Sarah Jackson: It's not just about homeworking
Thursday 31 July 2014In our blog series on homeworking, Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive of Working Families, talks about homeworking and other family friendly work practices.
Sarah is an acknowledged expert on work-life balance campaigning and culture change. In 2007 she was awarded an OBE in recognition of her services to Quality of Life issues. She is also a member of the Policy Advisory Board of the Social Market Foundation and a Fellow of the RSA.
I happen to think that homeworking is only part of the picture - what we are actually talking about is family friendly and flexible working practices that meet both employee and business needs when they are well planned, well run and part of an organisation's culture. The kind of blended practice described so compellingly by Anne Sharp in her previous blog on 10 July.
Over the years we have watched the integration of home working into the every day practice of many organisations. The Top Employers for Working Families Benchmark and Awards is the definitive list of UK employers who enable the best quality of work-life balance and career development and two of this years entries standout as showcasing the creative ways in which they consider the wellbeing of their employees and seek to make their workplace an environment that allows people to thrive. Organisations are motivated to move in a family-friendly and flexible direction, neither because it is the right thing to do nor simply as an employee benefit, but because they have understood that the way that the organisation operates and the way that employees want to live need to be closely aligned.
Take the Best for Innovation award winners, the Scottish Government. All jobs now falling vacant in the Scottish Government Department, Housing, Regeneration and the Commonwealth Games Directorate are advertised as location neutral unless there is a strong business case for them to be carried out in a particular location. With locations across the length and breadth of Scotland this was a major step in allowing staff to seek career opportunities and development whilst maintaining their work life balance and ensuring that their families do not have to be uprooted for moves across Scotland in pursuit of a promotion. The initiative also helped towards the Scottish Government's need to operate as a smaller, more flexible organisation within constrained costs. Clear aims from the very start of the initiative mean that success is easy to measure and challenges, if or when they occur, can be addressed. The leaders of this project are under no illusion that without the buy-in of senior staff this initiative would have failed - success is dependant on the support provided to staff by their line-managers.
Commended in the same award category was Informa Business Information for their principles-based approach to flexible working. An office move in 2013 was an opportunity to look at the way that its employees really worked and to use the move as a way of reinvigorating their workforce. To help drive major cultural change and to ensure that the initiatives weren't marred by individual preferences, managers were not allowed to say no to requests for flexible or home-working - a counter-intuitively inflexible approach to flexibility! It works because managers are trained in supporting flexible workers, and teams work together to define their own flex working protocols in order to meet their specific business and personal needs. The result has been a significant increase in homeworking - some permanent, but the majority, including the CEO, choosing blended patterns.
Both of these organisations, and many others that Working Families deal with on a daily basis, understand that for flexible working to be a success its vitally important not to be constrained by definitions. Homeworking, compressed hours, term time, part time, hot desking, these simply unhelpfully label how someone structures their working day. Rather we should embrace any form or pattern of work which enables personal obligations and organisational objectives to be achieved.
The Acas homeworking guidance is so very welcome because any form or pattern of flexible working will have particular practical or technical issues that will need to be carefully thought through and resolved for it to be a success. There needs to be clear objectives and transparent performance expectations to monitor progress and frequent communication is vital. Not only between manager and staff members, but between colleagues and between teams so that everyone fully understands their own and other's roles in achieving the goals of the organisation whilst ensuring their own wellbeing.