The HR Juggler

Posts Tagged ‘HR and Flexible Working

Back in December, I tweeted this photo of my empty filing cabinet…


Much the same as any other filing cabinet, you might think….and of course you’d be right! The difference is though, that this empty filing cabinet symbolised a bold move to a wholly different way of working and the start of a genuinely exciting journey for my workplace, the creation of a truly digital hub to coincide with our office move. I am belatedly making good on my promise to blog about it.

The premise was simple. A small number of functions were designated as ‘fixed desk’ workers, for example the telesales teams, who clearly benefit from being office based in a competitive, encouraging environment and enjoy doing so and they moved ‘as is’ with no issues. Other than these functions, anyone could become a homeworker if they wished to and we had around 80 individuals opting to take this choice. All other staff, became by default flexible workers, meaning that they could work from home, from the new office or another alternative location, whenever they chose to, with no requirement of management approval or agreeing working patterns. We very deliberately chose to trust people and treat them as the adults they are.

Let me tell you first what there wasn’t: there were no weighty policies, there was simply a principles document, outlining what I have described above. There was no requirement for management and HR approval or consent, for either homeworking or flexible working: there were simply some basic technical requirements to become a homeworker, for example a minimum broadband speed and health and safety assessment and a clear message that all staff were able to work flexibly. There were no designated offices for anyone at all in the new building, there were no specific desks for individuals, there were no pedestals at the desks, no vast storage capabilities available on site.

But there was investment: investment in laptops, so that staff could work flexibly in the way that we had promised them and investment in digital archiving and online tools to help people communicate more effectively and share documents as needed. There was a system put in place so that people could book desks online, up to a week in advance and plenty of meeting rooms that could be booked and informal meeting spaces, for more ad hoc conversations. There were lockers made available for personal belongings and broad ‘neighbourhoods’ created so that teams could choose to sit with others in their division if they wished to. There was a simple process to access a net payment for those individuals setting themselves up as homeworkers. There was lots of training for managers and for staff on why we were implementing these changes, what the new environment would be like, how to manage in periods of change and uncertainty, what the new parameters were. There was a huge amount of hard work, commitment, enthusiasm and willingness to change, to give something different a try, to trust, to empower.

There have been bumps along the way on this journey, of course there have. But actually, those bumps have been surprisingly few and far between. We have been in our new digital hub and operating our new way of working for over six months now, and the feedback from staff has been overwhelmingly positive. The open plan environment has energised people, the opportunity to work in a truly flexible way and to be trusted is highly prized and valued. The hard and fast metrics will become clearer over time but so far turnover is down, productivity remains good and people are far happier. For us, it is the first step, but undoubtedly a hugely significant one, which is likely to change how we perceive the working environment and our approach to flexible working for good.

Businesses talk a lot about making changes to how people work, to empowering and trusting staff. It has been an absolute pleasure and a privilege to be part of the team that has led the transformation to a completely different way of working and challenged the existing norms. Why is it that we assume people are working harder if we can see them sitting at a desk? That if they are empowered to manage their own time, they will skive off? Do we really need to resort to command and control to get the best out of people? And if we can change how people work and interact with each other, what else can we do and let go of to make work even better? Now that really is food for thought!

Questions? Comments? I’d love to know what you think :).

Today’s post comes from the lovely Sinead Carville, a relatively new Twitter acquaintance of mine (@SineadCarville) and certainly someone who I am enjoying getting to know better. I love the fact that the invitation to write a guest post has brought her out of the ‘lurking’ shadows and into the limelight of blogging herself…I must also confess to hoping that she develops a taste for it, as I’d love to read more from her… 😉
Having seen Alison’s post for guest bloggers during the month of December, I was immediately intrigued. Over the past few months as well as becoming a fan of Twitter, I have become what some might call a blog stalker! Some content has prompted me to make real changes to things within my control, others have provoked my thinking and opinions on certain issues and some have just made me mad! But they have all moved me in some way and for that I am appreciative for the time that people have taken to share their thoughts and opinions. But writing myself, well that prospect is scary, right? And so this is my first blog.

Horror or highlight? Well for me it has certainly been a challenging and unexpected year. 2011 started with me enjoying the final months of maternity leave. Work and all things HR were a distant memory and I was enthralled in nappies, formula and Iggle Piggle.

Fast forward to June and the time was upon me to return to my role of Training and Development Manager and all that it entailed. I went through all the usual emotions that mums do when leaving their little ones but mainly guilt (mummy guilts are the worst!). Partly because I looked forward to regaining my professional life and all that went with it. Don’t get me wrong I will always cherish the time I had with my little boy but, a little bit of me was lost when I was at home every day and I wanted to have that bit back. I was really enthusiastic about returning to work. Everything was going to be just as it was, right? Wrong.

Time had not stood still. Lots of change had taken place when I was away and my department was evolving. I felt like a new starter without the support that a new starter would be afforded. So for a few weeks I cruised along and tried to settle back into the organisation but I found it tough. I felt like a spare cog in a very big wheel, and that is not a pleasant feeling let me tell you. Now some would say, and they would probably be right, that an organisation has a duty to ensure that people who take time out of the business are offered support and communication on their return. But the individual can take ownership of this too and that is just what I did.

I decided that if I wanted things to change I would have to initiate it and own it. I reminded people of why I had been employed and what I was capable of. I raised my hand in the air and let people know that I was back and that all my ambition, drive and ability were still there. I grabbed hold of new projects, opportunities and delivered and as a result I made things happen.

Fast-forward another few months and I am being offered a new role as Human Resources Manager and instead of observing the evolution that was taking place in my organisation I was part of it.

So what have I learned this year? Well, I now know that if you really want to make something happen you should, and you must get involved in this. Waiting for things to happen to you or opportunities to come and knock on your door could mean they pass you by. Remember the saying ‘if it’s for you it won’t pass you’? Well I think if it’s for you go and get it. If it is really worthwhile and important to you it will be worth the hard work and steely determination that you will put in to get there.

So what will next year bring? Well after a really engaging strategic meeting for HR 2012 this week I am really excited and optimistic about the year ahead. I am totally focused on what I need to achieve in my new role and I know that I can get there. I also know that along the way whilst there are likely to be challenges and hurdles, I will have the most amazing little boy who whose smile at the end of a busy day will make it all worthwhile.

I would like to wish you all a most amazing Christmas and lots of joy and success in the New Year.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 238 other subscribers

HR Juggler’s Archive