Practical steps to making flexible working a reality

Our ACTION LEARNING GROUP reveals how to take practical action to make a successful flexible working culture a reality

Pfizer UK Headquarters, Walton Oaks. Date: 31st Jan 2020

In order to progress the 10-point guide to successful implementation of flexible working further, Flexibility Matters brought together an action learning group of key flex implementers. Hosted at Pfizer UK by Dagmar Albers, Diversity and Inclusion Lead, the objective of the collaboration was to share strategic insights on how to take practical action to make a successful flexible working culture a reality.

Our inspiring contributors included, David Blackburn, Chief People Officer at FSCS, who revealed how he successfully implemented flexible working by re-aligning company structure, strategy and execution to a new shared vision. Training specialist, Ursula Tavender, shared her practical tools and guiding principles for permanently creating a culture of true flexibility. Anna Rasmussen, founder and CEO at OpenBlend, discussed the benefits of a people centred, performance management software solution that gets the best out of employees by tapping into their individual drivers.

The following is a synopsis of the central learnings that Flexibility Matters took away and some of David and Ursula’s very practical tools that have actually worked in practice.


This definition of the type of flexible working arrangement implemented within a business can often be the key to success or failure. A FORMAL flexible arrangement is where there is a permanent change of contractual working hours, style and location. An INFORMAL arrangement is where there is ad-hoc flexing of working hours, style and locations.

The INFORMAL type of flexible working often tends to be taken up more as it caters for individuals’ and businesses’ changing needs and addresses that ‘one size does not fit all’. The formal type, the group felt, can often be the barrier to even beginning the process of implementation, yet for some can seem too vague. It’s therefore important to have a clear distinction between the two types.


 “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” Stephen. R Covey.

It was agreed that it all has to start with TRUST. Self-trust and a culture of trust – it’s the lynchpin. Dedicating training to growing a culture of trust is paramount. We trust that we are hiring outstanding people, so this should extend to their work practices.

Ursula cited the intuitive work of Dr Brené Brown that defines the seven elements of establishing ‘Trust’ within organisations using the acronym ‘BRAVING’. Outlined here it explains what it means to us and others and why it is so important for exceptional communication, collaboration and a shared vision.

B Boundaries – you respect my boundaries and when you’re not clear about what’s OK, you ask.

R Reliability – you do what you say you’ll do. Committing as a team to a shared result.

A Accountability – Being accountable for your own capabilities, mistakes and knowledge gaps.

V Vault – You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. Confidentiality is key.

I Integrity – You choose courage over comfort and to practice your values.

N Non-Judgement – I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need without judgement.

G Generosity – If we assume that someone is doing their best, we get that generosity of assumption back.


To be able to implement ad-hoc flex successfully, guiding principles that are personal to the business vision are required to orchestrate the culture shift. These principles need to be decided on involving teams and managers and cascaded from the top down, with CEO’s actively living them. Here are some that emerged from the discussions, with some practical ways to apply them:

  • Flexible working is not a problem that needs to be solved, it’s a benefit to be embraced.
  • Flex works both ways. It has to work for the business and the individual.
  • It’s PROGRESS not PERFECTION. You have to start somewhere, and it will evolve.
  • Pilot your approach with small-scale trials.
  • Use closed focus groups so people feel heard and are confident to speak out without judgement.
  • Develop a compelling WHY communications strategy that feeds into the company vision.
  • Flex is for everyone and the reasons for wanting it do not need to be shared.
  • Tackle fears, bias and the resistance that many people have about working in a different way.
  • Create team charters and agreements or ‘ways of working’ commitments.
  • The right technology and appropriate office space is required to make Flex possible.
  • Evolve the approach to performance management to make it a success.
  • EVERY JOB IS FLEXIBLE, it’s just what is possible in the environment.
  • Identify anything that is a stopper and anything that is an enabler.
  • A high trust culture is needed, and dedicated training required to grow this.
  • Ensure every individual is connected to the strategy personally.


  • Within small scale trials use four different types of teams with at least one being the most challenging.
  • Within teams, open up the possibilities of different ways that the business can benefit from flexible working, i.e. introduce extra shift patterns to better serve the customer, staggered hours, staggered days?
  • Develop resources and run events that support and empower leaders and managers; Webinars, workshops, an internal flex working dedicated hub, a constant feedback channel to the leadership team, drop-in clinics where staff can talk to managers and leadership openly.
  • Create specific areas within the office for concentration, collaboration, contemplation.
  • Create an approachable culture: for example, time for team huddles to surface issues or wins.
  • Team charters and agreements to be developed collaboratively by the teams themselves so there is ownership, fairness and give and take.


A team charter needs to identify the requirements of the business, the needs of the employees and how they meet. It’s a collaborative exercise.

Team Charter Framework:

  • ALIGN PEOPLE & PURPOSE. Agree what you need to deliver.
  • DEFINE POSSIBILITIES. What could flex working look like for you as a team? For example, a call centre with extended hours that benefits both customers and staff. There will always be at least one possibility.
  • IDENTIFY NEEDS. Whether there is a need for more trust, communication or collaboration to make it work.
  • ENSURE SUCCESS. What does success look like? How ill you measure the outcomes.
  • COMMITMENTS. A set of rules for the new future/new culture.


 To meet the business growth strategy in the FSCS, within the traditional financial sector they were in, required the company to completely change the way they worked. They needed to develop a new business vision from scratch.

To develop this, David introduced a business formula that addressed the changing world of work and how the organisation navigated it, called ‘What really works’ – a four box model, developed at Harvard. It asked four crucial questions:

  • Strategy – is your organisation’s strategy sharply defined, clearly communicated, and well understood by employees, customers, members, partners, and stakeholders?
  • Execution – do you deliver products and services that consistently meet your customers’ and members’ expectations?
  • Culture – does your organisational culture help or hinder your organisational performance?
  • Structure – does your organisational structure reduce bureaucracy and simplify work by promoting collaboration and the exchange of information across the whole company?

After aligning the business vision with a newly defined Strategy, Execution, Culture and Structure with flexible working at the heart, a brand-new Employee Value Proposition was born: “This is an organisation that makes a difference and where you can make a difference”.


At the FSCS:

  • 87% of staff work flexibly on an informal basis. 3% have made formal flexible requests. 9 out of 10 employees take advantage of flexibility.
  • In the employee survey; “The work we do here makes a positive difference to society”- a score of 93%.
  • Customer satisfaction 2020. At a record 83% (compared with 59% in 2017).

As part of the session, Dagmar asked everyone to note on post-its: “What inspired you about the session, surprised you and what did you take away and use within your business? Here are some of the comments:

  • Trust breached = performance issue
  • Inclusion
  • Trust vs Control
  • Progress not perfection
  • Choice
  • Will this make the boat go faster?
  • Build Trust
  • Small steps for a big change
  • Managers + colleagues need to be honest
  • Why wouldn’t you do flexible working?
  • Fairness is not everyone is treated the same
  • Guiding principles for managers before launch
  • Flex working is possible, even in a factory
  • Managers need to feel are part of the change – not that it’s just happening to them.








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