Flex from 1st: CIPD member, Bob van Geldere on first-hand experiences of flexible working over the last year

Bob van Geldere, HR Manager, Clanmil Housing. 

1) How do you think attitudes to flexible working have changed over the last year? 

Many organisations already had some flexible working arrangements in place prior to the start of the pandemic. For us, this was mainly based around a flexible working policy which was always popular across the board. There was less uptake with policies such as term time working and contractual flexible working arrangements. Some home working existed but this was not very popular. 

Over the year, a majority of our team was able to work from home for full or part of their contract. The pandemic has pushed us to invest in the technology that opened a different world where people have been able to work from home. The subsequent benefits have shifted peoples’ default and many don’t fancy going back to a rigid 9-to-5. 

2) How have you benefited personally from flexible working (eg flexible start and end times, working from home, working the same hours in fewer days) over the last year? 

We introduced a new Home & Agile working policy early in the pandemic that dropped the core hours, location and increased flexi accruals. In a nutshell, I can work whenever I want within a few parameters. The policy we have drafted has been purposely left open to encourage a discussion with all stakeholders to ensure the ethos is carefully considered, namely that it must work for the customer, the team and the individual. It puts the responsibility on employee and line manager to make it work without compromises for the customer. 

For me personally, it means I still work mainly during core hours but sometimes take a split shift. This allows me to pick the kids up and take them to the park or go to the gym and avoid the busy evening slot. I sometimes work at night on something specific once they are off to bed. I don’t think I would have ever had these experiences if things continued pre-pandemic. 

I am grateful for being part of a great team and many in my team are doing the same, irrespective of their personal caring responsibilities. All it takes is some coordination and ownership and we work it out amongst ourselves, so everyone benefits without compromises for our customers or work. 

3) What do you think the future of flexible working looks like post pandemic? 

In the long term, I think some form of hybrid working will become the default for many roles, as employees will rightly point out that it has worked. People have new expectations, and it will be a consideration for candidates and employees alike. Organisations will lose talent if they return to a rigid approach. Existing policies and benefits such as term time working, flexible working requests etc will complement this approach. 

I strongly believe this is possible and last year has pushed our creativity to come up with flexible solutions that work for all. For example, in some customer facing roles, increasing flexibility could be linked to an increase in availability. 

Nevertheless, in the short term I do believe there will be some opportunities. There are some examples where it hasn’t worked well. For example, I see how people have slipped into the deeper trenches of working from home where individuals do not see the role they play in the wider organisation, struggle with isolation, blurred lines between professional and personal lives or forget about the impact their working patterns can have on the customer or the team. To be frank, some are not that keen to come back at all. These are all areas where HR could add value by addressing the underlying reasons. 

To make it work, there must be a renewed focus on leadership, team dynamics , culture, engagement, performance management but also wellbeing. The time we have together as teams is now more precious so how can we make the most of this? 

Flexible working arrangements should never lead to a deterioration in these areas but unfortunate side effects will creep in over time without a conscious effort to address them. 

As one of my colleagues once said, we are all bricks, but we need the mortar in between to be a successful organisation!

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