The hardest step in implementing a flex policy is setting the parameters and having the confidence to get it off the ground. All the questions that arise; how do we make sure no one takes advantage? Will productivity take a dip? How will it affect the culture?
Nichola Kiely, one of our senior leaders here at Boho, sat down to do a Q&A on how flex can not only be effective but show significant improvements to productivity and team happiness plus overall wellbeing.
Why do you feel flex is so important in the workplace?
Flex allows us to get the most out of everyone. People are just that, people. That means they work better at different times and have different sets of circumstances. Rather than think about work/life balance, where the two are totally separate, work/life integration is often a better practice – finding a way for the two to co-exist. We’ve never been more connected through our mobiles, able to access files at the push of a button and respond to emails on the go. When your circumstances change, be that having children, caring for a family member, starting further education or whatever your reasoning for requesting flexible working, having a company that understands and is willing to flex for you is so appreciated.
What sort of flex works for you personally?
I returned to work from maternity leave and was lucky enough that Bohemia agreed to both of my flex requests – returning to work 4 days a week and changing my working hours from 9-5.30 to 7.30-4pm. Both have had a hugely positive impact on me and my family. I have Fridays to spend quality time with my son and save on astronomical daycare fees (!) and the change in working hours means I get 2 hours each evening with my son before he goes to bed.
What sort of positives have you seen since having your flex?
It’s allowed me to navigate the new waters of parenthood without the added stress of rigid working hours. I start early and am usually first in the office, but I get loads done before the working day (for most) has started and it sets me and my team up for the day. And then I enjoy quality family time in the evenings.
How has it affected your work/life balance and ability to lead a team whilst working flex?
The impact on my work/life balance has been enormous for not just me but my husband also. We can share the responsibilities of parenthood together equally. I don’t believe there has been a change to my ability to lead a team whilst working flex but I think this is due to the fact that my team are awesome and all good communicators. No one hesitates to pick up the phone and ask a question, raise a concern, flag something or give an update and so, even when I’m not in the office, I can be across what’s going on. It’s a huge credit to the team and all of Boho that everyone agrees with supports and works seamlessly in with the flexible approach that has been instilled here. I truly think, for me, it’s the biggest perk a job can provide and that we’re all very lucky that Boho and M&C Saatchi make that possible for us.
What is the most important element when implementing a flex policy?
Trust, communication, consistency and a flexible approach both ways. As an employer, you have to have the trust that work will be covered and flex won’t be stretched further than the agreed parameters. There needs to be regular, open communication and ensure the team are reachable at all times.
Having consistent flex working arrangement (set day of week or hours) is good so clients and the team know where you are and when you’re working/not working so meetings can be scheduled.
And lastly, a flexible approach back to your leadership is important too; sometimes meetings do need you to be there, and they can’t be moved. So being willing to come in for a big meeting or take a quick call to help push something along is key too.
Do you feel flex has any downfalls or situations where it has been detrimental to productivity?
Not in my experience or that I’ve encountered first hand. I suppose the concern is that people can take advantage of the benefit of flex and start to bend the rules. That’s why from the start, there needs to be parameters to ensure work is covered and productivity remains the same. The individual has to be willing to be flexible also, it is a two-way street and agreement, and showing the flex on both sides helps build trust and reliability.
A flexible approach at work takes trust of your managers, directors and senior leadership that work will be covered and productivity will remain constant and this trust is empowering and motivating.
Do you feel that the team members that utilise flex have seen an uplift in productivity and better overall happiness in the workplace?
I can easily say it has made me more productive. In the early mornings I get so much done and it brings me up to speed on anything that may have come in after I left the office the day before. It has also boosted my overall happiness as I get to spend quality time with my son during the week and feel like I’m not ‘missing anything’ – a struggle I know a lot of my friends who are parents have.
How should a leader manage flex requests and what sort of tips do you have for managers that have a team requesting flex?
I’d say being open to what their reasoning is for requesting flex and having the conversation in a private place with time allocated. There can be so many reasons someone is requesting or wanting a flexible working arrangement, some of which could be quite sensitive. Understand the desired timings – they might be looking for a short-term arrangement or an indefinite change. Take the conversation offline to consult the relevant people and think on it as there may be additional factors you need to be aware of. Ensuring parameters are set from the start means that you and the individual are protected, and empowered by the arrangement, with no grey areas for confusion.
If you have any tips or stories about how flex works for you and your business, we would love to hear them!