#cipdACE blog 4 – CIPD Manchester breakfast camp on flexibility at work #flexforall18

What a great night last night. There were so many fringe events to go to that it was hard to decide what to do. I ended up going to several but the best ended up being in the Rain Bar where around 20-25 awesome HR people who mostly know each other through social media just turned up, drank and enjoyed themselves.

The fringe side of things has vastly improved in recent years and I welcome this development.

I also slept well, and given that we are hearing from Lenny Henry later on, if my Premier Inn stay had been less than perfect he would also have been hearing from me.

I’ve made it to the CIPD Manchester breakfast camp on flexibility at work. This is a fantastically well attended event for a fringe event with about 60-65 people here to discuss making flexibility at work a reality for all.

Well done to Rachel Burnham for organising and running this event.

I write and speak incessantly about flexibility at work and it’s a common theme in many things that I do, so I was interested in seeing what others are doing.

The discussions were table based with expert facilitators moving round to ask different questions.

On the first round of this, our table discussed the challenges in convincing senior managers to embrace flexibility, and we shared many of the commonly heard and expressed barriers that we get from senior managers.

As a senior manager myself in many of my later jobs, I attempted, with varying degrees of success, to lead by example. It wasn’t always easy and I met with lots of suspicion in some places. But in other places, other people followed my example.

I guess the culture makes a difference.

Our next facilitated discussion drew on the experiences of the Flexible Hiring Champions, and this was great because we were able to listen to some real life successful examples of companies structuring their entire talent acquisition processes around flexibility and getting good results from it.

Importantly here we also discussed how some people don’t want flexibility and that they can’t or shouldn’t be forced to work flexibly. If people want to work Monday to Friday 9 to 5, let them.

A barrier here that most had encountered is that job applicants usually won’t share their desires to work flexibly until a job offer has been made, as they feel that sharing such desires would mean the job offer is not made at all.

Our third facilitated conversation was on the elements of cultures that support flexible working.

Flexibility for everybody was the first of these. But let people find their own flexibility, and give them choices.

Flexibility in all its forms is the second element. This is about understanding that flexibility doesn’t just mean one or two particular methods or styles but can be almost anything that varies when and where work is done.

The third element is trust. We often tend to trust people we can see, and if someone is working elsewhere there is a risk that they are not trusted. A good example of trust is from Sussex University who apply flexibility by default and managers must make a business case for jobs NOT being flexible.

The fourth element is about managers who “get it”. Flexibility has so much positive impact, but so many managers don’t understand this.

The fifth element was a great policy that enables, not restricts flexible working. Give managers the support and structure they need to make it work.

And the final element is technology. The technology that you get people to use when working flexibly should be the technology they use when in the office. The communication methods should be the same and the ways of working should be the same.

Our final conversation was facilitated by Manchester City Council on how they support line managers to embrace flexible working, but at this point I needed to dip out to go and see someone else.

A great start to the day.

Till next time…


Hard Work

There’s been coverage in the media recently about flexible working, and as it’s a topical issue I’m wading in here on the subject once again.

The article that prompted the flurry of coverage on national TV and social media was this one. It is telling us nothing new, or at least I think so, but from the national TV coverage you’d think this was breaking news.

As you know I’ve written and spoken extensively on the subject of flexible working before, here, here, here and here.

In the talk shown on the final link above, I commented on how I liked at that time to structure my working day, but the sad truth was that I couldn’t do that often enough.  In the company I worked for at the time I made that speech, whenever I managed to do a day like the one I described, it was met with snide remarks – things like people don’t know where you are if you’re not working at the desk you have in your office (despite me being regularly in touch with people from my home work base) and, on one occasion, I was actually accused of having another job and working for someone else because my manager genuinely didn’t believe that I was working from home one day a week.

Basically I stuck out like a sore thumb and the culture was nowhere near ready for that type of flexible working, and I wonder whether the same is true in other cultures too and hence why the recent media coverage has seemed like big news.

I quickly left that organisation as it wasn’t giving me what I needed in work or in life, and went somewhere else that promised great flexibility, and had all the right policies and procedures in place to convince me that it was a great modern workplace.

Sadly though, these were false promises, and the policies around flexible working and the like were just lip service, and again this makes me wonder if on the face of it, we have organisations who SAY they are great at embracing flexible working, but actually they don’t really understand it or have the know-how to really make it happen.

There’s a great conference coming up run by CIPD and ACAS on making flexible working a reality, and the link for that is HERE.  I’d recommend attending if you or your organisation have any barriers in place that are preventing you operating really flexibly.

Like the kinds of barriers that I encountered…

  • Where you are told that remote working is only possible in special circumstances, or allowable if you’re an Executive
  • Where there’s flashy videoconferencing kit, real top notch technology, but which only connects two locations to each other and doesn’t allow for videocalling in from any other location
  • Where there’s a great coffee shop on site and staff are encouraged to use it, but only to buy coffee and not to have meetings there
  • Where the organisation says its a family friendly one, and understands the demands that working parents have, but require you to state your start and finish times, which are then recorded in your managers diary and any variances frowned upon and if you’re 5 minutes late, you’re told off
  • Where the organisation claims to use the latest in technology, but won’t let you get your work emails on your own device as its against IT policy, and will only give you an out of date smartphone and clunky laptop, but make you wait months for these to arrive
  • Where the organisation has only just got WiFi and promotes this as a major leap forward, but where said WiFi keeps breaking, is slow and cumbersome and requires immense security clearances to get onto
  • Where flexibility is encouraged, but working at your desk in the office 9 to 5 Monday to Friday is the “real” encouragement

I think these are barriers many organisations face and if that’s what you see in your organisation, then talk to me and I might be able to help – and get onto the ACAS/CIPD conference for more varied insights too.

These barriers had a major impact on me and no doubt would on most people.  It meant my commute was fixed in terms of time, and therefore at greater cost. I had to make sacrifices, like doing school runs, and could only manage either breakfast or tea with my family, never both.

It made me angry by the time I got to work.  Work shouldn’t be something you do when angry, but I was furious every day.

I like to keep fit and train and working flexibly allows me to do that, but all of a sudden in these organisations I was restricted, and my fitness and therefore my health suffered.

Your organisational culture needs to support people to raise concerns and difficulties, and to work with them to resolve any issues – I was more or less told to grow a pair, that as a senior manager I should accept it all as part of the territory.

Your employees have lots of things going on in their personal life that will affect them in work, and showing understanding of that is something that will help greatly.  I had a wife who was pregnant and not very well (and some other family difficulties), and this created extra pressure and requirements on me to do more as a parent and husband, and therefore meant I needed extra flexibility.  Managers need to be empathetic and understanding, and unfortunately I got none of that and was made to feel small and pathetic for even raising the issue.

I often speak and write about flexible working and realised that I was being hypocritical if I espoused what people and organisations should do, but wasn’t doing it myself – so since then in leaving employment, and setting up and running EPIC I’ve ensured that I practice what I preach.

We should, as the original article says, allow people to have more choice over where, when and with who they work. We need to help them have their Perfect Day, as often as they can.

We need to recognise that there are various multiple stakeholders in the employment relationship and in the employee’s ability and willingness to perform, and that all of these need to be kept satisfied, though perhaps not all at once or in the same way.

We also need to recognise that organisational and individual approaches to flexible working will show various iterations and inevitably lots of mistakes to find what works for all parties.  Allow people to experiment and make mistakes and learn from those.

Trust people to make choices that suit them and the organisation.

Trust them to know what the right balance is and to find it.

Otherwise, one day they’ll just leave.

To find out more about how others are making flexible working much less like hard work, go to the ACAS/CIPD conference in September.

Till next time…


PS in other news, I’m immensely proud of my eldest son who has absolutely smashed his GCSEs and is now about to enrol on his A Levels…


In recent weeks I’ve been reflecting on flexible or agile working and why some organisations get it right and some don’t.

In this blog I’ll discuss my thoughts on this and the experience it creates for employees. I’ll also share what works for me.

People Management recently published this Insight article online. It’s a good discussion point and I’ll build on many of the themes.

But, starting on a personal note, my wife was talking this week about the flexibility she has in her role and how it is a major boost to retention and something she values higher than salary, as we know she could earn more elsewhere but may sacrifice flexibility to do so. David Jackson comments on this concept in the PM article too, saying he has many staff working for him who have taken pay cuts in order to achieve flexibility.

And I’ve done the same. Kind of.

I moved to my final employed job ostensibly for the career advancement and salary advancement it offered, but found in doing so I lost all my flexibility despite organisational literature to the contrary.

I’ve since written HERE about going self employed in order to find flexibility, and I knew I may have to take a drop in salary in order to find it. It’s still early days so I can’t say re salary but I am certainly willing, and have already found greater flexibility than I ever had in any employed job and certainly in my last one.

Basically, I don’t work 9-5 and have never really enjoyed doing so. But why do we keep insisting people have to?

I work better in bursts, as I outlined in this Ignite talk. An hour or so before the school run, then a few more hours before some me time at lunch (usually a run). A few more hours before another school run, tea, baths and bedtime stories. And then a few more hours before I go to bed.

My inputs through the day in terms of hours may actually be less than those working 9-5, but I guarantee my productivity and outputs are higher.

And within that day I can move things around, do them in a different order, switch things to different days and work wherever and whenever I or my family choose.

Yes, some jobs don’t have that flexibility, but usually it’s the company culture that’s the reason and not the processes or the technology.

A previous employer of mine was introducing what it called agile working. The initiative was doomed to fail as lots of people high up in the organisation felt it was mostly about bringing in comfy seats, and moving desks around to a different formation.

Funky workspaces are all well and good (though I draw the line at Google’s hammocks) but the culture has to support it and change with it. In this example, there was no trust to work remotely, no support for the technology to do it, and real resistance from staff about losing their desk pedestals! Agile working wasn’t supported by process change or vision about how things could be different, or even a sense of dissatisfaction with how things were.

One idea I have is to gamify the introduction of flexible working. GVC, in a recent HRDirector magazine article, gamified the introduction of new company values, and it’s a similar concept and could help employees have fun with the idea, enjoy its introduction and actively experiment and make mistakes to learn from.

David Jackson comments in the PM article that often, the easiest place to hide is in the office in plain sight. This is definitely true and was true in that place too, and is something about the culture, about not treating employees like adults.

If you have the right culture, and create the right experiences for employees, they will add value and be engaged.

Engagement is what you see when the employee experience is right. The whole employee journey is a series of experiences and touch points, each in a different context and with different exchanges. Organisations often map the customer experience but rarely do they map the employee experience.

But they should.

And many would be very surprised at what they see.

At how they are treating their employees.

And thus why engagement is low.

Flexible working is one aspect but it’s an important one as it flows through the entire employee journey and shapes the experiences.

I run my own business now and I’ve never had a better employee experience. I try to use that understanding to help others, both organisations and their people, to shape their own experiences and deliver higher engagement.

Trusting people and treating them like adults is a start. And a must. Asking them how they prefer to work and how etc and not judging their responses is another.

Get the experience right.

Till next time…


Ps my son is 16 and had his first experience of alcohol at a house party very recently. My response as a father surprised even me. No one prepared me for this. How are you supposed to do all this stuff as a parent?