This section provides suggestions to help agencies implement flexible-by-default through:

  • engagement
  • communication
  • culture and capability
  • consistent and transparent policies, processes and systems.

Engage on vision, goals and plan

It is important to engage with senior leaders, managers, diverse employees and unions from the earliest stages of moving to flexible-by-default.

We suggest agencies begin by sharing the Summary of Flexible-by-Default Key Messages (page A) which includes the principles of flexible-by-default and then seek feedback on their draft vision, goals and This will help clarify the parameters and intent of flexible-by-default, promote buy-in and provide an opportunity for all parties to discuss any concerns and challenges they see and opportunities to make this successful.

We also suggest agencies share the findings of their self-assessment and data and information gathered in Stage A, and any stories on flexible working identified in their focus groups.

Sharing video or written case studies of leaders, managers and employees working flexibly is an effective way to build understanding and address concerns. Agencies should encourage all parties to contribute ideas for addressing challenges and ensure managers, employees and unions feel they can raise concerns and ask questions. Ensure that diverse employees are engaged so that the full range of concerns and questions is considered.

While early engagement is particularly important, so are further opportunities for leaders, managers, employees and unions to discuss challenges and successes. Leaders and managers should encourage positive perceptions of flexible working and discourage negative perceptions or negative outcomes e.g. that those working from home are unproductive or expectations that employees working flexibly are available 24/7. Regular engagement within teams and across the agency will help shift attitudes, build capability and develop a sustainable flexible-by-default culture.

Communicate vision and goals

Clear and consistent communication across an agency provides a strong foundation for shifting to flexible-by-default. It will help build awareness, understanding and ownership.

The information obtained from surveys and focus groups (see Stage A) will also help inform a communications plan by identifying:

  • the existing level of awareness and take-up of flexible-by-default
  • attitudes to and experiences of, flexible working
  • the types of concerns that need to be addressed.

Agencies can use the Summary of Flexible-by-Default Key Messages (page A) which includes the principles of flexible-by-default, Resource 3 which details the benefits of flexible working, Resource 6 which has examples of communication objectives and more detailed key messages, Resource 7 which outlines some of the common concerns about flexible-by-default and suggested responses and Resource 8 which outlines common challenges and suggestions for addressing these.

The case studies in Resource 1 provide examples of how some agencies have communicated about flexible-by-default.

Build flexible-by-default culture and capability

Agencies can begin building a positive and sustainable culture of flexible-by-default working by understanding:

  • concerns about flexible working
  • any challenges to shifting to flexible-by-default
  • the constraints and opportunities of flexible working for different types of roles
  • the roles and shared responsibilities of leaders, managers, employees and teams in a flexible-by-default workplace.

Identify and address concerns and challenges

Agencies may come across concerns and challenges in the following areas.

Awareness and capability barriers e.g.

Low levels of understanding about flexible-by-default, how common flexible working already is and its benefits.

Concerns about managing flexible teams and/or maintaining delivery, especially from those who had a challenging experience of working remotely during COVID-19.

Beliefs e.g.

“Flexible working is only for mothers of young children.”

“People working flexibly are less committed to their careers.”

“Front line and rostered people can’t work flexibly.”

“If I can’t see them, how do I know they are working.”

“Won’t this mean the first people requesting flexibility will get the best options?”


Ad hoc or out-of-date request and response processes.

Health and safety policies that aren’t fit for purpose.


IT that isn’t fit for purpose.

Privacy and security issues that need to be addressed.


Some agencies may have gained a full understanding of these concerns and challenges through the engagement already undertaken (see Stage A). If not, you may want to undertake further engagement.

Resource 7 provides more detailed information on common concerns and suggested responses.

Resource 8 has a list of challenges and recommendations for addressing these.

System and process challenges are addressed in Develop consistent and transparent policies, processes and systems.

Identify constraints and opportunities around flexible working in different role types

We suggest agencies review different types of roles 4 (e.g. frontline roles, analyst roles), with leaders, managers, employees and unions to identify any role types where:

  • one or more flexible working options will be difficult to implement and what alternative flexible working options could work 5
  • where flexible working offers opportunities to further enhance delivery.

Agencies can refer to the principles of flexible-by-default to help them do this, i.e. principles of ‘If not, why not?’, ‘Works for the role’ ‘Works for teams’, ‘Mutually beneficial’.

In combination an agency-wide understanding about the constraints and opportunities in different types of roles and the principles of flexible- by-default will provide a framework to:

  • support managers to proactively discuss flexible-by-default with their teams
  • support teams to consider how they can make flexibility work
  • help managers make consistent decisions when they get requests
  • help employees understand the parameters within which they can request flexible working.

When considering constraints and opportunities, we suggest agencies also think about whether changing the design of roles or the distribution of responsibilities within teams would make more flexible work options possible.

Agencies can foster role redesign to facilitate flexible working through:

  • changing, where, when or how the work is done (re-shape the role to include at least one of these, to suit the employee)
  • role rotation (shifting employees from one role to other similar roles)
  • role enlargement (increasing the scope of a role, not necessarily by introducing the need for new skills/abilities)
  • role simplification (breaking roles into sub-components/ specialties and assigning these to different employees)
  • role enrichment (providing employees with greater responsibility and/or autonomy).

Support leaders, managers, employees and teams

Leaders, managers, employees and teams are well placed to get the best from a flexible-by-default approach when they exhibit the following characteristics.


  • promote the benefits of flexible working for the organisation
  • visibly role model flexible working
  • support flexible working amongst their direct reports
  • ensure the agency develops consistent and fair processes for establishing flexible working arrangements so that they work for the employee, teams and agency, in line with the principles of flexible-by-default
  • ensure the agency develops the health and safety, IT and information security systems to facilitate flexible working.

Resource 9 has more detailed tips for leaders.


  • create a team culture based on collaboration, trust and achieving outcomes
  • proactively discuss flexible working with their teams, rather than waiting for individual requests
  • approach flexible working requests in an open and fair-minded way, in line with the principles of flexible-by-default
  • work with their team to consider the impact of flexible working on deliverables and the working arrangements of other team members
  • consider that team deliverables usually include work with other teams in the agency
  • give employees clear delivery and quality expectations
  • regularly engage with employees working flexibly and their team as a whole to ensure that flexibility continues to work for everyone.

Resource 9 has more detailed tips for managers.


  • familiarise themselves with the principles of flexible-by-default, the agency’s flexible-by-default policies and the flexible options that align with their type of role before they request flexible work
  • discuss flexible options with their manager and be open to finding a solution that also works for their manager and the team
  • self-manage their work and continue to meet delivery expectations when working flexibly
  • work with their manager and the team to ensure flexible arrangements are working for them, their manager and the teams they work with.

Resource 9 has more detailed tips for employees.


  • get familiar with the principles of flexible-by-default, the agency’s flexible-by- default policies and the flexible options that work in the types of roles in their team
  • actively consider how they can make flexibility work in a way that ensures ongoing delivery and quality expectations are maintained
  • develop a team charter outlining the norms around flexible working expected of everyone in the team, such as ensuring the team knows when each member is available and how they can be contacted.

Resource 9 has more detailed tips for teams.

Agency engagement processes above may highlight areas where professional learning and support could help managers and employees get the best from a flexible working environment.

Agencies could draw on the tips for leaders, managers, employees and teams in Resource 5 to help them offer the following learning opportunities:

  • peer learning for managers and teams, where managers and teams already working flexibility share their approaches
  • buddying or mentoring for employees
  • more formal learning opportunities such as training courses or coaching.

See Resource 1 for a case study of how the Ministry for Primary Industries is building its flexible working culture and capability.

A group of people smile as they work together in an office

Dan McGuigan, Manager of Service Design

Flexible working can help men and women balance paid work with family caring

I guess the main thing is the ability to be at home for when my children have those needs. I feel it gives me the ability to be an equal partner in my relationship with my wife. Often it is assumed that if the, you know, male partner is taking time off it is to help. The situation is actually not about that, it’s that we can share parenting equally. I think a flexible working arrangement really helps with that.It is that culture that you should not feel bad for walking out at 3.00 pm because you have those commitments.

Fundamentally if you believe people are here to do the right thing and we trust them, then this is a way that helps people to bring their best self to work.

Performance and flexible work

Research shows that managers get the best from teams working flexibly when delivery expectations are clear and they measure the quality of team deliverables against these expectations, rather than by hours in the office (see Working Families: Flexible working and performance). Likewise, team members, whether they work flexibly or not, do their best work when they manage their time, deliver to expectations and maintain good lines of communication with their managers and the rest of the team. When working flexibly, it is especially important that managers, employees and teams talk regularly about flexible arrangements, how they are working and how any challenges can be addressed.

There can be a perception that flexible work, especially working remotely, can result in under delivery. Performance issues can arise with any work arrangement and being visible in the office is no guarantee that employees will deliver to expected standards. Managers should therefore be careful not to assume that it is the flexible work arrangement, which is causing any performance issues, when that may not be the case. If there are underlying performance issues managers should also deal with these in the way they would with any employee, regardless of their working arrangement.

In addition, remote working in emergency situations, like the COVID-19 response, is not representative of remote working in general. Such situations can involve lack of choice to work remotely, heightened stress and additional family caring responsibilities. Any or all of these may negatively affect productivity.

The tips for managers, employees and teams in Resource 9 provide suggestions to help everyone get the best from flexible working, including remote working.

Develop consistent and transparent policies, processes and systems

This section provides advice and suggestions on policies, processes and systems that enable and support flexible working.

Flexible-by-default request and response process

Agencies will already have flexible working policies to ensure that they comply with flexible working requirements in the ERA.

Shifting to flexible-by-default, however, means taking a proactive and enabling approach to flexible working. Agencies can update their existing flexible working policies and processes, by working with employees and unions to:

  • use the principles of flexible-by-default as a touchstone for their thinking. They set out the balance that needs to be achieved between what works for employees, what works for teams and what works for the agency. They also establish expectations of fairness for all – employees, team members and managers – and of openness and flexibility on all sides
  • establish clear guidelines about the range of flexible working options likely to work for different types of roles (see Identify constraints and opportunities around flexible working in different role types)
  • revise flexible working policy and/or flexible working clauses in any employment agreements to promote and enable a sustainable flexible-by-default work culture
  • encourage managers to have proactive discussions with their teams about flexible working in the context of their team’s deliverables and responsibilities, rather than waiting for individual requests
  • ensure a consistent process is applied for establishing informal and formal flexible working arrangements, for example:
    • managers and employees discussing the request and considering solutions and alternatives before any final decisions are made
    • managers considering the impact of flexible working on team deliverables (including deliverables involving work with other teams) and the working arrangements of other team members
    • teams discussing how the flexible working arrangement can work
    • human resources advisors providing advice if an agreement between managers and employees is not reached
    • having a ‘one-up’ or higher-level approval process for proposals to decline formal requests
  • ensuring policies and processes are readily accessible and understandable to employees.

Resource 4 has suggested processes for establishing informal flexible working and for requesting formal arrangements and considering and responding to these requests.

Health and safety considerations

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 businesses and undertakings (known as ‘Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking’ or ‘PCBUs’) are primarily responsible for their workers’ health and safety, while they are at work. That means that when employees6 ask to work from home, agencies must consider the risks their employees might be exposed to in that environment, the degree of harm those risks could cause, and how those risks can be mitigated.

During the COVID-19 response many agencies will have learned a lot about the health and safety needs and concerns of their employees while working from home. This can be used to develop more thorough and sustainable remote-working practices.

See Resource 10 for suggestions on how agencies can meet their health and safety obligations when employees work remotely. See also the Government Health & Safety Lead guidance: Supporting workers to work from home.

Information security and privacy

When employees are working remotely, it is important that agencies ensure the security and privacy of information is maintained. There are common guidelines for agencies on how to keep information safe, however each agency is responsible for its own security safeguards.

See Resource 10 for suggestions on how agencies can ensure the security and privacy of information is maintained when employees work remotely.

IT to support flexible working

It is critical to have an IT infrastructure in place which enables and supports flexible working. Flexible-enabling technology includes the use of laptops, mobile phones, Skype, video conference facilities etc. as well as software that helps flexible teams manage their work.

Having the right IT in place removes communication barriers and allows employees to work remotely without tasks or lines of communication being affected. A lot of agencies already have some or all of these types of technologies in place. Many agencies also had to upgrade their IT infrastructure at pace in response to the COVID-19 environment, which in turn has meant that employees have needed rapid support in using new devices and software.

See Resource 1 for a case study of how the State Services Commission upskilled employees to use flexible-enabling technology.

Agencies can use their engagement processes to gather feedback from current flexible employees and managers about the adequacy and effectiveness of existing IT infrastructure to support the full range of flexible working options.

Jo Liliana, Human Resources coordinator

Flexible working can help employees deal with life challenges while enabling agencies to retain talent.

In May 2017, my mother, who lives in another city, was diagnosed with breast cancer. After weeks of going back and forth between cities trying to support her, I had an open discussion with my manager about my job. I made it very clear that although I really loved my job the needs of my family came first. My manager had a discussion with the director and offered me the option to work remotely for 6 months while I assisted my mother as full-time carer during her chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments. I had all the resources I needed to do my job remotely and the flexibility with my hours allowed me to be a full-time carer as well as continue with my employment and also still have a steady income without adding stress to the whole situation. I will forever be grateful to my organisation for allowing me to keep my job and also being able to support my family and fulfil my role and duty as my mother’s daughter.

4We don’t suggest agencies look at individual roles but rather the broad nature of the role.

5Some roles involved varied types of work and some of these work types are more or less suited to particular types of flexibility. In this situation employees and managers can explore whether a mixed approach to flexibility will work across the roles performed (for example, a role might include desk-based work which can be done remotely as well as customer-facing work which is likely to require face-to-face engagement.

6Including permanent and fixed-term staff, and consultants working within the business