Business sector: Publishing 
Number of employees: 1,700


Key themes from the case study

  • Establishing core hours can help make flexible working work, and technology is a key facilitator.
  • Overt support and promotion of flexible working from the CEO supports Hachette in providing flexible working and encouraging uptake of flexible working arrangements.
  • Forward plan and communicate flexible working arrangements and encourage two-way conversations around any impact flexible working may be having on colleagues and the team.
  • Given the nature of the industry and the type of work conducted at Hachette, managers and HR professionals are not always able to ‘measure’ tangible outcomes and outputs from work, which sometimes makes initiatives such as flexible working harder to implement and performance-related impact harder to show. 

Overall lessons learned

  • The ambivalence from managers is more about lack of confidence than resistance to flexible working. Managers are often doubtful because they don’t know how to measure and manage productivity, and that makes them unsure about flexible working. So this is more about building confidence around performance management conversations than flexible working itself.
  • The publishing industry is different from other industries, and Hachette is a creative type of organisation, which means accepting that ways of working are different: ‘There is less certainty within this industry; it isn’t necessarily black and white.’
  • It is important to be explicit about the positives of flexible working, especially for those managing people: ‘I don’t know whether I have been clear enough to say to people “it is a good thing to do, or there’s nothing bad about implementing it.”’ Also, make flexible working public within the team.
  • Show positive examples and the benefits of flexible working: ‘Showing managers, where they are allowing people to work from home or work flexibly, that this hasn’t had a negative impact upon their role.’
  • Think about the wider team when considering the impact of flexible working: ‘It’s about thinking of the impact beyond your role. That’s something I am quite aware of.’

Next steps 

  • Actively promote flexible working in job adverts using positive wording about flexibility and think about how jobs could be made flexible at the point of  recruitment; make this more of a regular conversation and thought process for all managers and recruiters. Additionally, add something on the website to show support for flexible working.
  • Improve job descriptions containing KPIs, and consider a new performance review system to make sure managers have the tools to address any concerns about performance. 

Organisational context 

The types of flexible working within Hachette include: 

  • part-time working: around 15–17% of employees are working part-time
  • working from home: either ad hoc or agreed contractually
  • term-time-only workers: mainly sales representatives and customer service staff who are only required to work during school term time as they work alongside schools
  • compressed hours: in general this type of flexible working does not work as well within publishing
  • job-shares
  • uniquely, there is a long-standing cultural tradition within adult publishing, that in June, July and August working hours are compressed so that employees can take Friday afternoon off. 

Generally, working from home one day per week works well across the organisation for most job roles, which tend to be office based. It is common for employees in editorial roles to working from home, given the nature of their work, and particularly when working on structural edits of a book. Working from home can offer an undisrupted quiet environment for them to concentrate on their work, as opposed to the busy open-plan office. ‘A day working from home is something that does work really well and also brings people a lot of benefits.’ However, there are exceptions in cases where roles require visibility and on-site work, for example, receptionists and post-room staff. 

Another type of flexible working common at Hachette is where employees flex the hours they work (flexi hours) across the day, for example 8:30am to 4:30pm instead of 9:30am to 5:30pm. Feedback has suggested that flexi hours are useful for employees, as they allow work to be tailored to the individual’s needs, and are easy for the business to accommodate. An HR representative mentioned that there are few times where the flexi hours present a problem, for example, when the whole team or division works very similar arrangements: ‘The only challenge is if you have a team who are all working hours which aren’t the norm … for example, no one being in the office after 4:00pm.’

Working from home and flexi hours are mostly arranged on an informal basis. As a result, it is unclear how many flexible workers there are within the organisation; this is therefore something that Hachette is hoping to capture through a staff survey. Hachette’s standard working hours are 9:30am until 5:30pm. In some divisions, Hachette has agreed that staff can flex their schedule around the core hours (10:00am–4:00pm) by +/– 2 hours: ‘People can flex those hours in a way that suits them … as long as that doesn’t impact what you are able to deliver in your role, then we would be able to agree that.’ When booking any team meetings, the organisers try to adhere to the core hours on Mondays to Thursdays as much as possible. 

Hachette are also trying to respond to employees’ needs through new flexible working arrangements; for example, when it was reviewing shift patterns within its new warehouse to reflect employees’ requests and needs. It has found that some employees in this role also work in a second job and therefore would have difficulty adapting to different shift patterns while supporting this. 

Hachette have also recently introduced ‘Flexible Fortnight’, an initiative which aims to encourage employees to trial their ideal flexible working arrangement and encourage the uptake of flexible working across the organisation. Flexible Fortnight was based on four options: non-standard start and end times; working from home; reduced working hours; and working from another office. Following the initiative, employees were able to make formal flexible working requests if they wished to do so and data collected from Flexible Fortnight will be shared for future learning.

Flexible working in non-traditional and/or senior roles

Non-traditional roles

  • A male schools conference producer works term-time hours, not for caring reasons but to fit with his wife’s working schedule (she is a teacher).
  • Warehouse shift workers are able to swap shifts on an ad hoc basis to accommodate personal arrangements where possible and a small number work part-time or during term time.
  • Receptionists, print-room and post-room staff may swap their shifts with their manager’s agreement.
  • Sales representatives working from home as they are not usually office based, though, as they are client-facing, they are required to consider client and business needs. ‘If a retailer says, “I would like a meeting at 8:00 in the morning,” sometimes that might be a difficult one to say no to.’

Senior roles

  • A senior female fiction publisher (who reports to the managing director) works part-time four days a week. She manages a large division of people. She also often works one day a week from home on an ad hoc basis.
  • A female deputy managing director works her core hours and then works her additional hours flexibly.
  • The CEO of the company and a COO of two divisions both working from home one day per week where possible. 

Gaining senior and line manager buy-in

  • Support from the top: The CEO of Hachette is highly supportive of and actively encourages flexible working. He sends out overt messages to encourage and enable flexible working so that employees feel empowered to work their preferred hours. ‘When our CEO talks about flexible working, you know he means it. He firmly believes that it is entirely possible and should work in the majority of roles.’ 
  • Recognising and overcoming past negative experiences: Some managers and leaders have a negative opinion of flexible working because  of previous experiences where flexible working didn’t work well; in some cases this experience is from working in other organisations. However, Hachette aspires to overcome this and support teams that aren’t currently working flexibly. To improve any negative perceptions, one manager suggested, ‘it is about showing managers flexible working isn’t as bad as you feared.’

Facilitators to implementing flexible working

  • IT and technology: Having the technology required to do the job from remote locations is important to facilitate flexible working. Hachette has supported many employees to switch from desktops to laptops and some have work mobile phones: ‘People have moved to having laptops as their main computer. I have my laptop with me every day and I can plug into a workstation in the office, but it’s equally as easy to shove it in the handbag and I’ve got the same set-up at home … I have a work phone to do emails and calls on the go, so that makes it easier.’
  • Tangible sales measures: In the sales team, having tangible sales measures makes it easy to see the impact of flexible working and allows managers to know whether flexible working is impacting on the business: ‘In sales, you can see what’s happening. If there’s a problem, you will see it in the sales.’ 
  • Being flexible about flexible working: It is important for Hachette, as a client-facing business, to have an element of flexibility around client meetings. For example, if a client would like to set up a meeting outside of the core hours, employees need to show an element of flexibility as meeting clients is a requirement of the business.
  • Culture change around certain jobs being inflexible: ‘A few years ago … maybe it was my previous team and previous managers, but there was definitely a feeling of sales people having to be in the office, should be available, should be visible, and I think that has definitely started to shift. I’m an example of that!’
  • A supportive, positive and relational culture: The general culture within publishing and at Hachette is supportive and positive, which helps flexible working arrangements. It is a sector that prioritises relational business and fosters creativity: ‘I know that the happier the staff are, the better job they will do; that culture is in the majority of our divisions and this really helps support flexible working as being both in the individuals’ and company’s best interest.’

    Much of the work within publishing is relationship focused, particularly in editorial and publicity, with less emphasis on visibility: ‘A lot of our employees’ value and skills come from the relationships that they hold with clients and with authors; you can’t replace that. It’s not important whether you are working 9:30 to 5:30; it’s about maintaining those relationships for the business because that is really important.’
  • Senior leader support and role-modelling: Employees feel a sense of support for flexible working arrangements from senior leaders and managers. Managers and senior leaders need to have a positive mindset and publicly promote flexible working across the organisation, and role modelling from senior members is an important factor. As mentioned, Hachette’s CEO is openly very supportive of flexible working and a good example of role modelling flexible working arrangements, who sends out positive messages around managing work in general: ‘He’s an example of keeping a good work–life balance and respecting people’s holidays – and making sure that they take them!’ 
  • Core hours and the Flexible Fortnight initiative: Introducing core hours (that is, 10:00am–4:00pm Mondays to Thursdays) for group meetings and other office work enables employees to avoid clashes with their flexible working schedule and ensures that meetings include the whole team.

    The Flexible Fortnight sent out strong positive messages: ‘The fact that they implemented Flexible Fortnight really shows that Hachette are behind it and want people to try flexible working and, if they want to, make it a permanent arrangement.’ Another example said, ‘Flexible Fortnight was a really good way of helping it filter down through the company. Often those in more junior roles find it difficult to ask or even know if they can ask for flexible working. I think, traditionally, it is seen as something you do when you are more senior. This was a good idea to show, “no, everybody can work flexibly if they need to.”’

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

Flexible worker perspective

  • Balancing work and home life: A flexible worker explained, ‘The hours are designed so I can pick up my children and I am really grateful that the company are flexible enough to let me work like that.’ 
  • Better sense of wellbeing: Having days where they can work from home helps to feel calmer and less stressed: ‘When I am having to do nursery pick-up, etc, I constantly feel like I am rushing to leave, and working those days from home … really makes a difference to the week as it is a much calmer day. … It helps to calm down the stress levels a bit and helps me to make sure I am up to date.’
  • Higher productivity: Working from home allows the individual to work longer hours (as there is no commute), be more productive and manage their workload as they are able to work uninterrupted: ‘Time at home really helps me to get through my “to do” list and get the bigger jobs done without interruptions. I can have a slightly longer day as well because I haven’t got the commute to worry about.’ In contrast, the flexible worker also talked about the negative consequences when they don’t have a working from home day scheduled: ‘On Monday I’m in back-to-back meetings all day, which means I’m not going to spend any time looking at my inbox or dealing with emails. Had I not had the working from home day on Tuesday, I would be feeling really stressed about next week and would be starting off on such a bad foot; it would feel so difficult to catch up.’
  • Loyalty from employees: ‘It makes me feel really positive about where I work, the fact that they have been open and supportive of me changing my hours, going down to four days and the earlier starts. I think Hachette are really good at supporting people in flexible working.’

Line manager perspective

  • Accommodating changing needs: The organisation can accommodate those who are coming back to work and/or those with other caring responsibilities: ‘We have been able to keep a whole host of people by trying to be flexible with them.’ There is also now parental leave available for men with the introduction of shared parental leave in addition to unpaid parental leave and paid paternity leave. A manager highlighted that this was not an option when he had had small children, but the culture is changing to support men, to make it more acceptable for men to take shared parental leave and there are some examples of this within Hachette.
  • Happier and more productive team: When people are working from home, they are more productive and there is less disruption: ‘You are concentrating … and you don’t have anybody interrupting you.’
  • Retaining talent and delivering results: Flexible working allows the organisation to retain the best talent and people. ‘We keep the best people who are very good at selling. If we didn’t have flexible working we might not still have those people within the business.’ Flexible working is a way of working where the focus is on delivering project requirements rather than having people in the office all the time.

HR perspective 

Wellbeing, choice and retention

  • Having flexible working arrangements can benefit employees’ health and can also be used when health is not at optimal level. The occupational health team often recommend flexible working arrangements for employees who are facing physical and mental health issues.
  • Anecdotal feedback from flexible workers suggests that employees who work flexibly feel positive about their job and the organisation as they feel they have an element of control and choice over scheduling their work around the rest of their life.
  • Not losing people at key life stages where they need to change their working schedule.

Challenges/barriers to implementing flexible working

Flexible worker perspective

  • Scheduling flexible working when needed in the office: Sometimes the number of meetings that require a flexible worker to be in the office can make it very difficult to have working from home days. ‘I often look at my dairy and try to plan a day to work from home and it can often seem a bit of an impossible task. So I’m just trying to be more organised and plan in advance.’ 
  • Leaving ‘early’ and shifting your mindset: The flexible worker talked about having to get used to the idea of leaving ‘early’ to be able to pick up their children: ‘It does feel early for the rest of the office and before I had children I used to stay at work and finish what I was doing and head off home feeling in control and on top of things. But there isn’t that option now; I’ve got to leave on the dot.’ They also mentioned that having to leave on time every day makes the working day feel like a deadline: ‘It changes your way of working because the end of the day feels a bit more like a deadline.’ Flexible workers have to change mindset and adapt their way of working: ‘Reassuring myself that it’s okay to leave things half done and have to finish it the next day; that’s just the way I have to work.’
  • Considering the team’s schedule: Think about the team’s flexible working schedule and how thesearrangements may affect the time spent with the team. For example, one team member works three days a week and is in the office for two of those days; sometimes there is a concern about how they make sure their schedules still allow them to meet regularly: ‘I would want everyone to work flexibly if they needed to or wanted to, but then it is always thinking about, do we have enough cover in the office? Am I in the office the same days as all my team members?’

Line manager perspective 

  • Seniority can sometimes make flexible working more difficult: A line manager noted that, in some cases, senior roles can make it difficult to work flexibly because of the number of meetings that you are required to attend. They gave an example of the amount of time required to be in the office when at a director level: ‘It is trickier as you get more senior.’ 
  • Back-to-back meetings: The downside to having core hours is having days where the duration is spent in meetings. This can be frustrating as it takes away from doing other work that needs to be done.
  • Feeling guilty: A line manager talked about still having feelings of guilt when working from home and suggested that this may be due to their traditional mindset of feeling that they have to be in the office to be working. Knowing this, they actively try to relieve any feelings of guilt that the team might have around working from home by trying to be positive and encourage working from home as a good way of working.
  • Less interaction with colleagues: Flexible working can sometimes present the challenge of having less interaction between colleagues when in the office, particularly the informal conversations: ‘There can be those moments where a conversation will be struck up which is really helpful, in terms of how you are managing an account or thinking about how we are going to sell a certain book. And those moments are less likely with everybody working at home.’ These moments are important because they encourage collaboration between different departments and within teams, which helps to avoid individuals working in silos. 
  • Keeping track of everyone’s schedules: Keeping up to date with the team’s changing flexible working schedules sometimes feels complicated; for example, trying to remember what hours everyone is working on a particular day when there are a number of different flexible working schedules across the team.

HR perspective

  • Managers’ approach, attitudes and concerns: The uptake and implementation of flexible working is reliant upon managers’ approach and perspective on flexible working. In the past, there has been some hostility from managers who perceive those working from home as ‘having time off’, rather than seeing it as working remotely. This way of thinking has now reduced as it tended to be from the older generation of managers. 

    Managers worry about losing control and the difficulty with managing those working flexibly: ‘It’s the idea of managers thinking if someone isn’t at their desk 9:30–5:30, they won’t know what they are doing.’ There is variation in attitudes and mindsets around flexible working between managers across the business: ‘In most cases we have a supportive culture and very positive approach to flexible working. But there are pockets where it is more difficult.’ 
  • Inability to clearly ‘measure’ work: It can be difficult in publishing to measure output and performance, as the majority of roles are fluid in nature: ‘In publishing people are not used to measuring results, output and tracking productivity. … Quite a lot of managers aren’t really aware of the level of their employees’ work from one day to the next; they will only know if there is a problem.’ 
  • Colleagues’ additional discretionary effort: Some workers work beyond their required hours, which presents a difficulty when comparing workers on different schedules and making sure that they are being treated fairly. For example, some employees may work discretionary overtime but feel that only workers who are contractually working flexibly leave on time; this can cause frictions and may make others wary about flexible working.

Overcoming the barriers and challenges

Flexible worker perspective

  • Forward planning and saying ‘no’: It is important to stick to their flexible working schedule and sometimes having to say they are unable attend a meeting if it clashed with their schedule: ‘being a bit firmer to things on the days where I’ve carved out time at home.’ They also talked about the importance of forward planning to organise their working schedule better: ‘Not having meetings booked in right up until the time I’ve got to leave, so there’s always a bit of time to check through the emails and make sure stuff is in hand. It makes you more organised and more aware.’ They gave an example of a helpful technique for making sure they balance their time in the office and manage their workload: ‘I’ve started putting blocks in my diary for me to be at my desk, rather than in meetings. If I don’t, then I find the whole day gets booked up and then there isn’t time for doing the actual work.’
  • Using technology to plan ahead: ‘People have got much better at how they use Outlook for meetings, bookings and do a lot more of looking in your diary to see when you are free to plan a meeting. So this is quite a good way to be a bit more in control; if I have got the last hour of the day booked every day, people might still ask, “could we have a meeting then?” but I can take some time and say, “no, that’s not going to work, I have to do this piece of work,” whereas if you are free in your diary, people will just pop a meeting in and you feel like you can’t decline.’
  • Half days of working from home: If they are unable to work from home for a full day because of a busy week, working a half day from home can still help with managing workload: ‘I left the office at lunch and I was surprised at how productive that felt. Just having three or four hours at home was brilliant because it was interruption free. So even when I can’t manage the whole day from home, there is a benefit to going home for an afternoon.’ There is also the added benefit of travelling during less busy periods, enabling them to make better use of theircommuting time by responding to emails, and so on.
  • Signposting the benefits to others: They often signpost the organisational and individual benefits of flexible working when talking to their manager: ‘Often I will be able to achieve more if I have time at home or if I can do these different hours. I think that’s the way you have to approach it and my line manager thinks it’s gone quite well.’

Line manager perspective 

  • Encouraging interactions between meetings: When employees are in the office for meetings, arranging them so that people can have informal conversations throughout the day helps make best use of the time: ‘If you stagger meetings … those connections can still be made when people go off for a coffee, etc.’ It is also important for employees to have conversations within their own team to help with managing clients and generating ideas: ‘It’s also a good idea to spend some time within your own team, because someone might be having a problem with a customer which you might also be having.’
  • Give and take: ‘If it is important to the business that someone attends a meeting, then they have to be prepared to do that. You can’t have a flexible working system which has a negative impact on somebody else or they can’t work flexibly because you are.’

HR perspective

  • Setting out expectations for output and productivity: ‘We are trying to move to a way of working that, while it doesn’t squash creativity, does make it clearer about what the expectations are of each role and how that might be measured in an output, although not working hours.’
  • Communicating positive examples and consistent messages from senior leaders : Try to communicate positive cases and good examples of flexible working more; for example, share positive cases on the intranet, champion flexible working in different roles, for different people and for different reasons: ‘To bring to life the point that, you might not know it, but there are plenty of people working flexibly in different ways who aren’t all mothers, or in senior jobs, or just working three days a week. There is a variety and it is available.’ Keeping momentum with the flexible working message from the senior leaders is also important to change culture: ‘Talking about it and being absolutely explicit … this is where we stand with flexible working. Then if managers choose to approach it in a different way, that’s quite a bold move.’
  • Being overt about trusting employees: Managers need to be able to trust their employees for flexible working to be successful. Therefore, being overtly trusting, and encouraging uptake of flexible working, will make employees feel that they are able to engage in flexible working. A flexible worker talked about their manager being supportive: ‘He is really supportive and I think he understands why it is needed for my role. But if any issues or problems came up, they would be addressed quite quickly.’ 

How to measure and evaluate the impact of flexible working

Currently Hachette does not have direct measures of the impact of flexible working across the organisation. Indirect ways of considering the impact of flexible working include: 

  • Productivity levels and staff retention: It is easier to see the impact of flexible working in some divisions than others, for example sales teams have tangible measures of productivity and output. ‘For me, that’s the indicator. If the sales aren’t going very well and some people are working from home, it might be one of the problems; it might not be, but it could be.’ Flexible working may lead to better staff retention, so this may be considered in the future. 
  • Measuring impact of trial periods: Currently, the organisation can specify a trial period for flexible working arrangements and ask the line manager and employee to consider the impact after six months. This allows both parties to consider any learning: is it working, what has gone well, what hasn’t gone well, and so on. 
  • Check-ins with line managers: Ongoing check-ins with line managers to talk through the impact flexible working is having on the employees’ workload and performance are important. A flexible worker gave an example of having check-ins with their line manager to discuss any issues: ‘We have regular catch-ups and flexible working is often something that comes up in those meetings. It’s always part of the discussion. I think if either of us or the team felt it wasn’t working, we would look at how we could change things.’ 
  • Flexible Fortnight results: Hachette will gather employee feedback after Flexible Fortnight to better understand and make managers aware of the impact, either good or bad. They will encourage team conversations following Flexible Fortnight to see what the reaction has been to the initiative. 

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