Why flexible work works


Flexible work is no longer just a “buzz term”, with the practice now becoming widely accepted as common, if not standard, practice for many businesses. However, some businesses still struggle to implement the practice beyond a relaxed take on the traditional nine-to-five model.

Jo Barr, Group Careers Manager, Cotton On Group, shares her experience.

“Anything that involves a key people change has to come from the top,” says Barr. “If your top leadership aren’t engaged with that strategy, it’s just not ever going to be fully embedded in your business.”

Barr says that one of the goals of flexible work should be to empower employees to deliver their outcomes in their own way, arguing that this is how you get the most out of your employees. “Everyone is empowered and incredibly focused on company strategy and goals. We want people to be led through this, not be micro-managed.”

Cotton On began their flexible work journey by introducing “empower hours” into head office.

“We have core hours from 10.00am to 4.00pm,” says Barr. “As long as you still cover your 38-hour-week within your working week, you can work any time you want – as long as you are available between 10.00am and 4.00pm.”

“These are the hours we structure our meetings and collaborative activities in,” says Barr, while noting that staff do not have to be on-site to participate in this activity – the purpose of “empower hours” is to acknowledge that you can deliver your role without compromising your out-of-work activity.

“To actually be able to go for a surf in the morning because you don’t have to get to work until 10.00am is really empowering,” says Barr. “It makes sure people turn up at their desks or turn up at their team office and they are already set for the day and feeling really pumped about achieving what they can for that day.”

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“One of the ways we measure success is we closely monitor our churn rate, and the number of internal team members who are being promoted,” says Barr.

“Our empower hours were only developed because our team members had a voice and were saying that it was something they would really love, and something they would value. It has to come from your people and your teams; any idea you try to bring in, if you haven’t asked your people about it, it’s not going to be embedded.”

“The true importance of a flexible culture is that we are not imposing this on anyone. It’s a choice people can take up if they wish. If it works best for someone to work from 9.00am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday, they can do that. This is about giving your people more choices, and giving them the freedom to do their best work.”

Four tips on implementing flexible work

According to Barr there are four things you need to consider if you are going to implement a flexible work culture into your organisations.

1. Have realistic expectations of what flexible working can mean for your business

“We have realistic expectations for what it can mean in different environments within the Cotton On Group. Flexible working in our stores is very different to flexible working in our head office. You can’t have store managers flexible working where they are responsible for opening the store that day.”

2. Don’t let physical barriers hold you back

“For example, don’t let the fact that someone hasn’t got a laptop be the reason they can’t work from home one day a week. Yes, it’s an investment, but consider how much the investment in that one piece of equipment might empower that person and how much more productivity you will gain. It will still be an economic positive.”

3. Make sure the strategy comes from the top

“If your message around your strategy isn’t coming from the top it’s never going to embed and you’re going to create confusion in your culture.”

4. Remember, that change can feel quite scary

“Never go big to begin with. Always start with small trials – things that are easy to change – so there isn’t some sudden big shift for your whole team to try to understand.

A version of this piece was first published by Biz Better Together, an Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry initiative.

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