Business sector: Provider of refurbished and new build living solutions
Number of employees: 560 employees supported by 90 agency employees


Key themes from the case study

  • Create a common understanding of what flexible working is through a myth-busting poster campaign.
  • Switch mindsets around to start with the default position of, ‘why can’t this job be done flexibly?’
  • Pilot flexible working across entire divisions – encompass all roles including non-traditional site-based jobs.
  • Innovate in terms of flexible working options within the pilot, such as a four-day working week on full pay.
  • Get line managers and people at different levels to champion the process to overcome any resistance.
  • Hand over responsibilities to teams to arrange their flexible working patterns in a self-managed way.
  • Develop a strong focus on evidence and collect data around tangible KPIs before and after the pilot, including, importantly, evidence from clients.

Overall lessons learned

  • Senior-level buy-in is crucial.
  • Develop robust guidance to ensure consistency around flexible working values across the business.
  • Develop a thorough communications plan – ensure everyone is on board.
  • Develop a robust evaluation procedure through tangible KPIs.
  • Ambassadors are key at all levels – people that live and breathe it and promote it.
  • Learning from other work is also important – such as being part of the CIPD/Timewise Flexible Hiring Champions scheme. Ensure that you are not an island. 

Next steps

  • Thorough review of the pilot process.
  • There will be a full set of results by May, which will put the organisation in a good position to roll this out across the business.
  • The review will take on board the lessons learned, evidence from the KPIs and action plan on rollout and communication.
  • Keep it live – keep the momentum going on flexible working when it is available to all. Remind people and keep it fresh in people’s minds through videos and interactive messages.

Organisational context 

United Living offers a range of flexible working options, including:

  • compressed working
  • working from home
  • staggered hours with late starts/early finishes
  • part-time working
  • term-time working
  • job-shares
  • four-day standard week paid full-time.

Flexible working is a key part of a ten-point Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Plan launched by the organisation last year and is seen as an important way of tackling the organisation’s gender pay gap. 

The business is currently piloting different types of flexible working in eight different geographical areas. This includes site-based as well as office-based staff and in some cases whole divisions, incorporating many different roles. Around 90 people are involved in the pilots, which run from January to April 2019, and key performance indicator (KPI) data is being collected pre- and post-pilot to assess the impact to organisational performance. 

The pilot is being supported by a steering group with a board-level sponsor and driver, MD Refurbishment South, as well as champions in different roles and levels throughout the business. Although, as above, the business already offers a great deal of flexibility, it is hoped that the pilots and potential wider rollout will ensure consistency when it comes to flexible working for all employees. However, the pilots are also testing out a new form of flexible working for the organisation – that is, a four-day week but on full pay. It is anticipated that productivity and work completion levels should stay the same, but motivation and wellbeing levels increase through the provision of a three-day weekend. 

Flexible working in non-traditional and/or senior roles

The pilot is incorporating flexible working in a whole range of non-traditional roles of people at different levels and different locations in both new build and maintenance. These include:

  • project managers
  • site managers
  • assistant site managers
  • quantity surveyors
  • health and safety teams
  • Wales division
  • finance team.

Gaining senior and line manager buy-in

Senior and line manager buy-in was developed from the outset of the pilots, through the development of a steering group with a board sponsor and senior-level employees on site, overseeing the flexible working pilots. The people services manager described it as ‘knocking at an open door at a senior level’. 

A policy and comprehensive toolkit was developed for line managers underlining the organisation’s values around flexible working – that you should provide flexibility for all sorts of purposes to improve quality of life – ‘don’t box people into particular needs’.

Communications started around four months before the pilots to raise awareness amongst all staff, including line managers, through articles and posters on flexible working as well as guidance on homeworking with a list of practical dos and don’ts.

Facilitators to implementing flexible working 

  • Senior buy-in from the management team: Get buy-in from the management team right from the start and a board sponsor pushing the agenda of flexible working: ‘The leadership team put it on their agenda and spoke to their teams.’
  • Steering group: The development of a steering group has helped with front-line ambassadors supporting one another as issues come up.
  • Role-modelling: It’s important to have role models at the top of the organisation who aren’t afraid to talk about their flexible working pattern, and consciously: ‘leave loudly.’
  • A toolkit for line managers: A practical toolkit for line managers helps them to facilitate flexible working and empowers teams to reach their own agreements relating to scheduling. 
  • Constant communications: Constant communications and messages underpin the value the organisation places on flexible working and builds up understanding, awareness and momentum.
  • Measurement and KPIs: KPIs help to show the impact on the bottom line. Properly measuring and evaluating progress makes the process more business-like and meaningful. 

Benefits of implementing flexible working (including any data/evidence collected)

Flexible worker perspective

  • Increased productivity: While working flexibly from home there are fewer distractions, meaning that: ‘Productivity is higher than in the office environment – particularly for focused work on spreadsheets and numbers.’ It can be easier to concentrate in your own environment and you can also more easily finish a piece of work and have an unbroken schedule.

Line manager perspective

  • Increased workload management and productivity: The introduction of flexible working has meant a reduction in travel time and a greater ability to focus on work and manage workload, which has led to increased overall productivity – that is, more work is being completed and potentially to a higher standard.
  • Increased motivation and morale: ‘Everyone is happy to be on the pilot and motivation has increased. The organisation has been very inclusive in its communications about flexible working, so even those that are not participating in the pilots currently are being thanked for supporting it and there will be opportunities for them to work flexibly in the future.’ 

HR perspective

  • Attraction and retention: Creating a culture which supports flexible working will help to attract new talent and retain existing employees: ‘Timewise surveys show flexibility to be high on prospective candidate agendas. We are fishing in a competitive pool; flexible working will also help in the hiring of hard-to-fill roles such as quantity surveyors and estimators.’ 
  • Improving morale and engagement: There is also evidence in the business already of flexible working improving morale, engagement and overall teamwork. The company has been able to retain key staff who were planning to leave because of retirement or were on maternity leave by providing flexible hours, allowing employees to better manage work–life balance and thus increase morale. A recent staff survey found engagement scores to be high and better than benchmark comparators.
  • Health and wellbeing: Allowing employees greater flexibility to stagger start and finish times and work from home means less time commuting and benefits for overall health and wellbeing. 

Challenges/barriers to implementing flexible working

Flexible worker perspective

  • The flexible worker felt that there were no challenges or barriers to implementing flexible working within the organisation.

Line manager perspective

  • Perceptions: ‘Managers deciding what will and won’t work when it comes to flexible working rather than following the policy advice and toolkit.’
  • Understanding of flexible working: Develop people’s understanding and knowledge of flexible working so that they understand that it is all kinds of flexible working, not just homeworking.
  • Trust: Build trust between team members and with line managers to enable successful flexible working.

HR perspective

  • Perceptions: There is still a challenge around overcoming perceptions of who flexible working should be for – that is, mums and carers and no one else.

    There is also a challenge around those who are used to working traditional hours – on site this is 7:00am–5:00pm – and that everyone needs to be there for those hours.

    A final perception challenge that needs to be overcome is the idea that ‘if you are not putting in the hours, then you are not doing a good job’.
  • Health and safety requirements: There is also a challenge around on-site health and safety requirements and the fact that most site-based staff need to work with contractors and manage client relationships, which some believe requires workers to be physically on site all the time.
  • Robust KPIs: Developing robust KPIs historically has been a challenge. However, a significant amount of time has been put into developing these to evaluate progress for the flexible working pilots.

Overcoming the barriers and challenges

Flexible worker perspective

  • Regular communication with your line manager: ‘I talk to my line manager on a regular basis – two or three times per week. This way I know what is expected of me and my deliverables have all been achieved.’ 

Line manager perspective

  • Regular item on leadership team meeting agenda: To gain senior-level support and buy-in across the different areas of the business.
  • Face-to-face meetings with line managers: To explain the pilot in full and to gain their buy-in for taking it forward in their teams.
  • Myth-buster poster campaign: The campaign helped overcome some people’s misconceptions about what flexible working is and what should or should not be allowed. It also helped to educate people and develop a shared understanding about flexible working across the business. 

HR perspective

  • Using champions at all levels: Champions at all levels provide for all of the flexible working pilots. There are also very senior people leading the site-based pilots of the construction division who are ‘able to drive that change through’.
  • Keeping everyone on board with communications: Communications side: ‘Keeping everyone on board. Keep it live. Make sure that the wider business knows and the champions are out there sharing it with everyone.’ Ensuring mixed communication means posters, intranet, newsletters, team meetings and videos.
  • Develop a default position of starting with flexibility: All pilot attendees have been asked to make their default position as being prepared to consider flexibility: ‘We are asking them to test it; it might feel uncomfortable and we are happy to take feedback on this.’
  • Measurement and KPIs: The table of KPIs is helping overcome some of the barriers and perception challenges. It’s particularly important to include clients in the measurement and evaluation process.
  • Training on unconscious bias for line managers: This will include recruitment, promotion, flexible working – this should help to overcome some of the key conscious and unconscious perception barriers. 

How to measure and evaluate the impact of flexible working

A snap survey is being run before and after the flexible working pilot with teams and also important stakeholders such as clients to help evaluate the project. They will also be evaluating how well teams are meeting their project timetables and financial targets for the pilots. The organisation is also collecting KPI data to identify emerging trends in:

  • diversity in recruitment and promotions (applications, shortlist and successful 
  • absence, sickness and turnover
  • travel time saved
  • overall expenses saved.

Finally they will be looking to evaluate, over the longer term, the difference flexible working is making to the organisation’s gender pay gap as a measure of success. 

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