Business advice and education, Startup Advice

How the public sector is getting into flexible working and what your startup can learn from how they manage it 

David Donaldson /

Allowing staff to work flexibly — whether part-time, to different hours or from home — is increasingly seen as a valuable means of retaining employees through different stages of their life and giving parents in particular the opportunity to negotiate work-life balance a little easier.

Following the earlier introduction of all roles flex in the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, the Victorian Public Service (VPS) is now moving to ensure all employees have the opportunity to work flexibly.

Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings announced the VPS-wide all roles flex initiative in December, following a commitment by the Victorian Secretaries Board in September to mainstream flexible working arrangements across the service.

The Victorian Public Sector Commission argues flexibility is needed if the public service is to remain an employer of choice.

Flexible working arrangements give employees a meaningful level of control over when, where and how work is accomplished, says the commission.

It’s also one of the key influences on employee engagement, “which is linked to higher productivity, creativity and motivation in the workplace”.

The initiative means all staff have the right to flexibility, though it is recognised that not all forms of flexibility will be suitable in all cases.

“Processes will differ from agency to agency, but the goal should be to reach an outcome in which an individual’s needs for flexibility are met, consistent with business requirements, industrial instruments and legislative requirements,” the VPSC states.

Flexible with principles

The commission has created an implementation toolkit and a guiding principles document to help agencies implement the initiative, which have been approved by all departments, the Community and Public Sector Union and Industrial Relations Victoria.

According to the guiding principles:

  • Everyone has the opportunity to embrace flexible work arrangements.
  • All employees have the right to request flexibility in their role, the types of which will differ from role to role.
  • All forms of flexible working will be genuinely considered by manager and employee.
  • Flexibility is enabled by organisational systems, processes and services (including access to technology).
  • Flexibility is led and role modelled by senior leadership.
  • Arrangements will reflect different workforces, organisational arrangements and operational requirements across the VPS.
  • Any arrangement should be reviewed on a regular basis.

A key part of making flexibility work on the ground is communication and cooperation between individuals, managers and teams.

“Supportive line management is critical for the successful implementation of flexible work,” the guide states.

“As the ‘enablers’ of workplace flexibility, managers and supervisors play an essential role in interpreting and implementing flexible work policies and practices.”

DELWP secretary Adam Fennessy says the move to all roles flex in his department had worked well.

“Not surprisingly we’re finding much higher levels of staff engagement, staff feel trusted, and it’s also helped us push our digital reliance because if staff have good technology they can work from all sorts of locations,” he said.

Tips for managers

The VPSC’s implementation toolkit includes a range of helpful resources, including templates and checklists to help human resources practitioners in particular as they manage the changes required to implement flexible working across their agencies.

It also includes a list of tips for managers dealing with the new initiative:

  1. Start from a position of ‘yes’ and work towards an outcome that is in everyone’s interests.
  2. Commit to creating a work environment that supports flexibility.
  3. Attend any training or events to help manage a more flexible workforce.
  4. Consider all flexible work requests with an open mind by exploring the possibilities of new ways of working.
  5. Engage with staff about flexible work options and discuss with the team the best options for flexible work.
  6. Incorporate flexible work options into team planning to ensure workloads are managed and the team remains supportive and cohesive.
  7. Regularly review the flexible work arrangements you have in place to ensure continuing benefit to all parties involved.
  8. Lead by example and model flexibility. Employees often follow the work style of their immediate manager/supervisor. Have you thought about your own work/life balance? What steps are you taking to model good behaviour to your staff?
  9. Be aware of, or seek advice on relevant legislation, standards and agreements that may influence decision-making.
  10. Give it a go. Consider a trial period if you are unsure how things will turn out.
  11. Listen to your staff! Use listening skills and see the conversation from their point of view.
  12. Start from a holistic view of your work program, team member work arrangements and future commitments when determining flexible work arrangements.
  13. Embrace new ways of staff working together and backing each other up.
  14. Irrespective of workplace arrangements, all individual contributions should be valued and acknowledged.
  15. Think about what arrangements might need to be put in place to support flexible working practices — eg. job sharing, reallocation of tasks and responsibilities to others, better planning and scheduling of meetings or events, etc.
  16. Check in with your staff often about how the arrangements are working.
  17. Understand that if you give flexibility you will get flexibility and commitment in return.
  18. Utilise technology, there are so many apps and tools available to working flexibly.
  19. Avoid assuming that just because someone wants to work flexibly, they are not focused and dedicated to their role.
  20. Always consider flexible workers for professional development and extension opportunities.

This article was originally published on The Mandarin

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David Donaldson

David Donaldson is a journalist at The Mandarin, based in Melbourne

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