employees, it also benefits the COVID-safe aspect of needing to manage social distancing within an office space.

While implementing the policy was one thing, a widespread behavioural change was needed to make flexible working arrangements successful across the entire organisation.

The HR team facilitated micro learning sessions on flexibility and visibility after the initial lockdown period had ended last year.

Those sessions aimed to equip managers with skills to lead remote teams in the best way possible.

“Towards the end of the year we repeated that process but more around ways of working dialogue,” Patrick said. “Each team could contract what the needs of the team to be productive were versus the individual needs of everyone in the group.

Each team charged with working out what their ways of working would be, what days they come to the office, versus what days would they be flexible, or what was the sort of non-negotiable for each team.”

This exercise enabled teams to create a framework within the flexible working policy that suited both employees and the business needs.

Patrick said learning and development will continue to play a key role in maintaining the success of flexible working at PepsiCo.

Managers have their own natural disposition towards leading remote teams, especially for those who have never done it before, and while some are open to granting requests, others may fear losing control.

It requires new skills and a mindset change to strike the balance between maintaining productivity and satisfying employee demand for better work/life balance.

“We recognised that we couldn't solve the problems through policy or rules, it genuinely needed to be flexible,” Patrick said. “We needed to help build skills for our managers to be able to manage the dialogue around flexibility.”

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