• Emily Carr

Making flex work: Define what flexible working means

With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in some locations, many organisations are grappling with how to support flexible working in the "new normal." Full lock downs in many cities forced large numbers of people to work from home, with some companies having 100% of their staff working remotely. While this set up had its challenges, it proved that many jobs we once thought could only be done from an office could actually be done successfully from remote locations.

Location wasn't the only aspect of work impacted by COVID restrictions. Parents trying to juggle jobs and pandemic-driven homeschooling had to modify their work hours to accommodate their children's learning needs. People had trouble setting a start and end time for their work day, with work and personal time quickly blending together. Others simply discovered that they preferred a different schedule - a long break in the middle of the day to walk their dog, an earlier start time that let them finish early enough for a trip to the gym, or working at night after their kids were in bed.

As organisations welcome people back to the office, they're faced with a question: What does flexible working look like going forward, and how do they support this new way of working?

Over the years I've helped many leaders and teams successfully roll out flexible working. Over the next few articles, I'll guide you through six practical steps for making flex work in your organisation.

  1. Define what flexible working means for your organisation

  2. Agree your flexible working principles

  3. Prepare your managers to lead flexible team

  4. Support your people to work flexibly

  5. Tweak your culture

  6. Embed the change

Step 1: Define what flexible working means for your organisation

If you talk to ten different people, you will get ten different definitions of what flexible working is. It can be as broad as "working any hours from any location" or as narrow as "we have options for working part time." Flexible working can include, but is not limited to:

  • Working from a different location

  • Working modified hours

  • Working part time

  • Job-sharing

It is important that you define what it means for your company and be up front about this with your employees.

It's also important to be clear on what flexible working is not. For example, flexible working should not mean that you just work from home when you're sick (please just take a sick day and get better) or that you use it as child care (if you have a small child that needs your attention, it's best to take carer's leave).

By starting your company's flexible working journey with a clear definition of what it means to work flexibly, you'll have a strong foundation for step 2, agreeing your flexible working principles.


Practical tip: Make sure you involve the right people when defining flexible working. At a minimum, this should include company leaders and Human Resources. You should also consider getting input from your best team managers and high performing staff. Gathering broad input will ensure you consider multiple options and come up with a robust definition that you won't need to change later.

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