Summary of flexible-by-default key messages
The impact of the covid-19 response
Principles that underpin a flexible-by-default approach
There is a wide range of flexible working options
Four-stage approach to shifting to flexible-by-default
Part two - Flexible-Work-by-Default Guidance and Resources
Resource 1 - Case studies of flexible-by-default in practice
Resource 2 - Flexible working options
Resource 3 - The benefits of flexible working
Resource 4 - Establishing formal and informal flexible working arrangements
Resource 5 - Agency self-assessment tool
Resource 6 - Example communication objectives and key messages
Resource 7 - Common questions, concerns and responses
Resource 8 - Flexible working challenges and suggestions for addressing these
Resource 9 - Tips for leaders, managers, employees and teams
Resource 10 - Addressing health and safety, and information security and privacy
References and further reading
Below are examples of how agencies are making the shift to flexible-by-default practices, with a focus on different parts of the journey.
NZ Police Case study: Developing a flexible work implementation plan
In 2018, New Zealand Police identified there were challenges to enabling their people to take up Flexible Employment Options (FEO). As an organisation with over 13,000 employees, 24/7 emergency response capability and urban/rural stations, there were some unique difficulties for their workforce. However, determined to overcome these, they collated feedback on the issues impacting their people working flexibly. This came from leadership forums, their women’s advisory networks, dashboard trends, and they conducted qualitative research into their peoples’ experience on FEO. This information was used to inform their approach.
In February 2019, the Police Executive announced that the default setting for FEO was shifting to ‘yes’. If their people wanted to work flexibly the answer was yes, and together they would find a way to make it work. This was launched by a national internal news story including a video of the Commissioner of Police announcing the shift and how it would enable Police to achieve their mission to be the safest country.
Policy changes to support this were implemented including, if all options were exhausted and a workable solution could not be found, then the application must be escalated to the District Commander or National Manager to make the final decision. This enabled their leaders to have better oversight of any issues impacting their people working flexibly, and empowered leadership teams to discuss solutions to address these.
Police engaged with unions throughout the development of their FEO policy, recognising the important role they play in representing the views and thoughts of many of their people. The unions understood the benefits of the policy changes and were a great advocate for the changes Police were making.
Police knew if they wanted to see the mindset shift needed to support these bold changes, they would need an implementation plan. The Police Executive endorsed a programme of work to embed FEO in Police by 2020.
The implementation plan includes:
- Evidence-based research – A literature review of flexible working in 24/7 organisations and surveys and face-to-face interviews of their peoples’ FEO experiences.
- Building manager capability – Integrated into leadership development and continuing education programmes in Police.
- HR systems and processes – Streamlining HR systems to support policy changes and enable accurate reporting of FEO to identify trends and inform the Executive.
- News stories and communication – A communications plan including key updates, and good news stories of people working flexibly and how leaders are managing flexible teams.
- Asking our people – Benchmarking surveys of their peoples’ experiences working flexibly.
- Recruitment process – Embedding flexible working in the Police recruitment and appointment processes for both constabulary and non-constabulary employees.
- FEO Champions – A network of champions who are subject matter experts on FEO and can provide advice and guidance to employees and managers on flexible working
- Tools and resources – Resources to support both employees and managers in taking up flexible working arrangements and talking about how to support each other as a team.
- Deep dive issues – reviewing the experience of specific groups including those returning from parental leave or leave without pay and those wanting to retire.
Ministry for Primary Industries Case study: Building flexible working culture and capability
Flexible working has been a key component of MPI’s diversity and inclusion strategy since 2017. Like many agencies a lot of MPI’s people are already working in a flexible way, both formally and informally, but the experience of flexible working and attitudes to it, wasn’t consistent across the business.
The Ministry realised that a key enabler of becoming a more flexible organisation was to positively influence stereotypes, mindsets and misconceptions about flexible working across the business as well as better engage, prepare and empower its leaders, managers, employees and teams to work flexibly.
A plan was developed to build the agency’s flexible working capability through engagement, communications, learning and development, policies, processes and systems, to ensure that flexible working worked for both its employees and the organisation. MPI engaged with unions throughout the development of the flexible working capability strategy and its implementation, recognising the important role they played in representing the views of its people. The PSA was a great advocate for the work MPI was promoting in this space and supportive of it.
Some of the initiatives and tools used to build capability were:
- Engagement: MPI ran a series of 22 workshops and focus groups with over 300 leaders, managers, employees, network groups and union delegates throughout the country to understand more about how flexible work operates within the Ministry, how supportive the organisation was of flexible working and what some of the real and perceived barriers were.
- Peer-to-peer learning: MPI recognised that as teams move towards more flexible working, people will have issues they’ll need to work through, so peer-to-peer learning sessions were developed to provide staff and managers a forum to share experiences, best practice and learn through Through open conversation the sessions aim to broaden people’s understanding of different ways of working, challenging notions of how work gets done, and to enable confidence in a flexible work approach.
- A case study series: This video series features a range of diverse employees and leaders across MPI who make flexible working ‘work for them’. It highlights the various reasons why people work flexibly, what it means to them and how it impacts their work-life balance, with the aim of normalising flexible working.
- An online information hub: This sits on MPI’s intranet and focuses on increasing awareness of what flexible working is, and why it’s It covers key topics such as the various flexible working options available, rights and obligations, and points people towards more information and resources such as a series of manager and employee toolkits, policies and guides.
- An eLearning page: The purpose of the page is to provide practical behaviour-change ideas for MPI managers and teams, equipping them with the knowledge and approaches to work more flexibly. This includes resources such as flexible working team charter templates, technology suggestions, team culture resources, references to mental health, and messages for managers on ways of managing remote teams.
State Services Commission Case study: Upskilling employees to use flexible-enabling technology
Like all Public Service agencies in the COVID-19 response, the State Services Commission (SSC) rapidly transitioned to agency-wide remote working. Despite the pace of transition, employees reported feeling well supported by SSC’s Information Technology (IT) team to become comfortable with flexible-enabling technology and remain connected with each other. As a result, SSC has learned valuable lessons about upskilling employees to use flexible-enabling technology.
Start with the basics: The SSC’s IT team developed step-by-step training workshops to take employees from the simplest content to the more advanced. No assumptions were made about employees’ prior knowledge of devices or software and information was presented in the simplest possible terms. Workshops aimed to ensure that employees started from a shared base knowledge before moving on to more advanced training. For example, workshops began by outlining the basic operation and set-up of laptops, mobiles and headsets (i.e. on and off button, headset and USB ports, volume control etc.). Feedback was sought on the workshops as training progressed so that adjustments could be made to the approach.
Make training workshops easily available: It can be difficult for employees with high workloads to prioritise training. The IT team made training easy for employees to access, by ensuring each workshop:
- was available across multiple days
- could be attended both face-to-face (when this was allowed) and online
- was recorded via Teams so that employees could revisit later.
Use the in-house IT team to deliver workshops: Having training delivered by faces seen around the office can help employees feel more connected to the training and more able to ask questions afterwards.
Lay out the pathway for future training: Employees need to understand that there is a vision for how they will work in the future. When taking employees through basics about flexible-enabling technology the IT team also outlined the subsequent steps in training so employees could see their development pathway.
Encourage employees to approach communication in the office in a similar way to communication in the home: Employees were asked to think about what office communication might look like in the future and often concluded that the office will look more like the home already does, for example, people don’t have a landline at home, and people rely heavily on social media chat to stay connected. Framing workplace changes in this way helped employees feel more comfortable using things like online chat software, as they already use similar technology in the home.
Put forward the ‘what is in it for me’: The benefits of flexible-enabling technology were promoted so that employees engaged with it more positively. For example, chat features can decrease emails, video conferencing technology can decrease the time spent moving between offices for external meetings and the online presence feature of Teams lets employees know when someone is available in real time rather than relying on their calendar.
Focus on those eager to learn: Extra time was spent upskilling the 20–30% of the organisation who wanted advance knowledge of the available technology – this ground-swell of interest pays dividends as early adopters assist and teach others.
Personalise technology: If employees are just handed a laptop and left to it, many will not engage with it. Instead, if possible, let employees choose between two or more laptop options, let them customise the colour of their phone case or encourage employees to add a profile picture to the video conferencing/chat software.
Video conferencing is vital to the inclusion of employees working remotely: Keeping connected was more challenging when some employees were working in the office and some were working remotely than when all staff were working remotely. This is because it is easier for employees in the office to forget to remotely connect in those working offsite. To reduce this risk, video conferencing facilities (such as Surface Hub and Teams Room technology) need to be modern and easy to use and employees need to be well trained and comfortable with the use of this technology. Managers also need to model staying in touch.
Inland Revenue Case study: Understanding the current state of flexible working
Flexible working has been a key part of IR’s workforce strategy and business transformation since 2016. Good progress has been made on building the foundations that enable a modern, future-fit workforce through capability-based role design and workplace tools and technology. Parts of IR are already working in a highly flexible way, but it isn’t consistent across the business. To understand what’s driving this, people from various roles and disciplines across the business were brought together to explore IR’s current state.
IR used a design sprint approach because it is ideal for bringing diverse perspectives together to work through issues collectively. Thirty representatives across IR were invited to a 2-day sprint. The attendees included representatives from our three unions, people with expertise in functions that help enable flexible working (e.g. Security, Health and Safety, Technology, Business Continuity) and people from a range of different business groups, levels of roles, genders and ethnicities. This helped to ensure diverse perspectives were heard and considered.
The group worked in multi-disciplinary teams to explore our current state from a range of perspectives. The teams then used flexible working scenarios to map each step of a user’s journey – their goals, the actions they needed to take, the tools they needed to find and use and their experience at each step of the journey. This helped to identify what was working well and where there were challenges that needed to be addressed.
Improved user journeys were then conducted on the same scenarios, seeking to leverage the strengths and remove the barriers or challenges. Each change in the journey was expressed as an action that the wider group voted on according to agreed criteria to identify the actions with the most potential.
IR’s three unions were engaged very early on in the planning for the sprint because of the important role they play, both in terms of representing the perspective of their members, and in supporting a shift in policy and practice to enable flexible working as a default position. Using a design sprint approach resulted in reaching a high level of alignment very quickly across very diverse perspectives on what IR is doing well, where there are challenges and what might be done to become more flexible-by-default.
New Zealand Customs Service Case study: Understanding the current state of flexible working
Customs has had a flexible working policy since the introduction of flexible working legislation. Recent efforts have focused on understanding how many employees are taking advantage of the policy, what’s stopping them if they’re not, and how flexible working arrangements can be accommodated within a 24/7-coverage shift-work environment.
As part of an operational review in 2016, Customs took the opportunity to better understand people’s individual needs related to flexible working and start developing solutions to accommodate those needs. The operational review was a significant piece of work and unions were well involved and had a good level of awareness about the challenge of accommodating flexible working arrangements into the new model.
Customs’ work on this includes:
- Providing individuals requiring ‘non-standard’ hours of work with a formal process to request flexible working. This provided Customs leaders with an organisation-wide view of requests that had previously been made informally through the management line.
- As a result, Customs was able to formalise flexible working arrangements for existing employees and create a process to encourage new employees to identify their flexible working needs up front, to help Customs accommodate Union assistance was helpful in finding pragmatic solutions through this process.
- A carers’ survey, which provided employees with the opportunity to share their needs related to balancing their work life with caretaking responsibilities, and their uptake of flexible working arrangements, which proved to be relatively high.
- Workshops and focus groups to understand real and perceived barriers to flexible working arrangements within Customs, provide a view of innovative flexible working solutions being used in other organisations, and start developing internal solutions to overcome barriers to flexible working.
- Customs continues to focus on flexible working arrangements as part of the broader work plan with union parties on the overall development of the Gender Pay Gap Action Plan, and this will continue into the work being undertaken in embedding flexible-by-default.
These activities have all contributed to a broader understanding of flexible working needs, opportunities, and future strategic work to embed flexible working across Customs – and put the flexible working policy into practice in unique, individualised and innovative ways.
Ministry for the Environment Case study: Creating a job-share arrangement
At the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) we have approached workplace flexibility as an opportunity to enhance the employee experience for our people. We love innovation and doing things differently, and our leaders are openly supportive of flexible working. We give our employees the opportunity to lead the conversation about what flexibility means to them and are open to creating ways of working that allow our people to be their best.
Workplace flexibility is the way we do things around here. It supports our current growth and attraction of talent. It is a way for us to continue to build on our diverse and inclusive workplace and retain talent.
Currently, at the Ministry, we have two job-share situations at management level, and both these situations came about differently. However, there was one common element, an openness and willingness to explore job sharing as a flexible way of working and to test and learn as we go.
The first situation came about when an existing employee took the initiative to approach management with a proposal to job-share. They could see there was an opportunity to try something different that would create a win/win outcome for everyone. We had advertised for two different full-time roles within our Auckland team, and when the roles were advertised one of our existing part- time employees saw an opportunity to promote and demonstrate the benefits of job sharing. This resulted in them making a joint application with another business colleague who was external to the organisation, and their application included how they could make the job share situation work. As part of their application they requested having a joint interview.
The outcomes and benefits of this job share situation have been:
- Retaining a valued and key talent for MfE
- Appointment of an individual who is highly skilled and experienced in the space of Auckland regional growth and policy
- Combined 50 years of experience, as well as complementary skills and backgrounds creating greater synergies
- Greater engagement and wellbeing of key talent by allowing the individuals to have the work/life balance they were seeking
- Reducing the need for two FTE roles down to the equivalent of a 5 FTE job-sharing role at the management/leadership level. This meant we could reinvest into other resources.
The second job-share situation came about due to an employee wanting the ability to remain in a management role, while also having the flexibility to work reduced hours. They had previous overseas experience of working in a number of successful job-share situations. Job share was a common way of working for them previously and there were pools of people you could call on for job-share arrangements. That wasn’t the case here in New Zealand, so after talking with their manager about how job share may work, they went to market to advertise the opportunity. The role was advertised as a job-share opportunity and the response was amazing, with 97 applicants.
The outcomes and benefits of this arrangement have been:
- The ability to challenge opportunities and ideas with an alto ego contributing to greater diversity of thinking and outcomes
- The work continues to progress when one job-share partner is not in the office due to good systems and hand-over processes
- Greater engagement and wellbeing of key talent by allowing the individuals to have the work/life balance they were seeking.
There have been some challenges around systems and processes not being agile enough to share across two people (e.g. being able to see and approve all of your teams leave requests). This has limited some aspects of the role being completely true job-share right from day one, as there were no systems and processes in place to support it. However, due to an experiential and flexible approach we have tackled the problems together as they have come up and identified solutions that work. It is the simple things like a shared mailbox for email communication, shared calendar, and using tools like Trello for assigning and tracking work tasks or OneNote for hand-over communication.
We have found the key to overcoming the barriers and challenges is strong communication. Making sure everyone you need to work and interact with is aware of the job-share arrangement and how it works. It is also about having ongoing open communication to work through the challenges and being in an environment that is open to explore and learn as we go.
When asked what the job-share situation has meant, one of our managers said, “The job share arrangement has provided me with the opportunity to keep growing as an individual and developing my skills at a senior level whilst maintaining a healthy life-work balance.”
When talking to members of the team they said they had some nervousness at the start. Lots of communication and checking in from their managers on how it is working has removed that barrier. The teams have commented on how great it is to have someone they can call on throughout the whole week and it has enabled a higher level of support for them.
Embracing these job-share arrangements has provided a great opportunity for MfE and we would not go back. Flexible working patterns are still evolving, and these are great examples of ‘why not’ and how this is the way we work here at MfE.