Flexible working arrangements have become more and more popular over the years.

Traditionally, this was something that only working mothers and carers utilised, but it is becoming very common that workers want to adopt flexible working arrangements for a number of reasons.

Employees have reported that they are more productive and more engaged in their work when there are able to balance the demands of work with other aspects of their lives.

As a working mum myself, I can see the benefits of offering flexible working arrangements.  I sit here writing this article on a Saturday morning while my husband has taken my little girl to the park. Trying to fit all of my work in the traditional Monday to Friday working hours would not always be possible.

Many large corporates such as Telstra, ANZ and Westpac started the trend of offering flexible arrangements to all employees. But what about the public sector?

So what exactly is a flexible working arrangement?

There are various ways a workplace can be flexible.  Some examples are:

  1. Part time hours
  2. Working from home
  3. Split shifts
  4. Job sharing
  5. Satellite offices so people can work closer to home

To get a further grasp of flexible working arrangements, I recently spoke with the Director of Corporate Governance at the Insurance Commission (which is a portfolio office of Queensland Treasury) Lina Lee who recently set up two satellite offices to offer her staff more flexibility.

One office is at Alderley, opened a year ago, and one at Mt Gravatt, which opened in January this year.

Lina surveyed her staff on flexibility arrangements prior to seeking out the preferred location and she had a 77 per cent response rate, which anyone in internal communications would understand is a very high engagement level.

She came to realise that this was something the employees would like and would take advantage of.

Lina said it has been working really well. “We had great success after opening the first office at Alderley, which prompted us to open the second office at Mt Gravatt,” Lina said.

The benefits of offering flexible working arrangements

Flexible working arrangements can be mutually beneficial for the employee and employer. Below are some benefits for both parties:

Benefits to the employer

When you give the option of flexible working arrangements you will attract more skilled workers than if you only offered the traditional 9-5pm arrangement.

Employees want more freedom over where and when they work and they’re willing to quit to get it, according to a new study by leading North American IT provider Softchoice.

Softchoice recently surveyed 1,700 of their employees and they found:

  • 74 per cent of employees would quit their job for one that allows them to work remotely more often and 70 per cent would quit in favour of a position that offers increased flexibility;
  • 62 per cent of employees believed they were more productive working outside of the office;
  • 61 per cent of employees prefer working the equivalent of an eight hour day broken up over a longer day rather than a single block; and
  • 57 per cent of employees work remotely on personal or sick days, and 44 per cent of employees worked on their last vacation.

When I asked Lina about the productivity of her team she said she hadn’t seen a decrease at all, in fact the opposite.

They conducted a survey three months after they opened the first office and they received only positive feedback from managers and staff.

“Absenteeism has dropped since the opening of the satellite offices and introducing a working from home option for staff,” she said.  “Everyone has access to these flexible work arrangements as long as their Manager endorses the arrangement.”

Benefits to the employee

  • For working mums/dads you will have the flexibility to take children to day care, school or other commitments;
  • Avoiding the traffic at rush hour which can reduce travel times;
  • If you are a carer, have the ability to manage your time around appointments;
  • Working outside of the traditional 9-5pm arrangement you might have more quiet times with no interruptions to accomplish more; and
  • You have control of when your time off is, you may have sporting commitments, creative pursuits etc.

Lina has received feedback from her staff with regards to the satellite office arrangement. “There is no congestion on the major roads when staff choose to work at the satellite offices as the locations are in the suburbs,” Lina said. “One employee was travelling one-and-a-half hours into the city, whereas now her travel time has dropped to 35 minutes when she travels to the satellite office.”

How to manage flexible working arrangements?

  1. Develop a clear policy and make sure all staff are aware of it
  2. Consider the needs of the business and how they can be met while accommodating employee’s request for flexibility
  3. Get ‘buy-in’ from managers. Ensure they are aware of how they should respond to requests and manage the team who work flexible hours
  4. Ensure that you have the right technology to accommodate flexible working arrangements. It can be more challenging to communicate if flexible working arrangements are offered so both management and employees must be diligent to make sure this does not affect productivity.

“Having clear guidelines/protocols on working from the satellite offices, for example being available at short notice to come into our main office for meetings is vital and these guidelines are posted on our intranet,” she said.

“Approval to work from the satellite offices must be sought from the employee’s managers with clear outcomes/outputs agreed upon before working from these locations.  If there is a reason the flexible working arrangement was not working, managers are entitled to revoke privileges at any time.”

One of the things that Lina would like to see working better in the new arrangement is that all of the desks are not always filled in the satellite offices.

“We run calendars of when people will work out of the offices and circumstances can change at the last minute,” she said. “If we are paying rent for these offices then ideally we would like them to always be filled to capacity each day.”

One of the reasons that flexible work arrangements fail is when there is a trust issue – if management do not trust their employees, then this type of arrangement will not work.

“We are considering extending the use of our satellite office to other areas in Treasury, which should assist us in getting our desks filled to capacity,” Lina said.

Government departments traditionally are flexible in terms of time. When talking to my clients many still don’t have access to the right technology that would allow them to work from anywhere other than the office.  With the trending changes towards workplace flexibility, this could something government departments will need to consider in the future.

What are your experiences with flexible working arrangements?  We would love to hear your thoughts?