Adaptable, Blended & Flexible Working: Alternatives to Furloughing Parents Webinar Recording

How can employers better supporting their working parents?

Supporting working parents during lockdown should be a priority for businesses. Juggling working from home and childcare can be tricky, and HR teams are well placed to provide support.

This Gapsquare webinar, on 11 Feb 2021, brings together a panel of experts, to discuss how employers can better be supporting working parents.

We ask and answer the following questions:

  • What is the impact of homeschooling and lockdown on parents at work?
  • What is the best practice approach to the current lockdown with your parent / carers workforce?
  • How can you and why you should implement flexible working effectively and inclusively?
  • What can you learn from this experience that will make employers more adaptable in the future?

Learn from Gapsquare’s in-house flexi work expert and partners Flexpo and Osborne Clarke on how you can engage with your teams right now to ensure that flexible approaches for sustainable workforces.

Webinar transcript

This webinar has been transcribed using AI. There may therefore be some small errors.

Zara Nanu

Good afternoon everyone. My name is Zara Nanu. I’m CEO and co founder of Gapsquare. I’m delighted to see you here today. And really looking forward to an exciting conversation about how we can build a work that is more adaptable, blended and flexible and allows employees to care for their families, their children, in addition to having work, and what alternatives to current following schemes are and could be so that both employers and employees can continue to be engaged and continue to care for children and do homeschooling.

 

A bit of housekeeping to begin with: The event will last for about an hour, we have a lovely panel that we’re going to start in about 10 minutes. In the meantime, I’d like to encourage everyone to put questions into the Q&A or anything that you want to share about the issue of caring and working and work life balance and caring responsibilities. Please put that in the chat. We have a lot of Gapsquare team in the chat that will be able to answer your questions or we will pick your questions and address them to the panel, during this conversation. If you want to share some additional resources, or best practice, please do that through the chat function as well. And when you do that, please make sure you select all panelists and attendees so that everyone can see your conversation unless you specifically want to target at the panel. At the end of the event, we’re going to have a brief feedback form that we’d love you to feed into so that we know how best we can support everyone following this event, and what are the initiatives we can run over the next few months.

 

So I’m going to start with a little bit about Gapsquare. Gapsquare has been as a company has been running for about five years, and we’ve set up the company because we know we can use data to take more insightful decisions about how we create inclusivity and fairness of work. The World Economic Forum keeps on telling us that it will be 250 years until the gender pay gap is closed. And the gender pay gap pay gap is really associated to representation of gender across different categories of employment, occupations and age groups. So it’s issues that we really, really need to look into so that we don’t have to wait for centuries, not that we can wait two centuries because we won’t be alive then. But so that we don’t have to wait for a very long time until equality and parity is achieved.

 

We’ve put this panel together because we understand how important it is right now for employers to be supporting parents so that everybody can have a more fulfilling life both at work and at home. As a parent I’ve just spent by lunchtime trying to figure out how to calculate angles of an obtuse triangle. So that combined with the pressures of work, and being an employer as well as employee really highlights how invaluable advice and support for employees but also amongst employers is at this time. So currently, in the UK, at least 87% of parents are being asked to homeschool and manage childcare at the same time as working from home. So, but this is only looking at the child caring responsibilities and of course parents and employees will have allocated

 

Having responsibilities to caring for elderly parents caring for relatives who might have COVID, for instance, or any kind of responsibilities that they might have outside work, I think we have a lot of lessons to learn from the USA, where homeschooling has continued to be a thing since March 20. In a lot of states haven’t actually gone back with full time open schools since then. And as a result of that, what we’ve seen is by September, about 80% of the workforce that was unemployed was women. further than that, by the time it was December 2020 140,000, women have lost their jobs within the the whole the entire employment context. And actually, all of the people who’ve lost their jobs by December were women, a large majority of them women of color. So it’s things that we really have to take into account because it’s been women who have dropped out of the employment, because they were no longer employment opportunities for them, but also women who are feeling the pressures of homeschooling of caring at the same time as having to work from home. And at the same time in the UK, about seven in 10, requests for furloughs have been turned down. And many of them have been requests because parents wanted to care for their children have that time off. And what we’ve seen with a lot of employers is the furlough scheme hasn’t necessarily been the right vehicle, and the right mechanism to offer that kind of support for parents, because it was never intended to be that, but it just highlights how the government haven’t hasn’t thought through how employers can be supporting employees with childcare and responsibilities.

 

Caring hasn’t suddenly appeared in 2020, as a result of COVID, it was always there. But what happened, because of COVID, we just became increasingly more aware of this. We all remember that video, I think, from 2018, where this BBC reporter had children come through the door. And we all laughed, because seeing children with a working parent on TV wasn’t something that we’ve been used to as an overall as a society. And by 2020, just seeing parents with children on their laps, in meetings and boardrooms or on TV was becoming more of a thing. And it was becoming actually a conversation that we couldn’t ignore anymore. So if you look at things that were happening before, COVID, adult care volunteering a lot of the housework, a lot of the work in the house, in terms of cooking and childcare was done by women, and that was already having an impact on their career choices on the occupation on how much time they could spend work on productivity and many other other issues around that. And similar statistics can be seen across ethnicities with people saying that they feel their careers are held back because of lack of flexible opportunities, particularly for ethnic minority groups in the UK. So these were issues that existed pre COVID, they were just issues that were spotlighted and highlighted during COVID to an extent where we can’t ignore them anymore. And now is an opportunity for employers to actually address these issues and make sure that employment places and workplaces are places that take these things into account and create opportunities where everyone can thrive, where working parents can have a work life balance. And they can thrive in both of those environments. In summer 2020, we’ve done a bit of research around flexible working, and we’ve asked a lot of employers if they know if their employees have caring responsibilities, and only about one third have come back saying that they do collect data about the employees carrying responsibility, which means a staggering majority two thirds actually don’t know if the employees have caring responsibilities. If they have to juggle homeschooling with work, they have to juggle and caring for an elderly relative who lives with them at the same time as doing their job.

 

And so at the same time, we’re working with employers to understand how employees feel about working from home, how they feel about homeschooling, how they feel about caring. And what we’ve seen is a lot of the employees were saying they’re not satisfied with the work life balance. So they working from home hasn’t really brought that balance that we would want from that, in fact, people were feeling more stressed, they were feeling the pressures even more. And they were really, really feeling the pressure of the entire system.

 

Getting things right now, from from this point of view is really important because it can help build retention, it can help ensure that those women don’t just leave employment and drop out of the economy. It can help ensure this talent progression and women who would take furlough now in order to care for their children actually don’t miss out on opportunities to progress in their careers further because that can have a significant impact on what kind of roles they’re high. They will occupy in five years or in 10 years as well as the opportunities to get to somewhere like a boardroom. It brings us into conversation about what productivity is. And as employers, how we view productivity and as an economy, how we view productivity where that unpaid work and caring goes and how we can start measuring that as productivity, and view that as output, that is actually a big part of our economy.

 

Similarly, getting things right now means that we can encourage diversity of thought. And we can encourage companies to be more inclusive and actually offer a place for everyone as a society with 51% women, 49% men, so having representation of views of women into different services into different products don’t just mean that as a business, you’re creating more inclusive opportunities for everyone, and you’re creating more business. So at the end of the day, it works for everyone.

 

So we’re doing a bit of support in this space. And we’d be happy to talk to anyone in this webinar about how they can find out more about the employees, and how they can utilize that data about what employees have caring responsibilities, to take better decisions, to build a vision of a company that is more flexible and more open to thinking about employees as people have responsibilities outside the job functions, how they can implement new policies that facilitate that kind of progress, and how they can move forward as a more progressive employer, which I think as bad as this COVID crisis is, it actually is an opportunity for us to create a more fair world that is more inclusive, that takes into account for the well being and the needs of employees as well as employers. So what we have here today is a wonderful panel. We have, I will let everyone introduce themselves. Just briefly, we have crystal McNamara, who’s director of work well and works with Gapsquare. ISS. as a consultant, we have Philip Chivers, who is a legal director at Osborne Clark. And when he joined the call reassured us that he is not a cat. So that’s good, unusual round. And we have Ursula tamarindo, who is the director of flexible and brings perspectives to this webinar from the point of view of employees, it’s a delight to have you here today. And I will stop sharing my screen, and would be great if we could have your introduction, Kristal please.

 

Kristal McNamara

 

Thank you for having me, Zara and for the introduction. And so I have a corporate business background and my experiences mainly in change management, managing large teams and overseeing large global change programs. And often these programs had a complex HR change, change management process that will project within the programs. And that really became my passion and my specialism over the last year. So I focused over the last few years on HR management consultancy, specifically flexible working, because so many of the things that are talked about are a passion of mine in terms of diversity and fairness and equity, and the opportunity to reach that untapped talent, which I think is the answer to a lot of many businesses challenges. And so many of my clients are, I like I suppose a lot of you on the call HR directors and diversity and inclusion heads, they have gender pay gap challenges, they maybe have a lack of senior women. And they have increasingly leavers they need may have rising complaints, grievances. And often, they’ve identified improvements that are needed within their business and have a big list of projects that they’d like to do. But this chair, unlike any other, you will not have got to most of these things because of having to understand furlough and and having to manage all of the challenges that you’ve got. So often, businesses don’t have any capacity capacity. And I think even less so this year to make more consultative, long term improvements. So that’s why I work with clients on so bringing in my change management expertise, like business expertise, and my flexible working expertise to drive through change as we consultative is meaningful is effective as long lasting. And it’s aligned with their business strategy. And so recently, I’ve been working on large scale flexible working programs in big global returnship programs, toolkits and guidance for managers of how to how to manage things right now or in the long term. And also business cases, I’m seeing a more of an emerging theme as as people are looking for a consultative approach and looking for a longer scale project, they maybe need to go and ask the board for budget. So having to provide a really evidence based business case is important as well. And so I’ve been able to help them with that and a Gapsquare. We’ve also talked a bit later about some of the things we can do but flexible working audits just as simple as something that can look at, where are you now? Where do you want to go? What’s the root cause analysis? And what can you do to resolve it? So those are the kinds of things that I do working with clients.

 

Hand over to Phil now.

 

Phillip Chivers

Thank you. Good afternoon. My name is Philip Chivers. I’m an employment lawyer with Osborne Clarke. So I advise businesses on all aspects of employment law. I’ve got a particular focus on contentious employment law. So advise businesses at employment tribunals, across the country on cases such as unfair dismissal, sex discrimination, and equal pay.

 

However, the majority of my time is spent advising businesses on how not to get to employment tribunals in the first place.

 

Over the last year, the nature of this advisory work has changed. So a lot of the advice that I’ve been undertaking has been sort of pandemics specific. So a lot has been to to furlough COVID, secure workplaces, a lot on redundancies, and restructurings, unfortunately, but a lot of time has also been spent on managing or helping clients manage and look after their, their workforce, many of whom are contending with, you know, juggling, childcare, home schooling, and caring responsibilities. So I’d imagine that most people on this call have been busy over the last 12 months. That’s been very much the case for Employment Lawyers, as well. So I’ll hand over to

Ursula, and thanks to the Gapsquare team for having me. It’s really lovely to be here.

 

Ursula Tavender

I’m Ursula Tavander. I’m a director at Flexpo. And we have three streams of business. The first is events. So we run a business which is happening in the event, a digital summit to help people leaders globally to embrace the culture of flexible working, we look at all the different cultural aspects of change are being Mental Health Leadership, thrust, the works are second factor is FLEXPAY, which is where we connect people wanted professionals looking for flexible work with progressive employers. The next branch of offerings is consultancy. So we help organizations of all sizes and types to embrace that culture of flexible working really, Crystal as much like crystal was saying in a really consultative way.

And merrily work with teams in our console. So over the past year, we’ve spent a lot of time working with, again, like crystal global businesses, for whom we’re working forms part of the pay gap strategy and supporting them pull out programs where teams and everybody within teams have voice to what the future of work looks like within which is credible, and very living actually, for everybody to have. have a say. And I’ll talk a lot more about that a bit later on. And the final three purposes is digital products. So we’re currently developing elearning solutions for a business of any size or pipe who wants to embrace for working apps doesn’t want to get under the little bit.

 

Zara Nanu

Great, thank you very much. So this takes us into a very interesting discussion, please, as I would like to remind everyone to put questions in the chat function. So we’re going to start with the world right now. And the current context that what and what it means workplaces. And interestingly enough, a lot of the jobs that we have defined currently and the way jobs are done, and the way we think about the working day has been all defined kind of post World War Two. So 1945 to 1950s is when a lot of the definitions for what we currently do and how we currently operate have been set in place. And clearly they aren’t working two reasons. One because of the pandemic and COVID. And two, because digital tech is really changing the way we operate and the way we do a lot of things. So it would be good time to pick a lot of this, this issue through the conversation because Ursula as you’ve mentioned, this all fits into the picture of future of work. And we really do want to make sure that the future of work looks fair and looks inclusive for everyone. So we’re gonna start about with a few minutes on talking about how employers are reacting to the current context and what’s happening and Ursula, would you like to start us with the employee perspective and how and why it’s essential that we understand that perspective.

 

Ursula

I think I like you, I’m in the same situation. I’ve got a seven year old and a two year old and it’s literally the most impossible juggle. I’ve ever experienced.

 

And I think that what’s been very inspiring me as a professional and as a mother, combining my work with my, my home life, in this current period of lockdown sort of emerged, like different forms of for support that organizations are providing their employees.

Because you said at the start their fellow is one option, and for some It is my I very, very firmly believe it’s not only.

 

And, you know, to me, you know, I spend my everyday working life, looking to employers about how they can embrace a really agile and flexible mindset about not necessarily just how and where work is, but outcomes of work, what that looks like and how you can solve with your employees to identify future way of working, that is staining everybody. What I think the pandemic has done, particularly as its as it’s moved on, in fact, when we naively sort of thought it will be over in a few months that the conversations were kind of moved along a long way since then. And what’s happening now is that there does seem to be very much more concern and genuine care and empathy from employers as to how we’re doing first and foremost. And that is something that I hope very much, and I will talk about the future later. It’s something that I’m very much hoping to attain, because it’s me in this tragic time, one of the biggest silver linings that’s come out of this situation so far.

 

What’s happening I think, is managers are walking through their people on a very basic human level that this situation is affecting us all very profoundly, right. And so when people are connecting in a different way, albeit virtually, in a very human way about what’s going on, and we’re seeing that in, on our screens, like you said, you know, there’s the children running in there’s, there’s, you know, I’ve got engineers here right now, and you know, there might be noise from the boiler, big budget, and all that kind of stuff, that’s just real life has opened up, completely different way of communicating for, for all in all different organizations.

 

But what’s emerging is that, as I said, two streams of support, and they fall into kind of practical support to help parents get them back, which is effectively, you know, the most, the biggest challenges that we are all very time for right now. And then also that very core human support of empathy and understanding and flexibility about how we manage work and life right now. So, a practical side, there’s lots of organizations that are granting extra days of paid leave, or locating different codes or time codes for childcare, for example.

 

There’s loads of increased flexibility around shifts and rotors and the way that ours are organized and flexibility in terms of how people structure their day to day home education or care for younger children, for example, currently reducing hours is becoming very common.

 

Another thing, which I think is so important, but very meaningful and impactful. Somebody’s day, is sprint meeting, though, accelerating the pace of things, making sure that agendas are communicated clearly in advance. So that very clear idea of where they’re expecting, you know, where their priorities are, what, what meetings they’re expecting, they are flexible about whether they’re able to attend all meetings, saying no more, and accelerating the pace of those meetings, so that some time in between meetings to go and check on the children or and support them with hands on in for a few minutes. For older children.

 

It’s just a bit kinder, I think on everybody’s time, isn’t it and into consideration the real challenge that you’ve alluded to, which is green fatigue, and an app from overwork. And being a screen.

 

I think one of the other needs that has been really identified is is the impact on our state, mental state when we are many people that are working at home, sitting and inevitably slouching a little bit throughout the day, has such a profound impact on our, our, and therefore our state of mind. So I’m not sure if anybody’s familiar with Amy Cuddy’s work is a social psychologist who has a brilliant pet book. I’d really recommend it on body language. And she talks through the hormonal changes that happen when we have very closed slumped body language and the impact that has on our ability to function well, and to feel well. And so I think really savvy employers are taking the time to understand that has a real impact on productivity on output and on the bottom line.

 

Some organizations are trying and trialing and meeting free days days during, setting up internal support group on social media, so a Yammer or their other social media internally, they’re setting up homeschooling groups or groups of parents where they can kind of vent their frustrations and seek support from their peers and kind of get inspiration as to what’s working for others in their organization. And some are providing tutors,  to help with the demands of childcare and getting our care providers in one of the partners that we work with people that provide really flexible childcare, and that kind of service has become really invaluable. So I think practical side of things, things show that an employer really cares about people and understands their needs. I think that main thing makes a huge difference is actually they work within a culture that puts people past, you know, they were they’re very real needs right now are met with empathy and support and understanding and flexibility. And that’s where one of the, one of the tools that we use as a team charter, which is a structured approach to facilitating conversations with managers, and that team allows people to have open conversation in a very safe way about the reality that they’re dealing with right now. Whether that is mental health challenges, or old care, home schooling, all of the you know, everything, that’s all of the impact that pandemic is happening on everybody. And when you’re able, as an employee to have those conversations and feel supported. I think makes a huge difference. It doesn’t alleviate the stress of the situation. But it does make a very, very big difference.

 

Zara Nanu

One quick question Ursula just if you have two sentences on it, because we want to move on to the next tax aspect, but a very good question from Imogen around ‘do employees ever flexible working is a bad thing.

 

Ursula

I think some people think that it puts them at a disadvantage if they need flexibility. And you can see themselves as somehow the culture which isn’t completely inclusive and embracing of diversity, I  think the challenge for some employees is that they feel the need to hide their personal circumstances, because that may, somehow a disadvantage when prepared for progress or training opportunities, promotion, for example, again, an employee who doesn’t need that kind of flexibility.

 

Zara 

Yeah, very interesting. We’ll come back to the employee perspective, when we talk about the future of work and a little bit, but Kristal, we’re going to go over to you now what of changeable processes that are happening and what steps are employers taking to address this? And actually, as you talk about this would be great to include maybe a response, we’ve had a question in the q&a around manager training, if there anything interesting to tip rounded, because you will be talking specifically around kind of the employer perspective.

 

Kristal

Right, thank you. And so Ursula has mentioned a few things that employees are doing, maybe I’ll pick up the manager training point now. I mean, one thing that I have seen that’s, that’s quite useful, it has an employee’s bringing in experts to support their managers. So it might be, you know, Lunch and Learn webinar on, you know, how to support employees who are learning. And it’s those kinds of things that I think are quite tangible. And I think also guidance, and the key thing I see now, and in effect in normal circumstances, well, you know, you’ve got to have your kind of core values behind all this. So I say the key things are trust, consistency and fairness. And often when I go to a business now and in the past, it’ll be one manager allows staff to work in a certain way, one manager allows staff to work a certain way, and it depends who you work for. So I think for businesses, ensuring that they support their managers with guidance, what are they expecting as an organization, in terms of standards, what’s okay to say yes to and what’s not. And, and, and also some transparency about it. You know, the worst thing is when or as Ashley was mentioned, things are hidden, and employees trying to hide things. And a lot of that is because there’s no top down approach to this. Leaders aren’t leading by example. I’ve seen so often amazing, innovative, flexible working solutions and amazing workspaces, often these two things go together and amazing building has been redesigned. But no one’s using any of these amazing spaces. Because the expectation is that, you know, actually, we still just sit at our desks and our manager doesn’t work that way. So I won’t. So I think guidance and support is really key to make sure that there’s that consistency and fairness and transparency. So those are my clicking things.

 

And I wanted to talk a little bit about some of the examples that I’ve seen and which some of you may have done in the past. So Zurich are offering working parents and two weeks paid family which they can use you They could be just taking a day a week or spreading out those hours. I think that’s that’s what kind of putting it out there is a really important thing. They think about a fifth of their four and a half 1000 staff will use that.

 

And they are also now advertising all of their roles internally and externally with part time job sharing flexible working options, and that has, has had an impact on third more women being appointed to senior roles. So they’ve made a real statement that actually we’re going to say this on every single role were advertised, we’re going to say how it can be worked in a different way. And that’s a real clear statement. It’s not just, you know, some Junior low skill roles. It’s everywhere. And obviously, some employers are using furlough. And partial furlough I think hasn’t been taken up as much, but it’s definitely an option there to reduce hours, helping parents really communicating changes with customers. I think

 

To say, we’re all seeing it, your orders gonna be delayed or we’ve got less people working in our contact center because of this time because we’re supporting our employees. And actually as a customer, I really that really resonates with me. You know, I want to buy goods from a place that does support. It’s important So I think that don’t make assumptions that you have to keep going as you were, and you can’t afford to furlough people. Everyone’s really understanding any circumstances and anxiety, stress and depression are all increasing. So I think

 

Typically wellbeing is really important and Zara talked at the beginning about you know, these are these are employees who you hope to Don’t have in five or 10 years time it might be board members in the future in support Now during this difficult time is so Important so making sure that you have engagement from the Your line managers for your work.

 

I mean, the feedback you’re getting through listening, what are you doing with it? What are the trends? Make sure it’s not isolated managers are talking to people and that’s going nowhere. That’s so valuable and important information to take turns into data. Look for the trends how

Can you evoke your flexible working policies and practices now to support what that trend is and what that demand is? And how can you evolve your well being offering to support your employees so really listen to what they’re saying.

 

And then just before I hand it back, I just want to make sure that you don’t forget staff that are on that leave on long term sick or mat leave. I’ve heard from so many people who have said I went on mat leave this lockdown period I’ve heard no thing at all for my employer. So just make sure you they ask. So keep engaged with with everyone who works for you

 

Zara Nanu

Yeah, absolutely. There’s a question from Hazel into something that I was going to ask you too. At the beginning you mentioned that a lot of companies are looking to put a business case to board and how why they need the budget for this and how they want to go forward with it in a strategic way. And we had a question previously about productivity and the impact of this situation on productivity. I mean, what what is your take on what benefits people can put forward to the board in order to get that budget?

 

Kristal 

To get a strategic buy in. Well, I mean there’s a lot of research out there that even pre-Covid that shows the benefits and the business case for flexible working. McKinsey have done some amazing diversity reports and you can look at those, but essentially if

If you have more diversity at board level then your financial results will be better for you as a business but at a more kind of macro level we’ve got, you’ve got better engaged staff, so that improves productivity. You have less sickness – A happy employee produces good results. But I do believe in productivity measurement as well. So you know that that’s Somehow quite somehow quite often intangible, but you can measure it through well being through employee surveys. And I like the Gapsquare team are very data focused so trying to see show those improvements and but if anyone wants to find out more We can talk in a lot more detail about how we go about supporting that business case creation but I say make it evidence base. Talk about The savings it’s going to make, people will be engaged or productive, less time off sick

 

Zara

Thanks for this. Well, we’ll come back to these conversations in a bit. But Philip, can you tell us a bit more about the legal obligation of of employers.

 

Phillip Chivers
I mean, the headline point on this is that you’ve got the right to request flexible work, and then the danger of adopting discriminatory practices. So I mean, the right to request flexible work is designed to assist employees with the work life balance, and that applies to all employees who have been with the business for 26 weeks. There is a campaign to try and reduce that to two days so it becomes a one day right but at the moment you’ve got 26 weeks.

 

Unknown Speaker  35:00  

It’s interesting that one of the reasons it applies to all employees is that the government wanted to challenge  this misconception that flexible working arrangements for the preserve of parents and to affect cultural change to so that flexible practices became the norm.

 

And I’m not going to spend too much details on the on the actual right itself, but a couple of important points that obviously is not a right to flexible work, it’s a right to request flexible work. And really as long as the employer properly considers it then it may well be that the employer ultimately decides that it’s it’s not something they want to to implement.

 

When we use the term flexible work here what we actually mean is a right for employees to request a change to their terms and conditions of employment. So going forward, this will be

their employment contract going forward, these will reflect their terms and conditions. And as I said, the employer can refuse the request and there’s there’s eight specific grounds on which the employer can refuse the request including detrimental on performance, customer demand, cost – these are all legitimate reasons.

 

If an employee is upset about the fact that their flexible work request is refused then the employee can go to the employment tribunal and the employment tribunal can award compensation to the employee and that’s capped at 8 weeks compensation with each week’s pay at a maximum of £538. But the main legal implication for employers is the potential for a discrimination claim.

 

There’s different ways in which an employee can couch that claim. But ordinarily, it would be an indirect sex discrimination claim on the basis that women are more likely than men to have primary responsibility for childcare. And so a refusal to allow flexible working is a rule that puts women at a particular disadvantage.

 

And the employer would then have to objectively justify that decision which is shorthand for

showing that they’ve properly considered the request and that they considered every alternative to refusal before actually refusing.

 

What we’ve seen during the pandemic is a significant increase from clients of flexible work requests and there is evidence that a lot of those requests are from men. Certainly more from men than they were 12 months ago. But probably it’s fair to say that the majority of the requests and the majority the arrangements that have been put in place during the pandemic are ad hoc, are temporary, are sort of put in place on a temporary basis for the duration of pandemic and then the idea being that they will be revisited, reviewed at a later stage, presumably when the pandemic comes to an end.

 

Zara

Great, thanks, Philip. So, so we’ve seen from this section that changes happening, employees and employers are both feeling the need for change and they’re feeling the pressure the kind of work in context so, what I’d like us to focus next is what change for good looks like and how we can support employers and employees to actually reach that point where workplaces are fair, inclusive and offer that kind of flexibility. And so Ursula we’re going to start with you – in terms of building an inclusive culture for employees. Can you tell us a bit about your experience on that, and what that could look like as a model of good practice?

 

Ursula

Of course, yeah, we’ve, we’ve structured it around who sort of over several years of research and working with various clients in different industries, we’ve created an acronym shoehorned into the word flexible, and F in flexible stands for foundations built on trust. So for us in our work, culture, the pain is underpinned by some work around creating a high trust culture, particularly in respect of flexible working in inclusivity, General in general. And the second element is around leadership commitment, though, Kristal mentioned this earlier, that messaging and sort of consistency of commitment and ongoing commitment for internal communications and policy change from leadership is absolutely imperative for long term culture shift. And it’s also I think, really an imperative aspect of developing organisational resilience through this pandemic. leaders have a huge role to play as allies and as role models for flexible working because when people see what is possible, they feel you know, they’ve got this Virtual permission slip to be able to try out different things. So, quite often in in workforces, you have almost like a tier workforce where some people in certain roles have more flexibility than others, for example, in frontline roles versus in office based positions. And our approach is very much that every single role and be flexible in some way, it’s just that every role, the options for flexibility within that role will look different. And, and, you know, brings me on to the eat of the flexible model, which is everyone in this together. So that’s about taking a team approach to decide what outcomes matter the most for each team, what flexibility could look like within that theme, and what’s possible, and how to safeguard everybody’s well being and mental health and looking at ally ship in the workplace. And, again, I think taking a really inclusive approach to looking at the impact of the pandemic, as you move forward with a feature of work strategy that is really in you know, shows the impact on all the different demographics within the workforce, because we’re, you know, talking about today, some groups have been proportionately. X is about x ray vision through the business. And that’s linked to the leadership piece. And it’s about role modelling. So making sure that you have internal champions and role models at every level across the business that can represent flexibility and be very visible in the way that they work differently. And it is about infrastructure. So it’s kind of the ongoing debate around whether you need policy for flexible working versus no policy and that big culture shift. Some organisations prefer to go free of policy around flexible working. So that’s really ongoing debate that one back in digital upskilling, and about kind of, you know, workspaces and how you use your workspaces. And then the key is around recruitment. So better recruitment, looking at how you recruit inclusively, and make it clear within your job descriptions that flexible working is a possibility, much like the direct case study that Krystal shared earlier on, is living and breathing a new way of work. And that is all about supporting managers. So for the real, long lasting culture shifts happen. managers do need that support to include an upcoming class, looking at, you know, how they create sustainable ways of working within their teams, and create a really cohesive approach that you know, where everybody is supported, regardless of the role. And then finally, the E for model is exceptional communication. So within any culture change programme, we would look at helping people all across the business to have conversations and, and enhance the employee and manager relationship. Now review the way they communicate internally so that we’re working and inclusive inclusivity is very much part of everything that they do.

 

Zara 

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, transparency and communication and openness is a big part of how we can really reach that point, Kristal, from your point of view, what does best practice look like for for an employer from an employer perspective.

 

Kristal

So I think it’s probably worth saying that, obviously, everyone’s had to adapt and put in place and remote working very, very quickly. And there’s been some probably some amazing innovation, it’d be great to hear from some of the people on the call about some of the ways they’ve innovated, but I would say in most cases, this has been really quickly implemented, and probably without consultation with the employees, and there’s been some, you know, reverse consultation. And but it doesn’t mean that these remote ways of working are best for your employees and long term and or maybe not best for your business in the long term. So in terms of permanent change, and I always like to look at things and, you know, similarly to OSHA, using a process and making sure that it is consultative and there’s engagement because too often I see assumptions made about from senior leaders about how people want to work and and what they expect. And so I think it’s really important to do that. So within my consultancy and also at gap square, we have five step process that we look at. So we’re absolute data addicts. So the first one is about discovering where you are at the moment. So the discovery stage is all about how do your teams work? Now? How would they like to work using that engagement surveys, looking at all of the feedback that you’ve been gathering over the last kind of 12 months or so that hopefully you’ve been storing and keeping hold of and looking at you know, complaints, your HR data sickness, recruitment, leavers, building a benchmark of where you are and what your project goals what do you what would you be hoping to achieve? Is it that you want to attract more talent, retain talent, is it you want more senior women, you know, it’s really important not just to go, we’re just gonna we need to Working policies, let’s put one in, take a step back and make sure you understand why it is you’re doing it what how your project goals fit into your business strategy and your HR strategy? And why as you do that, you’re really creating your business case for your board, why should they invest in the change why you’re going to give up your time or bring in consultants or, or give up your team’s time to invest in this? So it’s really important that that’s clear. And and then the second stage is all about evaluating. So what does that data tell you? What are the trends? What are the barriers going to be? And then start to take that to your teams and engage with them? Hold workshops, look at the look at the insight that you add, and don’t make assumptions. So why is sick leave increasing? For example? Why are complaints increasing? Are these things happening in an isolated team only? Or is it only happening for people from a particularly diverse group? Or, or in a certain location? You know, what, where are these trends happening? And then the next stage would be to build a vision. So start to create once you’ve done that engagement and emerging flexible working plan, what might the options be? How could they work? Do they work across all teams? I agree with OSHA, one size doesn’t fit all. And employees do accept that. And but only if they’ve been engaged with and consulted with and they understand the reasons why. So they can’t work in it’s in their team exactly same way in terms of flexible working options for someone else can they accept it, if they understand it, they don’t if it’s forced upon them. And so I’d say that keeping in mind trust, fairness, consistency can have transparency, and that leading by example, a really key. And the fourth stage is about the implementation. So having a comp plan, how you’re going to engage your staff how you’re going to make sure that people take up this policy and that they understand why you’re doing it as a business and how it fits with your culture, and how it fits with you achieving your business goals? And how will you launch it? And and how can you assure ensure that you, your leaders use it and lead by example. And then the final stage is about controlling and monitoring. So how can you go? How can you report on your success and measure success where you go back to that benchmark you did at the beginning of the project. And look, I’d say every three months, you know, is your sickness improving? Is your is your time to hire reducing, because you’ve got new ways of working and new ways in which you’re recruiting people. And so look at how you can report on that success. And that will enable you to really show that the business plan is has been effective, and you’ve achieved it. And you can consider trialling it as an implementation as well. And, but always understand that things are never done when they’re implemented. There’s always iterative change, constant review and improvement and evolution of these things to continue to improve them. And that’s kind of constant engagement from your team.

 

Zara 

Absolutely. Making clarity and a process through very important, Philip, I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of examples as an employment lawyer, could you talk us through some best practice that you’ve seen?

 

Phillip 

Yes, there’s a couple of things on this, as you’ll appreciate my my role as the lawyer is to be the sort of the divorce lawyer at the wedding, with with this. So I mentioned earlier that a lot of the arrangements that are in place at the moment that that that that I see are arrangements that are that are informal, that are ad hoc, pandemic specific. And there is evidence that 90% of employees want those arrangements, or at least some elements of those arrangements to continue post pandemic. But I know from discussions that I have with some clients that they have, they’re on a different page to some employees. And they think that once the pandemic is over, they, you know, we’re not a virtual business, we have physical premises, we are going to expect people to come back to work and adopt traditional working arrangements. So I do think that in the short term, there is a bit of a tension between what employees probably want and have experienced over the last year. And these notions of some employers, and it’s probably not some employees, it’s actually pockets within employers, because you have different approaches within different employer organisations. And the return to traditional working environments. So I would imagine the short term, what you’re going to have is quite an increase in flexible, formal, flexible work arrangements. But on the whole, I think that what will is likely to happen is that it’s the pandemic served as something of a of an accelerant in, in flexible work and acceptance of flexible work practices for all employees, not just employers. People now embrace ways of working that 12 months ago just wouldn’t have been conceivable. It’s not just employers, that’s employees as well. I’m just giving a personal example on this. You know, I’ve got three kids. I have for the last 12 months, had an evening meal with my kids. If you’d said that. I was going to Doing that 12 months ago, I would have said that just wasn’t possible. And now it happens everyday. And it’s it’s lovely to be able to engage in that sort of thing. Whether the kids think it’s lovely is something else, but I, you know, it’s very nice for me. And I think legally if a flexible work arrangement has worked well, over the last 912 months, it’s quite difficult in a legal context, not impossible, but it’s quite difficult in a legal context for the employer to then say, well, it doesn’t work for us post pandemic that that tribunal would look at that sort of argument quite suspiciously, I think. And also, the other thing that I’m often told by employers about the three big HR issues are, it depends what sector you’re in, but often it’s skill, shortage, mental health, and diversity. Well, having a positive, flexible work arrangement resonates in relation to all three of those those issues. And so I think the direction of travel is clearly to embrace these additional these these new flexible work arrangements. And, of course, just just one final point on this in terms of the political situation, when the conservatives were reelected in December 2019, one of their manifesto commitments, was that all roles should be flexible, the default position should be flexible work, unless the employer can give a good reason as to why they shouldn’t be flexible. Now, we haven’t seen the detail of that. And obviously, the government have had other things on their mind over the last year. Other than, than to put something like that, you know, to put that out into consultation. But if there was to be a law on those lines, then I think that that really would change things from a legal perspective, because the emphasis would be on the employer saying, Well, why it shouldn’t be flexible, rather than the other way around.

 

Zara

Very interesting points. And we see that those conversations a lot in the diversity and inclusion space, particularly with kind of putting the burden on the employee to be more assertive to ask for more money just for promotion. Rather than creating structures within the company that facilitate for anyone to be able to negotiate their salary to be more transparent about pay career progression and reaching a certain point in their career. We have some really interesting questions in the q&a. And we’re going to take just three minutes to answer a few of them. And Philip, if you don’t mind, I’m going to direct one at you around employees taking furlough so that they can homeschool and they can care for their children. And therefore the company is setting that as an example. And how do they then not have to replicate that for all of the employees in the company? Or what would your suggestion be?

 

Phillip

Well, that’s quite a tricky one that isn’t it? I think that’s quite fact specific. But I mean, it’s it’s permissible to do it. But I think that I think this was a point made, made earlier by Ursula about the consistency element in that if you’re doing one thing for one employee, or one category, the employee, why aren’t you doing that for another? And it’s, it’s permissible to have an inconsistency. It’s just that it will as IR issues, if you have an inconsistency, and there’s always that could be subject to legal scrutiny. So it’s permissible, but I think that it would be quite facts specific.

 

Zara
Yeah, it would any questions that we don’t manage to cover and for during this session, we’re obviously going to revert back with emails and follow up after this event. But I’m going to kind of amalgamate two questions in one and address them at Ursula and Kristal, first around the guilt element of how you do work from home and commitment to work, followed by crystal, looking at how the flexible working policies and how employees don’t end up doing the same amount of hours, when they have actually committed to less hours to do that. So Ursula, we’ll start with you with a guild but just one minute, please,

 

Ursula

One thing that’s working really, really well for me at the moment in workshops, and in Sessions is just starting a conversation out the way that experience guilt, and asking questions, you know, what, what holds us back from working more flexibly, or, you know, being as well as we can be while we are working flexibly? So what’s impacting our or mental health and well being, aside from the time constraints, of course, what you find then is by being given the opportunity to have that conversation, everyone’s saying the same thing. everyone’s on the same page, everyone’s running to the kettle and running back so that they’re indicated doesn’t then Amber, you know, everybody’s experiencing that same guilt. And when you compensation out in the open, you can see that everybody feels the same. You can make an agreement. This is ridiculous, and we are not going to continue like this because it is impacting our productivity and our potential as employees.

 

Zara

Yeah, that’s that’s really good point and Kristal to the point on how do people who reduce hours actually have policies done that protect them from doing the same amount of hours that they were doing before?

 

Kristal

I find generally And the policies usually do support that. But what doesn’t support it is the fact that they’re still getting the same amount of work assigned to them by their manager. So I think, you know, it’s normally not the policy, that’s the issue. It’s the expectation of the manager. I think the key point to make here is that expecting carers and parents to continue to work, that their previous hours and their normal workload isn’t realistic, and it’s certainly not fair. So you’ve got to support parents, having conversation with them with your managers, OSHA said, giving employees permission to, you know, to really raise these issues. And maybe if they don’t have a supportive manager, making sure as an HR professionals, they have other avenues that they can come to, because that is a lot of stress and pressure to be under if you’ve got a workload, you just can’t manage. So avenues to be able to raise these concerns, I think is important.

 

Zara

Yeah, absolutely. Now, we come to a conclusion of the webinar and as a company of gaps, where we’ve always had a kind of go big or go home type mantra. So what I’m going to ask all the panellists to do is give you a Go big or go home type of advice for creating this kind of flexible environment where parents could thrive at work. Only a couple of sentences each, and we’re going to start with Ursula, please.

 

Ursula

So for me, I feel like a bit of a broken record. It’s about asking them what they need, or what they would find valuable right now. I think some employers and some managers feel like they need to have all the answers, and because they don’t have all the answers when it comes to home schooling dilemma, and this, you know, our minds on our time right now. And if we the compensation, but it’s a collaborative exercise, right, you know, you can create solutions together. And I think as a working parent, it makes a massive difference to know that you’re heard and understood, that would be

 

Zara

Absolutely – Phillip?

 

Phillip

Well, where lawyers often get involved here is where can we have a contentious flexible work request? Might be view is that the employers that deal with flexible work requests, well, are those that adopt an empathetic approach those that see the request from the point of view of the employee. And I think that that results in a better decision, a decision is more likely to be accepted by the employee, even if it goes against the employee. And it’s less vulnerable to legal scrutiny. So that would be perhaps my surprising advice would be to view things empathetically.

 

Zara

Great – Kristal?

 

Kristal

and I say this is a huge opportunity to future proof your business, okay, take the opportunity, be innovative. And think about how you can lead by example, start to, you know, you can make a huge difference. And you can start to attract talent from other businesses who are not doing it. Right. And I also say, let’s focus on this is all parents, this is not just mothers is not just fathers. This is not just, you know, white middle class people, there’s parents across every different, you know, underrepresented group, and that needs to be represented. So make sure you consider that as well. You have this is a real opportunity, as Phillip said, to fix those skills, gaps, diversity, and also mental health. So I’d say, you know, make it a huge opportunity, turn it into a positive and engage with your teams to see what’s possible.

 

Zara

Yeah, great. I think the key takeaways that I’m hearing is be empathetic, create avenues and channels for communication. And make sure that you include all of the diverse groups that you have represented across the business, and that will help you food future proof that thank you very much to the lovely panel for the conversation today. I would like to encourage everyone to reach out via Hello at gaps credit calm or via our website. If you have more questions about this webinar, or to any of the panellists will be delighted to share our thoughts after this. And we’ll come back with answers to your questions if we didn’t manage to answer them in full today. Thank you very much for your participation. And we look forward to hearing from you too about examples of best practice and, and innovation that you’re actually doing in your businesses right now. Because it’s not only down to the Zurich’s or, you know, the xo of the big companies or the Deloitte actually the biggest change can come from the smallest business. Thank you for your time. Have a lovely afternoon. And we’ll see you all later.

Menu