Build flexible-by-default culture and capability

Agencies can begin building a positive and sustainable culture of flexible-by-default working by understanding:

  • concerns about flexible working
  • any challenges to shifting to flexible-by-default
  • the constraints and opportunities of flexible working for different types of roles
  • the roles and shared responsibilities of leaders, managers, employees and teams in a flexible-by-default workplace.

Identify and address concerns and challenges

Agencies may come across concerns and challenges in the following areas.

Awareness and capability barriers e.g.

Low levels of understanding about flexible-by-default, how common flexible working already is and its benefits.

Concerns about managing flexible teams and/or maintaining delivery, especially from those who had a challenging experience of working remotely during COVID-19.

Beliefs e.g.

“Flexible working is only for mothers of young children.”

“People working flexibly are less committed to their careers.”

“Front line and rostered people can’t work flexibly.”

“If I can’t see them, how do I know they are working.”

“Won’t this mean the first people requesting flexibility will get the best options?”

Processes

Ad hoc or out-of-date request and response processes.

Health and safety policies that aren’t fit for purpose.

Systems

IT that isn’t fit for purpose.

Privacy and security issues that need to be addressed.

 

Some agencies may have gained a full understanding of these concerns and challenges through the engagement already undertaken (see Stage A : page 6). If not, you may want to undertake further engagement.

Resource 7 provides more detailed information on common concerns and suggested responses.

Resource 8 has a list of challenges and recommendations for addressing these.

System and process challenges are addressed in Develop consistent and transparent policies, processes and systems (page 14).

Identify constraints and opportunities around flexible working in different role types

We suggest agencies review different types of roles 4 (e.g. frontline roles, analyst roles), with leaders, managers, employees and unions to identify any role types where:

  • one or more flexible working options will be difficult to implement and what alternative flexible working options could work 5
  • where flexible working offers opportunities to further enhance delivery.

Agencies can refer to the principles of flexible-by-default to help them do this, i.e. principles of ‘If not, why not?’, ‘Works for the role’ ‘Works for teams’, ‘Mutually beneficial’.

In combination an agency-wide understanding about the constraints and opportunities in different types of roles and the principles of flexible- by-default (page 3) will provide a framework to:

  • support managers to proactively discuss flexible-by-default with their teams
  • support teams to consider how they can make flexibility work
  • help managers make consistent decisions when they get requests
  • help employees understand the parameters within which they can request flexible working.

When considering constraints and opportunities, we suggest agencies also think about whether changing the design of roles or the distribution of responsibilities within teams would make more flexible work options possible.

Agencies can foster role redesign to facilitate flexible working through:

  • changing, where, when or how the work is done (re-shape the role to include at least one of these, to suit the employee)
  • role rotation (shifting employees from one role to other similar roles)
  • role enlargement (increasing the scope of a role, not necessarily by introducing the need for new skills/abilities)
  • role simplification (breaking roles into sub-components/ specialties and assigning these to different employees)
  • role enrichment (providing employees with greater responsibility and/or autonomy).

Support leaders, managers, employees and teams

Leaders, managers, employees and teams are well placed to get the best from a flexible-by-default approach when they exhibit the following characteristics.

Leaders:

  • promote the benefits of flexible working for the organisation
  • visibly role model flexible working
  • support flexible working amongst their direct reports
  • ensure the agency develops consistent and fair processes for establishing flexible working arrangements so that they work for the employee, teams and agency, in line with the principles of flexible-by-default (page 3)
  • ensure the agency develops the health and safety, IT and information security systems to facilitate flexible working.

Resource 9 has more detailed tips for leaders.

Managers:

  • create a team culture based on collaboration, trust and achieving outcomes
  • proactively discuss flexible working with their teams, rather than waiting for individual requests
  • approach flexible working requests in an open and fair-minded way, in line with the principles of flexible-by-default (page 3)
  • work with their team to consider the impact of flexible working on deliverables and the working arrangements of other team members
  • consider that team deliverables usually include work with other teams in the agency
  • give employees clear delivery and quality expectations
  • regularly engage with employees working flexibly and their team as a whole to ensure that flexibility continues to work for everyone.

Resource 9 has more detailed tips for managers.

Employees:

  • familiarise themselves with the principles of flexible-by-default (page 3), the agency’s flexible-by-default policies and the flexible options that align with their type of role before they request flexible work
  • discuss flexible options with their manager and be open to finding a solution that also works for their manager and the team
  • self-manage their work and continue to meet delivery expectations when working flexibly
  • work with their manager and the team to ensure flexible arrangements are working for them, their manager and the teams they work with.

Resource 9 has more detailed tips for employees.

Teams:

  • get familiar with the principles of flexible-by-default (page 3), the agency’s flexible-by- default policies and the flexible options that work in the types of roles in their team
  • actively consider how they can make flexibility work in a way that ensures ongoing delivery and quality expectations are maintained
  • develop a team charter outlining the norms around flexible working expected of everyone in the team, such as ensuring the team knows when each member is available and how they can be contacted.

Resource 9 has more detailed tips for teams.

Agency engagement processes above may highlight areas where professional learning and support could help managers and employees get the best from a flexible working environment.

Agencies could draw on the tips for leaders, managers, employees and teams in Resource 5 to help them offer the following learning opportunities:

  • peer learning for managers and teams, where managers and teams already working flexibility share their approaches
  • buddying or mentoring for employees
  • more formal learning opportunities such as training courses or coaching.

See Resource 1 for a case study of how the Ministry for Primary Industries is building its flexible working culture and capability.

a group of people smile as they work together in an office

Flexible working can help men and women balance paid work with family caring

Dan McGuigan, Manager of Service Design

I guess the main thing is the ability to be at home for when my children have those needs. I feel it gives me the ability to be an equal partner in my relationship with my wife. Often it is assumed that if the, you know, male partner is taking time off it is to help. The situation is actually not about that, it’s that we can share parenting equally. I think a flexible working arrangement really helps with that.It is that culture that you should not feel bad for walking out at 3.00 pm because you have those commitments.

Fundamentally if you believe people are here to do the right thing and we trust them, then this is a way that helps people to bring their best self to work.

Performance and flexible work

Research shows that managers get the best from teams working flexibly when delivery expectations are clear and they measure the quality of team deliverables against these expectations, rather than by hours in the office (see Working Families: Flexible working and performance). Likewise, team members, whether they work flexibly or not, do their best work when they manage their time, deliver to expectations and maintain good lines of communication with their managers and the rest of the team. When working flexibly, it is especially important that managers, employees and teams talk regularly about flexible arrangements, how they are working and how any challenges can be addressed.

There can be a perception that flexible work, especially working remotely, can result in under delivery. Performance issues can arise with any work arrangement and being visible in the office is no guarantee that employees will deliver to expected standards. Managers should therefore be careful not to assume that it is the flexible work arrangement, which is causing any performance issues, when that may not be the case. If there are underlying performance issues managers should also deal with these in the way they would with any employee, regardless of their working arrangement.

In addition, remote working in emergency situations, like the COVID-19 response, is not representative of remote working in general. Such situations can involve lack of choice to work remotely, heightened stress and additional family caring responsibilities. Any or all of these may negatively affect productivity.

The tips for managers, employees and teams in Resource 9 provide suggestions to help everyone get the best from flexible working, including remote working.


4We don’t suggest agencies look at individual roles but rather the broad nature of the role.

5Some roles involved varied types of work and some of these work types are more or less suited to particular types of flexibility. In this situation employees and managers can explore whether a mixed approach to flexibility will work across the roles performed (for example, a role might include desk-based work which can be done remotely as well as customer-facing work which is likely to require face-to-face engagement.

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