The rise of flexible working requests
In the post COVID-19 era, the concept of flexible working has gained substantial traction and become a key priority for organisations worldwide. In Australia, formal flexible working arrangements have been included in the Fair Work Act since 2009, but their popularity has surged as companies were forced to adopted flexible approaches during the peak of the pandemic. Today, flexible working continues to at the forefront of many organisations ways of working. With employees valuing it as a top reason to stay with their current companies, a significant number of employees would prioritise flexibility over a pay raise (Everywhere Workplace Report, Ivanti 2022).
Moreover, the recent Secure Jobs, Better Pay Act 2022 amendment to the Fair Work Act has further impacted the landscape of work in Australia, making it imperative for organisations to reconsider their policies and procedures regarding flexible working. These changes to legislation mean organisations can no longer reject an employee’s request for flexible working under the guise of ‘reasonable business ground’. Further, the amendment covers an expanded category of employees who are now eligible to apply for formal flexible working arrangements. With the changes from the Fair Work Legislation Amendment recently coming into play on 6 June, employers face even more stringent criteria when considering flexible work requests.
Expanding Definitions of Flexible Working
The meaning of flexible working has evolved beyond traditional arrangements such as part-time or flexi-time work. It now encompasses a broad spectrum of options, including remote work, hybrid work arrangements, adjusted working hours on designated workdays, compressed hours, and customized work arrangements. This trend poses challenges for organisations, particularly in the context of an already competitive labour market (Ivanti, 2022). However, it is crucial for employers to view flexible and hybrid working as more than a mere checkbox exercise to build a culture and environment where flexibility is ingrained in the organisation’s DNA.
Redesigning Work Practices
The COVID-19 pandemic acted as a catalyst for organisations to shift their work practices, incorporating remote and hybrid work models. However, many organisations are still in the early stages of this transformation. According to a survey conducted by Lynda Gratton, author of “Redesigning How We Work,” only 2% of executives reported having implemented and fully rolled out a final design for hybrid work. The majority are still in the process, with some organisations having a design and implementing it in certain areas, while others are still discussing the final design or exploring various options (Gratton, 2022). The shift to a final design stage challenges long-held assumptions about how, when, and where work should be done. With many organisations now advertising hybrid roles and considering the impacts of digital transformation, they face challenges in reimagining how ways of working, technology, processes, and culture will have to shift to encourage knowledge flows and support innovation. This process is even more complex when considering the human transition through change and ensuring a fair approach to different types of workers, such as indoor versus outdoor or office versus manual workers. Phil Thomas, The CEO of Ascential Futures noted that the transformation to work practices brought about by hybrid working represent “the greatest change to work since the Industrial Revolution”.
Taking a Holistic Approach
The benefits of hybrid working have been widely recognized, with studies indicating that hybrid workers exhibit higher levels of resilience, psychological safety, and support from their workplaces (Australian Wellbeing Lab Report, 2019-2022). Several Australian organisations have reported increased employee engagement and motivation after successfully implementing and embedding a hybrid work environment. However, organisations must adopt an intentional and holistic approach to flexible working to fully realise these benefits. Simply updating policies and processes without considering the broader organisational environment and workforce plan may result in decreased morale, increased burnout and stress, and reduced talent retention. To establish a sustainable culture of flexible working, organisations need to look beyond the surface and consider factors such as resource and capability planning, a psychologically safe culture of trust, strong leadership capabilities, and efficient ways of working. Conversations around flexible or hybrid working should begin with an examination of organisational operating models, design, and the strategic workforce plan to effectively and sustainably embed flexible working into the company’s culture and DNA.
As organisations navigate the transition to flexible and hybrid work, it is essential for executives and leaders to ask themselves the following key questions (Lynda Gratton, 2022):
- What are our overarching principles?
- What is special about your people, the jobs we do and the customers we serve?
- What isn’t working, and what are the problems we are trying to solve?
- What experiments have we tried that we can share with others, and what are other companies doing that we can learn from?
While there is still much to explore and learn about the hybrid work environment, taking deliberate and thoughtful steps, informed by available data, will guide organisations toward a successful future of work.
TMS has extensive experience in supporting organisations with Organisation Redesign, optimising Ways of Working, Strategic Workforce Planning and Culture. If you would like to talk to one of our team about how we could support your organisation please get in touch with us at email@example.com.