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Working Families Index Panel Discussion: Making Flex More Accessible to All

Published: 12 Jun 2022

Webinar notes written by Anna Letouze, Copywriting and Marketing Officer at Working Families.

With thanks to our panellists:
Drew Gibson
, Senior Manager of Inclusion, Diversity and Wellbeing at Santander
Lucinda Quigley, Head of Working Parents and Executive Coach at Talking Talent
Alice Hooley,  Relationship Manager at Working Families
Ursula Tavender (moderator), Co-CEO of Flexpo.

How do we make sure the conversation around flexibility reaches everyone that needs it? It’s not always easy to say, ‘I need flexible working’, so how can employers help facilitate those discussions? As the webinar launch of the Working Families Index highlighted, the answer lies in communication and trust.

The challenge of communication

Across the panel, communication was identified as being key to managing flexible teams. Our needs and circumstances are as unique as we are, and so an employer who has a communication strategy that establishes and caters to individual preferences is likely to have much better outcomes. Videos that shine a light on success stories, written information that people can absorb, or options to converse face to face or via email are all examples of tailoring communication to the needs of employees. It’s also crucial to create informal opportunities for conversation for those working remotely, providing valuable check-in points where managers can gauge how employees are coping.

The fluidity of need, and how to meet it

Understanding the different needs of an employee at different stages of their life can only happen through ongoing dialogue. The panel recognised how challenging these conversations can be, and suggested managers should receive coaching and be equipped with a toolkit that enables them to navigate complex issues and come to a solution that works for both business and employee. The pandemic focused minds on output rather than how work was being done, and a continuation of this could be the remedy for many flexible working conundrums.

Equality of opportunity

The pandemic acted as a catalyst for flexible working, enabling change at an unprecedented rate. But people in knowledge-based roles saw far more of this benefit than those in place-based roles. The challenge now is to make place-based roles more flexible, which requires a shift toward a people focused approach. This means listening to employees on what flexibility means to them, and experimenting with new working patterns. The panel acknowledged that solutions may carry a heavier administrative burden and require management training to see opportunities, but the result of implementing innovative practices such as shift-swaps is more engaged, dedicated staff.

A safe space

Hand in hand with communication goes trust, which was highlighted throughout the discussion as a way to build inclusivity. The pandemic prompted many men to want to take a more active role in caring, but this requires a supportive culture to combat the stigma that still exists and move towards gender equality. Creating a trusting environment empowers people to step forward, and managers are pivotal in this. Being open and sharing flexible working examples can help create a safe space. It was acknowledged that managers don’t have to have the answers, and that solutions are usually best found as a team. Workshops that level the playing field can help everyone open up about their flexible working desires and concerns.

An ear to the ground

Communication also entails listening, and the panellists all agreed that it’s crucial to know what’s working on the ground—the creative solutions operating outside the policy that are making flexible working work—to understand how they can be scaled up to benefit more people. Taking the cultural temperature also allows the needs that are going unmet to be realised. For example, feedback from throughout the organisation enabled Santander to discover that men needed more support to take an active role with childcare and that carers needed more support

Sending a message

The consensus amongst the panel is that tone is set from the top and having leaders who don’t just advocate but demonstrate a commitment to flexible working fosters a supportive culture that permeates. Stories that evidence flexible working as being productive and sustainable should be broadcast both internally and externally, to inspire the current workforce and attract new talent. Many employers were on the pathway to flexible working long before the pandemic, and the innovative leadership of those who are pioneering flexible working policies and practices, going far above and beyond statutory requirements, should be celebrated in leading the way for others.

Not only does the Working Families Index find an appetite for flexible working, it evidences that there are wins for employees and employers when they engage in flexible working. In the current competitive job market, when employees can vote with their feet, flexibility attracts new talent and helps engage and retain a workforce through empowering people to take decisions about what works best for them and their family.

Download the Working Families Index and Employer Action Briefing.

With thanks to our webinar and report partners, Talking Talent.

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