Making flexible working work in the long-term

Thursday 3rd June 2021 Justin Cleveland

On the back of data showing that the Australian job market is more competitive than ever, EY has released a report showing that 47% of workers are likely to quit if they aren’t offered the flexibility they want.

“The pandemic has shown that flexible working arrangements are not only possible, but desirable for employees, and can be advantageous for employers,” says EY people advisory services partner Matt Lovegrove. “With growing optimism about the economy and job markets, and the lack of ‘business as usual’ access to skilled migration pools, employees are increasingly willing to vote with their feet to find a set of arrangements that work best for them.”

This does not mean that workers want permanent remote work. 52% of respondents in Australia and New Zealand found they prefer flexibility in when they work while 40% want flexibility in where they work.

“These circumstances present both an opportunity and threat for companies as the battle for talent ramps up even further,” said Lovegrove. “For industries and individual companies, there is an opportunity to evolve their employee brands, promoting the flexibility they offer, to take advantage of increased labour flexibility and attract skills they may not have been as easily able to pre-pandemic.”

Making sure the work gets done

One key consideration for many employers around remote and flexible work is ensuring that the actual work is getting done. “Measuring productivity and accessing career opportunities in the new normal workplace is a recurring theme throughout the survey,” says Lovegrove.

“I feel ‘productivity’ is now a euphemism for a foundational lack of trust between employees and employers. More work needs to be done to establish greater trust between employee and employer to ensure the transition is a success for all parties.”

Adopting new tools and technology – along with a trust in your workforce – will be essential to adopting a successful flexible work strategy in the future. “Our leaders and managers need to evolve and mature their approaches to leading and managing, focusing more on outputs than hours.

“While employees are demanding flexibility, there is also the need to balance this with the viability and feasibility of remote working for employers to meet the demands of their clients and their markets.”

Making flexibility work long-term

Accepting that not all roles can be done remotely, let’s look at ways some organisations have successfully adapted their business operations.

In announcing their new Sydney CBD office, NAB people and culture group exec Susan Ferrier said that the physical workplace needs to be a place that increases collaboration and innovative thinking. “Hybrid working is the new normal for most of us with more flexibility in how we work, and our CBD offices remain crucial for collaboration and problem solving, as well as adding to the vibrant culture of Australia’s two largest cities.

NAB’s model is to plan time in the office for constructive collaboration while allowing people the freedom to focus on their individual work when they are remote. “While we’ve learnt to collaborate remotely in incredible ways, the power of face-to-face connection, learning from others, and culture-building has been a huge benefit of returning to the office. Most NAB colleagues are now working from the office about 2-3 days per week and coming together for team meetings, strategy sessions, and to solve customer problems.

“Days at home are often spent on focussed or individual work,” says Ferrier. “Whether it’s in the home, office, or elsewhere, where we work will likely be driven by where our customers need us the most.”

NAB’s model is driven by data from a wellbeing insight report that found most inner-city workers missed certain aspects of the in-person office like informal interactions and brainstorming opportunities.

Aware Super, which also recently opened a new office in the Sydney CBD, operates with flexible work operations including compressed work weeks, part-time opportunities, and work “anywhere, anytime” arrangements. Aware’s head of organisational development, Amy Matthews says that it offers benefits for both the individuals and for the broader organisation – and it helps them attract and retain talent. “We embraced flexible work arrangements many years ago and we hear time and again from our team just what an important benefit it is.

“The truly wonderful thing at Aware Super is that it is not just parents and carers who make the most of flexible work, with our team seeking flexibility for many reasons, including to pursue a hobby or passion, support community organisations or simply to look after their own wellbeing.”

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