Whistlestop summary: What’s next for flex?
What's Next in Flex Event
February 27, 2023
February 27, 2023

By Jenny Legg, head of communications at Flexibility Works

We were delighted to see so many of you at our lively world-café-style event last week when we discussed what’s next for flexible working.

This blog is a whistlestop tour of all six topic discussions as a handy reminder of what’s going on in Scottish employers right now, and what ideas teams have for the future.

There were a few themes that cropped up time and again, including a shift in focus to outcomes, not hours, and the need for managers to trust staff. Interestingly a sense of ‘personal responsibility’ also came up in various discussions, where people need to consider their whole team’s needs, not just their own. And the need for line manager training popped up pretty much everywhere. To that end, here’s a link to the Flexible Workforce Development Fund, which is available to all Scottish employers to pay for training, and can be used with Flexibility Works.

Flexible working and wellbeing

Encouragingly, many people reflected on their personal experience of being trusted more, and having more control and autonomy over when and where they work, which had reduced stress.

Many people commented that flexible working was reducing sickness absence.

Good examples include senior leaders obviously taking time back, or leaving early, which sends a positive message about work life harmony to everyone. A ‘no lunchtime meeting’ rule was mentioned. Also, ‘interventions’ for people with caring responsibilities, so they can take a longer lunch break, or other short periods of time off to provide care on a regular basis. This has had a significant impact on their stress and wellbeing.

In future, people wanted more ‘adult to adult’ conversations between employers and staff. They also expected greater focus on the ‘right to disconnect’, so people could clear their head, or focus on something specific, without being expected to respond to emails and messages.

Better use of tech was expected, such as accessibility functions in Teams and virtual commute tools to help people decompress. As was training for line managers to support a mindset shift and help them manage flexibly working teams.

There was recognition that some groups, such as frontline workers, would need – and deserve – more attention to ensure their wellbeing too.

Recruitment and retention with flex

Our conversations revealed a very mixed bag of employers when it comes to flex for recruitment and retention.

Almost everyone said their employer was more flexible now than before Covid, even with frontline and more site-based roles. But while a good portion were mentioning flexible working – particularly hybrid – in job adverts, many others said their employer was underselling themselves.

Good examples included an accountancy firm using a short slide deck on Linkedin to give info about a job, including a standard phrase ‘if flexible working is of interest, please talk to us’. This company also encouraged current employees to post short videos on Linkedin.

While a law firm had shared the story of two senior women who are both partners in the firm, and job-share. This was mentioned separately by two (relatively junior – I hope they won’t mind me saying that!) young women at the firm. The fact they’d both noticed and remembered the story shows how powerful sharing real stories can be, and is a great way of showcasing what’s possible and acceptable.

Several people mentioned recruitment challenges, and how potential candidates were much more upfront in asking for hybrid, or even 100% remote working. One person said they’d had to educate their board members because the company was losing staff over rigid ways of working.

We also talked about the impact the interviewer can have. If they’re not bought-in to flexible working, they can downplay the flex available, or show that the culture of the organisation is not wholly behind flex, so training to prevent this is helpful.

Communication and career progression

Lots of people noted a healthy shift in focus from hours worked, to outputs and outcomes, which filters through to comms and career progression.

As well as guidance, personas, FAQs and scenario materials for line managers, people said that how managers say things is just as important as what they say, and that coaching and training could help with this.

Remembering that talking about working patterns isn’t a ‘one and done’ for staff, and that it should be part of regular one-to-one catch ups with line managers came up, and positive comms via other channels, such as role modelling employee stories on the intranet was mentioned.

It was noted that remote working had given some people more confidence to speak up virtually.

Lots of employers are asking new recruits to work in the office more at first, to help them settle in. One person cited an employer which offered an eight-week onboarding process in which new starters spent time in teams other than their own to ensure they were well networked. It was a big investment but was paying off for them.

Several people talked about the need to balance what individuals wanted, with what teams needed.  For example, some people may want to work from home all the time but younger/newer members of the team would lose out if they couldn’t work right next to their more experience peers sometimes. People agreed employers needed to be clear about expectations and give a clear purpose for office time.

Finally social communication came up in every discussion, and the importance to enhancing company culture by facilitating face to face social time.

Managing performance

Trust was key, and where trust has been built up, people self-regulated their own performance, said several people in this discussion group.

Good communication and regular check-ins are key elements of managing performance – be seen without being seen. As are setting goal-based targets that consider what has been delivered, not how someone got there.

People noted that the induction process for new staff is crucial for setting parameters around performance, as was training for line managers. The group discussed how many people ‘fall into’ line management and don’t always have the skills they need to manage teams, and recruit effectively, so training was crucial. One person said their employer had offered line manager training on a voluntary basis but they felt that was putting managers off because they didn’t want to be seen as ‘needing’ extra training.

Everyone agreed difficult conversations were best face-to-face where possible. And that it was important to ‘be human’ and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

New ways to recognise success included sessions to talk about challenges and highlights, to show everyone at every level faces challenges, as well as ‘everyday leadership’ awards to celebrate what people value in their colleagues.

Can flexible working help with the cost-of-living crisis?

Several people talked about financial savings from working at home, particularly in terms of reduced travel costs. Others mentioned being able to save money by travelling off-peak. This was the main focus of how flexible working could support people, though there were lots of other examples and ideas of what employers could do.

A few people said their employer was giving a one-off cost of living payment to some or all employees. Everyone was proud their employer did this, regardless of whether they received a payment themselves.

Some employers have fresh fruit and snacks available in the office, which helped people feel cared for. Another person said they had a cupboard of cleaning and sanitary products that employees could take home. Others said company benefits included things like bus and train passes and gym membership, which saved people money.

There were lots of suggestions about what else employers could do, including various allowances for home working, or using closer co-working spaces. It was suggested employers could use savings from corporate real estate to invest in benefits for staff. While someone else suggested employers include benefits and investments, such as training, in pay cheques so people could see more clearly everything their employer was doing for them.

What does true hybrid – or flex – really mean?

We heard there is lots of confusion around the terms hybrid working and flexible working. The terms are often used interchangeably, even though they mean different things.

For the avoidance of any doubt – hybrid working is very specifically about where people work, and one form of flexible working, which also includes flex on when people work (flex start and finish times, compressed hours etc) and how much people work (part-time, job share etc).

One person said their employer had ‘everyday flexibility’ and didn’t use the terms hybrid, or flexible working.

Some people said that adopting a layered approach to flexibility was useful – eg. implement hybrid, then move on to greater flex on hours.

There are still doubters and naysayers who are ‘institutionalised’ and have the traditional 9-5 ‘ingrained’, so it’s important that leaders who believe in flex demonstrate good practice more widely.

Several companies are considering changing contracts to include hybrid working arrangements specifically, and several are looking at extra training for line managers who need to manage hybrid teams and remote workers differently.

Discussion also covered personal responsibility for flex, and how one person’s flex impacts on others, especially in small teams and for newer/younger recruits.

Follow up questions?

If there’s anything you’d like covered again, or you’d like a follow-up conversation, please get in touch via hello@flexibilityworks.org and scotland@cipd.co.uk



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