Keynote speaker Marisa Williams, from PwC, and five flexible working experts share their practical approaches on how to embed a now crucial, post-pandemic smart working culture. 

Our fourth Flexible Working Action Learning Group was hosted by Emma Cleary of Sussex based recruitment agency Flexibility Matters who, for the past 7 years, has been helping businesses build sustainable teams with flexible workers. Emma explains: “The idea of a hybrid and flexible approach to work has been propelled forward due to the pandemic, so the discussion now is not whether it’s embraced, but how?”

Leading the way with a set of actions, based on their own trials, the Action Learning Group revealed some golden nuggets on smart working implementation. Testament to the relevancy of the topic, over 70 participants benefited from the session which included breakout room discussions for drilling down to the detail.

Keynote speaker Marisa Williams, PwC’s Talent Acquisition and Flexible Careers Network Lead, began by sharing their 22,000-employee strong journey. Commencing in 2017 with a company-wide smart working initiative that empowered employees to decide when and where they worked best led to the launch of ‘Everyday Flexibility’ in 2018. The completely inclusive initiative followed key principles as success drivers: Working differently not less, communication is key, not one size fits all and personal responsibility.

With 2019 being the catalyst to a significant rise in people needing to work differently, ‘The Flexible Talent Network’ and the ‘Contractor Network’ were initiated. They allowed for the business to flex alongside commercial peaks and dips and for workers to choose a pattern of work that fitted with extra life demands, such as homeschooling. By 2020, the initiatives saw PwC emerge as a productivity powerhouse and voted ‘Best Employer for Flexible Working 2021.

Watch Marisa’s presentation here

Following Marisa’s success story, all Action Learning Group leaders took participants into separate breakout rooms to discuss individually how their own smart working practices have been implemented across one of six key stakeholder groups, from new starters to senior management teams and operations. Here are the resulting top three take-aways:

Marissa Williams tackled The Senior Management Team.

  • Communication – ask your people: A policy designed bottom-up that meets the needs of both the business and team individuals is most likely to work and has the highest self-motivation engagement.
  • Analysis & Action: Testing the model with SMTs and analysing it will create a guide that is based on fact and inclusion not opinion, eradicating fear. Champions will then lead by example.
  • Toolkit: Production of a roadmap for managers and team members to use as guidance helps people move from a mindset of needing ‘permission’ to ‘being able to choose flexibility’.

Dagmar Albers, UK Lead on Diversity & Inclusion (Gender Pay Gap) at Pfizer, alongside Undergraduate Ella Warren, tackled New Starters.

  • Duty of Care: Leaders of new starters must be given managerial tools to be able to offer a consistent duty of care, remotely and face to face, with regular check-ins.
  • Trust: Mutually agree on boundaries and responsibilities from the very start.
  • Actively Listen: Graduates, for example, bring a new way of thinking, so to actively listen will both empower them and help to expand and evolve the business culture.

David Blackburn, Chief People Officer at FSCS, recently awarded the Chartered CCIPD in recognition of his pioneering HR work, addressed Middle Management, where flexible working practices often get stuck.

  • Listen, Engage, Act: Listen to what MM teams need to be able to achieve their individual objectives. Provide them with, proven to work, flexible tools and guiding principles, then allow them to manage their own progress.
  • Empower MM to make it work in practical terms: A two-week template, based on what’s worked in other teams, a 40/40 rule that means 40% of employees are in the building 40% of the time, working parameters of 7AM-7PM.
  • Pilot: Think carefully about the teams to pilot, ensuring that it’s with teams that have diverse tasks or need to be in different environments per day.

Jessica Hornsby, 10 years Business Psychologist at Thales, who uses data to prove the positive influence diverse teams have on productivity, addressed ‘Organisational Development’.

  • Strategic Performance Agenda: Following evidence-based research proving that diverse teams perform better, a flexible policy ‘HAS’ to sit within the DNA of the business, not as a HR Agenda.
  • Guiding principles, not rules: Empower teams with a set of principles, not rules, to make their own choices that are best for productivity, recognising the support needed for this shift to happen.
  • Remote Team Charter: For operations to continue their duty of care online as well as face to face, a ‘remote working’ specific team charter to be drawn up for guidance.

Richard Pollins, Managing Partner of DMH Stallard, recently awarded the ‘Gatwick Diamond Business Person of the Year’, led discussions on Teams and Facility Development.

  • Real Estate: Configure office space and relevant tech, asking what NEEDS to be face-to-face: collaboration, coaching, community and creativity.
  • Future proof: Sustain what has been achieved in 6 months, accelerated by the pandemic: paper lite processes, automation, overhead cost reductions, improved efficiencies.
  • Being adaptive: Dynamic leadership that transforms having to work in a flexible way to following a flexible cultural approach that will constantly evolve.

Liane Richardson, HR Director at Thakeham Group, named ‘Best Small Company to work for’ this year, tackled ‘HR Teams’.

  • Sustaining connections: Even if teams are not face-to-face, ensure time is ringfenced for maintaining connection, for example, walking and talking on headphones.
  • Wellbeing: Maintain wellbeing by injecting play and space to talk about non work topics within remote environments: Chair Yoga, Mindfulness, virtual dance classes.
  • Show vulnerability from the top: Initiated from Director level, sharing how people are ‘really feeling’ inspires trust and confidence throughout the business.

Covid-19 has been the biggest test case for flexible working, providing us with clear evidence on how well it can work. Watch this space for more actionable take-aways based on the finer details of this most recent Action Learning Group discussion and for the date of the next one. Keep in touch on 07810541599 or emma@flexmatters.co.uk

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