Doing Things Differently: How Flexible Working is Disrupting the Service Sector

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This is a post by a guest blogger invited by the CWL to contribute to our site.

At A Human Agency, we believe flexible working is one of the key forces shaping the future of work.


“While many organisations have ad-hoc flexible work arrangements, only 7% of Australian workplaces have a strategy in place.”

As part of the Making Flexibility Work project, working with the Centre for Workplace Leadership, we explore how companies in service orientated sectors have pioneered flexible working and we identify the best practices that have been adopted to implement the right program for their businesses.

We interviewed a diverse range of organisations for the case studies including Marque Lawyers and Telstra. This is what we learned.


Start with a trust based approach to flexible working

For flexible arrangements to work, the first step is to foster a culture of trust and acceptance.

When Telstra launched it’s ‘All Roles Flex’ plan in September 2013, ‘Trust each other to deliver’ and ‘Show you care’ were two of five core values announced.

Leaders at Telstra are living the values by being open about the day to day realities of working flexibly and not hiding the challenges. Often dialing into calls from the school gate or on the train, the openness and honesty of leaders reinforces a culture of trust and acceptance.

For Marque Lawyers, thinking differently about the work they do is part of their DNA. Managing Partner, Michael Bradley started with a vision to disrupt the legal industry and turn the ‘billable hours’ business model on its head by working on a retainer basis instead of units of time.

Law Done Differently’ is their mission statement, and when faced with a number of senior partners taking maternity leave at the same time, rather than risk losing talent, they empowered their staff to decide what flexible working arrangements suited them best.

While employees at Marque all have varying schedules, they continue to work as a close knit team with a family-like camaraderie.

“Bradley refers to the legal industry as the ‘most conservative industry on earth’, tightly bound by management practices, rules and processes designed to drive performance, but which ultimately lead to unhappiness in the people who work there.”


Embrace the nature of flexibility

By definition, being flexible means accepting that there is no one size fits all solution. It is a dynamic and evolving process between employer and employee.

Marque shared this belief at the outset that true flexibility is unique to each individual and have no set policy in place.

Tailoring arrangements can pose an operational challenge for large scale customer service based companies.

Telstra has proven however that if there is open communication within an organization and a leadership mindset that is willing to empower people this needn’t be the case.

After the launch of All Roles Flex in 2013, ‘day to day’ flexibility at Telstra became the cultural norm as a move away from formal pre-agreed arrangements. Leaders are tasked with keeping flexibility alive within their teams.

The best outcome for both organisations has been to create working arrangements that are customised to suit both personal needs and the operational requirements of the business.


Find new ways to connect as a team

“It’s important to build genuine relationships and connections with people, but they don’t have to be face to face. You can have authentic virtual connections.” HR Manager, Telstra

A common concern with flexible working is that employees may feel that they are ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and can feel excluded from the daily social interactions and communication within a workplace that builds a sense of belonging.

There can be an unspoken stigma with working flexibly and people can question whether not being physically in the office puts them at a disadvantage for career development.

To overcome this perception, the companies we interviewed have created internal team rituals that are not necessarily dependent on being at the office.

One HR manager at Telstra has regular ‘virtual coffee’ catch-ups with her key stakeholders taking advantage of the strong technological infrastructure that enables employees to work remotely and with their global colleagues.

At Marque, every six months, every person changes desk. Though it may be seen as disruptive to stage an office wide desk move, it has helped build strong relationships and provided staff with opportunities to interact with each other.


What makes it work?

We found a number of common traits the companies shared in terms of how they approached introducing flexibility including:

  • Fostering a culture of trust and acceptance
  • Tailoring and testing out flexible work options to suit different circumstances
  • Maintaining the connection between team members and a sense of belonging


Check out the case studies on the Making Flexibility Work web page.

Want to know more? Talk to us about how flexible work can benefit your business.

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