Financial services powerhouse’s flex work policy makes waves

The company’s VP of HR explains exactly why – and how – organizations should be championing such initiatives.

HR professionals are increasingly considering flexible work policies and the potential impact they could have on employee productivity – but for large companies, forecasting the real effects can seem like an impossible task.
HRM caught up with Manulife’s Stephani Kingsmill – one of Canada’s leading HR executives – to find out why the issue is so important and how Manulife ensures its own policy is effective.
HRM: Why is flexible working such an important topic for HR?
SK: With consumers wanting everything 24/7, companies like Manulife operating globally in several time zones, longer commute times for employees, and the millennial workforce wanting flexibility to work when they want – giving employees the ability to maintain a healthy balance of career and life is important.
Ultimately, flexibility is about achieving our business goals by maintaining an engaged and productive workforce focused on delivering a great customer experience. 
HRM: What evidence do you have that you are getting traction with your flex work program?
SK: Our Workplace Flexibility program is part of a larger initiative at Manulife called WorkSmart.  Since we launched WorkSmart in North America two years ago, the number of employees on flexible work arrangements has grown from 5% to 23%.  We see evidence of benefits in terms of employee attraction, retention and productivity. 
HRM: How does the Manulife approach to flex work differ to other organizations?
SK: WorkSmart is about employee engagement and productivity, and fostering collaboration across the organization.  HR, Information Services and Real Estate have worked very closely together, and with our businesses, to identify opportunities to create a work environment that enables employees to work where and when best suits their needs within our matrixed organization of globally dispersed teams. 
We’ve redesigned workspaces, introduced new tools and technology, rethought our approach to technology support and training, and modified leadership training to align with these objectives.  We’ve even changed the way we run our annual United Way campaign to reflect the fact that our teams are more “virtual” today!
HRM: How do you stop the mice from playing when the cat is away (or at least out of site?)
SK: It’s really a shared responsibility and mindset of trust that starts at the outset by setting expectations. Before employees enter into a flexible work arrangement they work with their managers to ensure they set the right arrangement for the employee and for the business. 
This may include flexible work hours, such as a compressed work week, or part-time remote with a few days in the office or full-time remote, where the employee works primarily from a home office.  After deciding on the right arrangement, the employee and the manager work together on an implementation plan to ensure that they both understand what work needs to get done how it is going to get done, reaffirm how the employee’s performance will be assessed, and the communications and reporting that will be required.
We also provide learning courses for leaders on how to manage a remote team and similar for employees on how to ensure they are being the most productive when they are in a home environment.  It really comes down to good communication between the employee, their manager, and their co-workers. 
HRM: There is a certain ‘magic’ that happens when workers are in a room together at the same time – how do you create that magic when people are working from home or working flex hours?
SK: The beauty of a flexible work arrangement is the flexibility part.  It’s about being in the best place to do your best work.  The majority of our arrangements are part-time remote and I think that is because this encourages people to come into the office when that is the best place to work (eg. when they need to connect with others).
Technology is also enabling us to create that magic among geographically distributed teams too.  We have web-based collaboration tools for teams that are similar to social networks.  We also encourage videoconferencing and webex meetings as well as conference call meetings with detailed agendas to ensure all participants are active and able to provide input. It takes a bit of practice, but it can be very effective. 
For us, connectivity across multiple locations isn’t just important for people working from home, it is critical for our ability to work with team members around in the world in places like Hong Kong, Tokyo and Boston.  
Repeatedly named as one of Canada’s 100 most influential women, Stephani Kingsmill will be discussing the importance of implementing effective flexible work policies at the upcoming HR Leaders Summit.
For more information, or to register for the event, click here.
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