Managing flexible work
At Macquarie, we strive to create a workplace based on performance, outcomes and trust. Flexibility in work arrangements – that is, changing when, where and how work is done – can help create this workplace while also delivering strong organisational outcomes.
Flexibility is becoming a common way of working to meet the demands of modern life and to help individuals and teams work productively and be more strongly engaged with their work. For this reason, Macquarie University has the Flexible Work Policy and Procedure and encourages flexible working at every level of the organisation where possible.
The aim of this resource is to help managers implement productive, successful flexible work arrangements, and maximise the opportunities and benefits that flexibility brings.
Who wants to work flexibly and why
Work-life balance is highly personal and it can mean different things to different people at different stages in their lives. The broad concept is employees want the opportunity to be effective in their work, while balancing it with personal life. Individual priorities may range from caring for family members, contributing to the community, maintaining health and wellbeing, studying, or transitioning to retirement.
At Macquarie, all continuing and fixed-term staff members are eligible to request flexible work. For more information on eligibility, see Flexible Work Policy.
Your role as a manager
Managers play a critical role in enabling flexible work in their teams. Some key aspects of manager’s role include:
Understanding rights and responsibilities around flexible work
Managers should be aware of and ensure their staff are also familiar with policy provisions for flexible work arrangements. At Macquarie, flexible work arrangements are governed by the Flexible Work Policy and Procedure.
Giving due consideration to flexible work requests
When you are first approached by your staff member about flexible work, they may or may not have a good understanding of what is available and how it may play out for them. You may wish to discuss various options available and consider potential issues and how they can be addressed. Remember that it can be daunting or difficult for some staff to raise the topic of flexible work, particularly when it relates to seeking work changes for family or health reasons.
Considering flexible work arrangements requires good conversations. The first solution that comes to mind may not be the best one. Both managers and staff need to approach the process with open minds and explore what arrangements will work for the individual and the team/work area.
Once you receive a flexible work request, ensure you respond in a timely manner and within 21 work days. Managers are encouraged to meet with their staff member to discuss the request before making a decision.
For more information on the process for responding to flexible work requests, see the Flexible Work Procedure. Assessing a Flexible Work Request Checklist provides useful tips to help managers consider and assess a request for flexible work.
Enabling and effectively managing flexible work
Managers play an important role in providing staff members with support to work flexibly and building a culture based on high performance, trust and outcomes. Some useful strategies for how to make flexible work effective, are outlined below.
Flexible work options at Macquarie
There are a number of flexible work options available at Macquarie University. Whether or not they are an option in every case depends on individual circumstances and work areas. A key factor is finding the balance between what is right for the individual and manageable for the work area at the same time. Both staff and managers should take time in exploring what is available and possible at Macquarie University.
A flexible work solution may range from a simple change to a typical work arrangement, to a combination of options that can work together to achieve the required flexibility.
Part-time work is the most common type of flexible working. Part-time work covers any arrangement where the staff member works anything less than typical full-time hours.
Part-time work can be a consideration either during recruitment or at any point during employment with Macquarie. A staff member may request to reduce working hours because their work and life balance has changed for some reason. They might be returning from parental leave, caring for sick family members, studying or easing into retirement. They might be full-time and wanting to move to part-time, or they might already be part-time and wanting to reduce their position fraction further.
Changing position fraction from full-time to part-time as part of flexible work is a temporary arrangement - up to 3 years or longer if agreed with the manager. This means the staff member’s substantive/permanent position will remain as full time.
It is important to discuss and agree on the reasonable notice period (e.g. 2-4 weeks) in case the staff member requests to revert their part-time arrangement back to full-time earlier than planned. This is particularly important when someone else has been recruited to job share or cover the unused fraction.
If you receive a request to work part-time, it may be useful to think about:
- Can an existing position be divided up to best suit the staff member and the workplace? Can you employ someone else to backfill, or have another staff member in your team pick up extra tine?
- What might be the impact on the staff member? Their manager? The team? Their clients and stakeholders? Can it be managed?
- What needs to be done to implement these changes?
See Flexible Work Policy and Procedure for more information on part-time work.
Job share is an employment arrangement where two (or more) staff members, working part-time, share all the duties and responsibilities of a full-time position. They also share the pay and benefits in proportion to the hours each works.
Job share arrangements have a number of benefits, including having a wider range of skills and perspectives in your team, and having better coverage of the job when one of the job sharers is on leave.
Successful job sharing depends to a large extent on the partnership between the people sharing the role. Employees need to work well as a team and think about how their working styles complement each other.
When considering a job share arrangement, think about:
- The nature of the job and what options are appropriate – How are the tasks undertaken? Can they be split, do they need to be performed every day or more flexibly during the course of the week? If there are staff reporting to the position, would it be feasible for them to report to different managers?
- Allocation of hours – working part of each day, working alternate days or alternate weeks.
- Communication – will the job sharers use the same phone number and email address? Would it be necessary for each person check the other’s email and voicemail? How will job sharer’s availability be communicated to colleagues and stakeholders? Will there be any overlap time for job sharers to help with collaboration and communication?
- Infrastructure – think about desks, phone, email, computer and any other specific requirements for each job sharer. If there is no overlap, job sharers can use the same infrastructure.
- Performance expectations – setting clear and unambiguous objectives for measuring performance for each role is very important from the start. Usually, performance expectations will be similar, but may also be individualised if there is some splitting of responsibilities. Hold a separate performance review meeting with each job sharer, and a joint meeting to talk about overall performance of duties.
Flexible start and finish times
This option means that a staff member starts and finishes at different times to normal business hours within the work area.
Flexible start and finish times can help staff accommodate responsibilities outside the workplace and reduce travel time/ travel costs where travelling outside peak hours is possible.
A work area can set core hours where a staff member is required to be at work, and the rest can be flexible (provided the staff member works their contracted hours each fortnight). For example, an arrangement may look like this:
8am to 10am
Flexible start time
10am to midday
Core business hours
Midday to 2pm
Flexible lunch period
2pm to 4pm
Core business hours
4pm to 6pm
Flexible finish time
The number and times of the core hours in a specific work unit will be determined by business need and nature of work (for example, if the work is customer driven) and may vary during the year according to operational needs.
It is recommended to have a written record of an agreement, at least on email.
If a staff member is requesting start and finish times significantly outside core hours and on a regular basis, a formal process as outlined in the Flexible Work Policy and Procedure should be followed.
An agreed regular working pattern where a staff member works their ordinary fortnightly hours compressed into a shorter period.
This can be achieved by working longer but fewer blocks of time, for example a 70 hour fortnight may be worked at a rate of 7 hours 45 mins per day for nine business days.
At Macquarie, this options is also referred to as Variable Working Hours Scheme or 9-day-fortnight.
Requests for compressed fortnight working arrangements should follow a formal process as outlined in the Flexible Work Policy and Procedure.
Working from home / telecommuting
An arrangement where a staff member performs some of their duties from home or away from their usual work location. The evolution of workplace technologies allows greater flexibility than ever before. Working from home or off site can be a great way to reduce time spent commuting and minimise interruptions during the work day.
Working from home covers a range of time schedules. As a general rule, there should be a requirement to spend part of the work week on campus to ensure continuity of communication, minimise isolation and provide access to facilities not available away from Macquarie campus.
As a general rule, if a staff member works from home on an ad hoc basis or for a short period of time, an informal agreement between the manager and the staff member is sufficient. Where working from home is implemented on a regular basis, it is recommended to formalise the arrangement as per the Flexible Work Procedure.
When considering a request for working from home arrangement, think about:
- Is the staff member’s home suitable for working efficiently, free from distractions and interruptions? For example, if they have small children, are there appropriate childcare arrangements for working from home days?
- Does the staff member have adequate equipment and access to systems to enable working from home?
- Have health and safety issues been considered and addressed? Refer to the Working from Home – Health and Safety Checklist
- Do the arrangements ensure privacy and security for organisational information and equipment?
- What arrangements will need to be put in place to ensure the staff member is contactable when working from home?
- If it is a long-term arrangement with significant amount of time worked from home, what can be done to mitigate potential personal and professional isolation?
- Is the staff member’s style of working suitable for working from home arrangement?
Good practice strategies for making flexibility work
This section outlines good practice and specific management actions to help you maximise the benefits of flexible work. It will help you build your capacity to get the best outcomes of flexible work arrangements in your team.
Transparency and setting expectations upfront
It is important that you and your staff are on the same page about the flexible work arrangement. It is good practice to have open conversations about flexible work when the request first comes to you and documenting what you and the staff member have agreed to.
Results-based performance management
Flexible work is most effective, when the focus is on performance and outcomes, rather than attendance or ‘being seen at your desk.’
A results-based approach to management where KPIs, objectives, goals, aims or other results are transparent and clearly described, quickly reveals whether a person is meeting their objectives or might need some help. It also helps if roles are clearly established and communicated when new projects commence or when new teams form.
Transparent objectives and results are best used as a collaborative mechanism for both managers and employees to work towards the stated goals, rather than as a mechanism to ensure compliant behaviour.
Some good practice strategies include:
- Establish accountability – flexibly working teams often need greater transparency about the work being done across the team, and this can ensure accountability.
- Build in autonomy – flexibility often means that staff members will work more autonomously. Research and experience clearly show that when staff members are given greater autonomy to decide how to achieve work outcomes, they work more productively and are more engaged.
- Discuss performance as part of reviewing flexible work arrangements – your staff need clear, factual feedback about how they are tracking in relation to their performance. Your staff will respond more positively if you resist any temptation to make subjective judgements based on your opinion when discussing a team member’s performance. When specifically reviewing flexible work arrangements restate the ideal outcome – i.e. arriving at a situation that works as well as possible for everyone – and then discuss any issues. Approach issues with a view of finding a better solution. Remember to acknowledge good performance.
Managing information flow and communication
Communication – whether it is electronic or in person - is a valuable tool for enhancing team culture. Flexible work can require changes to traditional ways of communicating. It is important to agree on the right communication platforms to suit the circumstances. Ensure that you have strategies in place that when you or your team members are working flexible, it does not lead to communication break-down.
Some good practice strategies for managing communication include:
- Establishing communication patterns that support flexibility, such as out-of-office notifications are handled by an automatic email response and phones are diverted to a team member;
- Keeping your team members updated on developments that occurred while working offsite or for different hours;
- Using collaborative technology tools to improve information flow;
- Communicating your team’s availability to your internal stakeholders.
Planning ahead is a simple but powerful strategy to help ensure resources are allocated in line with people’s availability. Discuss resourcing with your team and develop strategies to deal with potential pitfalls. Be proactive to maintain awareness of your flexible workers’ workloads, to ensure that they are neither overloaded nor underused. If issues arise, make sure you discuss it with your staff and review the work arrangements if required.
Trial periods, regular review and feedback
It is recommended to trial a flexible work arrangement where possible. A trial period gives you and the staff member an opportunity to see how it can work, and it can help decide if a different type of flexibility might be better. Trial periods are particularly recommended when there is some uncertainty about how practicable the arrangement is for the staff member and for their work area.
Aim to work collaboratively with your staff member during the trial period to discuss, review and refine flexible working arrangement. This will lead to a better outcome overall and greater chance of success over the long term.
It is also a good practice for both the manager and the staff member to be prepared for ongoing adjustments, recognising that flexible work arrangement may need to change over time to ensure they continue meeting both the organisational and staff member's needs.
Managing team culture
You may already have a great team culture and an excellent working environment, or these may be on your list of ‘things to improve’. Flexibility is often a way to ensure that what is working well continues to be successful, and it can be a very effective way of creating positive change in teams that may be struggling to cope.
Consulting with your team members about how you could adjust your traditional or current practices is a good way to start understanding how flexibility might work in your team.
This could include changing the ways that social time is organised, how new team members are introduced and how new project teams are formed.
Trust is an important aspect of a flexible working arrangement and is based on an expectation that an agreement will be upheld, as well as a belief or confidence in a person’s competence. Trust is also developed around a person’s commitment or good will. Having team members working flexibly can challenge these aspects of trust, so both manager and employee will need to work towards a mutually trusting relationship if flexibility is going to work successfully.
What leaders say, how they act, what they prioritise and how they measure results all have an impact on effective leadership. Flexibility, by its nature, is more likely to thrive in a collaborative, goal-oriented environment. Managers who can create such an environment are more likely to model successful flexibility in their teams.
As the leader of your team, it is important to make strong, consistently positive statements about the benefits and importance of flexibility to achieving the organisation’s goals.
A powerful way for manager to support flexible work is by modelling flexibility. Consider adopting a flexible working arrangement yourself. This can be a great way of demonstrating successful flexible work, while enhancing your team’s supportive and trust based culture.
Need more help?
For advice and assistance to managers exploring pros and cons of flexible work options and for advice about interpretation of flexible work provisions, contact HR.
Federation University Australia,2014, Flexible Work Arrangements Toolkit
Federation University Australia,2014, Job Split, Job Share, Job Support Toolkit
State Services Authority Victoria, 2011, Making Flexible Work a Success
Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2016, Manager Flexibility Toolkit