Kathmandu’s HR lead on flexibility, freedom and the great outdoors

HRD speaks to Kathmandu’s HR lead about flexibility, freedom and the great outdoors

Kathmandu’s HR lead on flexibility, freedom and the great outdoors

As a brand that is synonymous with getting back to nature, for Kathmandu’s people leaders the COVID-19 pandemic was a reminder of what really matters.

With international travel off the cards, flexibility and the freedom to explore locally were an antidote to the confinement of lockdowns both in New Zealand and Australia.

HRD spoke to Rebecca Edwards, Kathmandu’s GM of people, culture and safety, about the key lessons of the last 12 months.

“It was a challenging year but Covid provided us an opportunity to accelerate some of our work agility strategies, to rethink how we were going to support our team wellbeing and maintain business continuity during lockdown and then through what was clear to be a future of remote working,” she said.

“What continues to be important for us is incorporating the diverse ideas that have come out in terms of what remote working looks like.

“How do we continue to operate reactively and then move into being proactive. It’s about going from survive, revive and into thrive.”

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

Edwards said the first step was embracing an agile model and moving away from the traditional idea of 9-5.

Business leaders recognised that attracting and retaining the best talent was going to be critical to future resilience and to do that, they needed to look forward at the post-pandemic world of work, rather than hold onto the past.

“We implemented a flexible working policy that accelerated the move away from a traditional sort of 9-5 office environment to a more agile work structure, which supports our commitment to creating a more dynamic, high trust, high performance, team-oriented culture,” she said.

“We really have empowered our teams with the flexibility they need to have a more integrated balance across their work, family commitments and the gift of enjoying the outdoors and their downtime.”

The initiatives introduced include flexi time, allowing employees to decide their start and finish times or work split shifts, as well as the options of condensed four-day weeks or reduced hours.

The company also introduced “FriYay flexibility” giving teams the opportunity to finish early on Friday afternoons.

Edwards said they didn’t want to dictate what flexibility meant to employees across the board, but challenge themselves to create a truly agile working model.

“The FriYay Flexibility enables our people to have a long weekend to go out and enjoy what we're all passionate about which is the outdoors and travel – albeit in our own backyard for now,” she said.

While agile working offers a number of benefits for employees, Edwards admits it’s a challenge – and a slightly scary one - to make sure it’s operating efficiently and the business continues to deliver.

She acknowledged that it’s not enough for a business to commit to becoming agile if they fail to give employees the tools.

Edwards said revaluating workflow was a key step, stripping away non-efficient processes to make decision making as lean and agile as possible.

They also created ‘no meeting Fridays’ to allow employees uninterrupted time and space to be creative and innovative.

After months of tactical, responsive thinking during the initial pandemic period, Edwards said allowing employees the chance to think creatively about long-term strategic plans was important.

Read more: Flexibility set to be key battleground issue as employers push for office return

Creating opportunities for flexibility was certainly one aspect but being agile also required a mindset shift.

Edwards said to uphold the company’s status as an employer of choice, Kathmandu had to continue to listen to its people and evolve – and thanks to Covid, flexibility was now a necessity, rather than a perk.

“How we encouraged the team to embrace this and move away from the fear of flexible working was to really get the commitment from the leadership team first, starting with the CEO and drive it from a culture point of view,” she said.

As well as employee insight, they relied on analytics and research from other agile business models which showed that if the right mechanisms are in place, agile working can drive greater productivity, engagement and resilience for the future.

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