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Teamwork Key to a Flexible Workplace

27 February 2017 at 8:53 am
Wendy Williams
Organisations are being encouraged to embrace workplace flexibility at a team level.

Wendy Williams | 27 February 2017 at 8:53 am


Teamwork Key to a Flexible Workplace
27 February 2017 at 8:53 am

Organisations are being encouraged to embrace workplace flexibility at a team level.

According to Diversity Council Australia, Australian organisations are struggling to implement flexibility in ways that actually improve performance and wellbeing, with a critical stumbling block being a failure to redesign work with the team.

The not-for-profit workplace diversity advisor has issued new guidelines urging employers to move away from ad hoc arrangements for individuals and towards involving their teams to redesign work.

DCA CEO Lisa Annese told Pro Bono News teamwork was a “fundamental building block of any organisation”.

“Employers should be thinking about flexibility quite differently,”  Annese said.

“Are they implementing flexible work just to accommodate ad hoc requests from individuals, or are they thinking more broadly about the potential benefits of a wider application of flexibility?

“Smart employers understand that redesigning work at the team level is critical to embedding flexibility and to leveraging the benefits.”

The latest guidelines build on the Future-Flex research project, which DCA released in September 2016 in a bid to challenge mindsets and “outdated assumptions”, about the nature of work, what constitutes the “ideal worker” and what drives performance and productivity.

The report said they were several factors driving change:

  • Employees. The demands and expectations of today’s diverse, multi-generational, mobile workforce are transforming where, when and how we work.
  • Globalisation. The development of a 24/7 marketplace, and the rapid expansion of the services economy are also having a transformational effect on the workplace. Companies are increasingly working across time zones and with global virtual teams.
  • Technology. Technology is both a driver and an enabler of flexibility, and has dramatically reshaped workplaces, blurring the boundaries between work and home and diversifying where, when and how employees work.
  • Culture. Organisational culture is both a driver and an enabler of flexibility, arguably the most critical of all enablers. Building a culture of future-focused flexibility requires a sustained strategic change approach that is structured around business goals and outcomes and is supported at the highest levels of an organisation.  

Annese said the latest guidelines were “drilling down” further into key concepts from the previous research and showcasing how organisations that have started to implement Future-Flex principals “have done what they have done”.

Kristy Macfarlane, head of diversity and inclusion at National Australia Bank, who sponsored the Future-Flex project, said flexibility was an important part of the way they do business at NAB.

“Many of our people work flexibly,” Macfarlane said.

“We support people to work flexibly where it meets the needs of our customers, our business, teams and individuals.

“We are always looking for ways to innovate and make flexible work even better. This is why we supported the DCA Future-Flex research and conducted a pilot program based on the Future-Flex guidelines.

“We are looking forward to reviewing the outcomes of our pilot and considering how the guidelines, which provide a framework for how teams can work together to find flexible work solutions, can be applied more broadly at NAB.”

The new guidelines recommend a new approach to flexibility that involves reviewing the components of all team members’ jobs (eg tasks, duties, responsibilities, location, timing), rather than just one individual employee’s and having employees and managers work together to come up with team-based flexibility solutions, rather than managers doing this in isolation or with just one employee.

DCA recommended that organisations adopt a mindset with four defining characteristics:

  1. Start with the team. Future-Flex is about redesigning work at a team level – rather than just redesigning one individual’s job.  Employees are key partners in developing team‐based flexibility solutions that work.
  2. Challenge assumptions. Future-Flex recognises that organisational and team cultures are critical to the success of flexibility at work. Shifting to a Future-Flex mindset involves being aware of and challenging our own biased assumptions about what it means to be a flexible worker (eg about people’s career aspirations, commitment to the organisation what makes an “ideal worker”, “ideal work” and “ideal careers”).
  3. Use flexibility as a business tool. Future-Flex focuses on flexible work that boosts the performance and wellbeing of organisations, teams, and individuals. Meeting business goals in areas such as customer service, innovation, growth and efficiency is central to Future-Flex.
  4. Define flexibility broadly. Future-Flex defines flexibility as including a variety of ways for team members to work flexibly, which can involve either formal or informal arrangements, all roles including managerial roles, and be accessed for any reason.

Anna McPhee, CEO of the Retail Council who also sponsored the project, said this new approach was the “critical next step” required on flexible working.

“Practical guidance for managers, teams, and individuals on how to mainstream workplace flexibility will help businesses wanting to capture the benefits of flexibility,” McPhee said.

Annese said flexibility was “hard because it is new” but there was a need to review the way work is done.

“The workplace hasn’t caught up with the rapid social change we have seen,” she said.

“Today, we have a 24-hour economy and global marketplace. We need flexibility to do work well.”

Download a synopsis of the Future-Flex Guidelines here.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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