An organisational response to family-friendly practices in the workplace

Walking home from the train station in the midst of winter for the third day in a row, I felt miserable. I hadn’t been productive in my contract role that day. I hadn’t planned my time well or produced anything of quality. We had given the kids some panadol early that morning knowing that if they could just get through one more day where we were paying more for daycare than I was earning, then financially we’d be fine….

As I walked in the rain, I began to cry. Sob. Grieve. Is this what having it all meant? I considered my life before children, and at that moment, I did not feel deserving of my many hats. I had few friends who understood my torture. And those around me didn’t realise that this wasn’t a choice. I felt isolated and terribly alone.

Truthfully I just wanted to curl up in a ball and hide; the world was starting to see through the cracks and realise that I was indeed a failure. A failed employee, friend, mother and wife.

Building a better life? At the time it didn’t feel like that.
Circular 2013. Working 5 days per week. Leaving 7.30am and home around 6:30pm

I wish someone had tapped me on the shoulder and re-directed my efforts. Helped me to prioritise and find another way to support my career, work commitments and my family. It would have made this short time a little more bearable, and my productivity would have demonstrated a commitment to organisational effectiveness.

Employees may not have the skill set or time to identify, reassess and prioritise their working conditions. Organisations could, therefore, benefit with less turnover providing education and support in building a resilient workforce

With the electronic advancements available, there is no reason for long hours in the workplace, particularly if your role is not client facing. Flexible work arrangements are designed to offer variations to standard work which may include flexible work hours (i.e. dropping kids off at school and then going to work), telework, provision of various leave types (purchase leave for example), and family friendly practices or elder-care assistance programs.

However equally important is the need to support and educate employers and employees alike on becoming efficient outside the office and break the stigma associated to those working, and presumably slacking off at home.

As part of the 10 National Employment Standards (NES), all workplaces within Australia must offer employees working for greater than 12 months, flexible work arrangements. How often though have you heard colleagues say, ‘Oh she’s “working from home” is she?’ We need to educate organisations that flexible work conditions are no longer a gesture of goodwill or a privilege for some, it is now a legal requirement; to offer a working environment which is supportive of lifestyle, especially when there are care responsibilities. An employee should not be made to feel awkward for requesting this. Instead for sustainability and growth, an organisation might consider embracing and provide education of providing flexible work conditions with the most productive as possible.

Working from home requires some set up. It is helpful to receive the electronic means to encourage productivity yet equally important to provide some guidance and support on how to work effectively.

Listed below are standard 101’s  to improve workplace performance and productivity when working away from the office:

 

  1. a) Write a ‘To Do’ list at work before your flexible work day. Write down a small list and what you will need to support this task (files, references, materials, contacts, file access). Tasks should be independent, autonomous work only. Allow time for your day at work to manage the tasks effectively to be completed at home.

 

  1. b) Concentrate on doing one thing at home and do it well. Report writing could be a good task for flexi days. Ensure you have access to required systems, files, supporting data, content material standard layout template and outline of your work.  Also, a  standard template to start reports.  There is nothing more annoying than being at home and leaving your work in the office.

 

  1. c) Email all the work you have done at home to your work email address. Before the end of the day email the work that you have completed at home.  It feels like you’ve achieved something and anything that needs adding could be added to the next  ‘To Do’ list. When you get into the office the next day, you already will have things to go on with and work available to present immediately

 

 

  1. d) Limit distractions. While working from home, switch off your work email, your phone (if possible) and anything else which beeps and causes distraction. You can waste a lot of time at home unless you limit distractions. The quiet at home allows for report writing, idea generating. It is not a place for ‘busy work’.  Also try to set the washing machine, dishwasher on outside of working hours.  It is distracting to have them on during the day.

 

  1. Have a tidy desk! Your desk should not include kids homework, school projects, bills or anything else other than your work. Working from home should be seen as similar to working at work – if your boss dropped by, how would she react to your environment?

 

 

  1. Set your hours of work. For those with young children something along the lines worked well:

6.30am – 7.30am         Set out work desk, start the outline of report (1 hour)

10.00am – 1.30pm      Start first draft (3.5 hours)

2.00pm – 3.15pm        Complete first draft / Start second draft (1.25 hours)

7.30pm – 9.30pm        Final draft, reading (2 hours)

Total (quality) hours = 7.75 hours

These hours work well with school pick-ups and after school activities.  And you will get more done with the breaks in between.

 

 

  1. c) Tell the kids and any well-meaning friends that you are not at home that day. Never tell children that you are working from home. Never! You’ll be surprised just how often they get sick and need to take a day off from school/kinder. You have to go to work, and you have lots of important meetings. ‘Here’s a tissue dear, you’ll be fine’.

 

  1. d) Everything. Washing, cleaning, ironing, cooking and whatever else you can think that may free you of some time. I’ve yet to meet superwoman. These things take time and time is something you don’t have, it is time you could try to spend with your kids.  Working from home does not mean working on anything other than the work that you would otherwise do in the office.

 

 

  1. e) People pleaser. The ‘mother’s guilt’ syndrome may entice you to do more odd jobs because you want to a hands-on mum (on your flexible work day). Don’t fall for ‘mothers guilt’. Again you are no superwoman, and that is just going to run you ragged and will not support your choice to include flexibility with your work.  No one will appreciate this extraordinary effort (least of all your employer), and you will still feel judged. Mothers guilt lingers on, so I am told well until your kids have grandchildren.  The quicker we can just say ‘I can’t do that’ the greater chance there is to reduce these enormous expectations.  If you opt for flexi work conditions i.e. working from home, then make sure you are working just as hard (if not harder) than you would at work.

 

Functional Flexibility refers to the ability of employees to work a variety of different tasks and functions as required by the business operations.

 

For employers concerned about the impact of offering flexibility, there are a few things which can support workplace changes:

 

  1. Desk sharing. Renting employee desk space is expensive. For those interested in flexi-work, introduce a policy around desk sharing. You won’t need to expand seating or provide additional places as the business grows. It is not uncommon for the larger corporate entities to have 3 people to a desk. There are some apps online which allow you to have your teams manage these arrangements. Reduce rental space and save.

 

  1. Set up a roster. Include those with caring responsibilities and ensure that there is no overlap with functions. Team meetings can also use Go to Meeting – a free app which ensures all can attend.

 

  1. Market flexible initiatives and gain a competitive advantage. Through active marketing campaigns promoting work-life balance, organisations can attract the best talent and leverage their competitive advantage. A terrific selling point when recruiting.

 

  1. Performance Development. Include flexi work conditions as part of a 6 month / annual performance discussion.  Find out how the employee intends to complete their tasks from home and include this within the review. Consider how to better support their goals and talk about some of the challenges of working from home.

 

  1. Workshop flexible working conditions. That is, not every task you set yourself with can be done at 100% of the time. Using a strength based approach, encourage the employee to do what they do well first and the other balls can be picked up later.  Particularly where there are caring responsibilities.

 

  1. Ensure policies and procedures are available on the intranet and accessible outside of the office. The home office is now seen as an extension of the office environment. It will therefore have the same applicability about your Code of Conduct.

 

  1. Talk to you employee about how to make things work. Do you need them to be contactable? At what times? What is a reasonable workload? How can the work they intend to do from home be carried out?  Set some guidelines around this and be flexible with your needs and expectations.

 

  1. Offer flexibility rather than layoffs. Imagine a recession where you need to rid 30% of your workforce. Try offering flexibility instead. You may find that your organisation weathers the storm more effectively.  Identifying the ways to address the needs of employees through reducing turnover in various groups and addressing the groups needs is the first step in promoting a resilient, committed and sustainable workforce.

 

Fairwork conclude that flexible working arrangements include:

  • hours of work (e.g. changes to start and finish times)
  • patterns of work (e.g. split shifts or job sharing)
  • locations of work (e.g. working from home)

 

I wish someone had of taught me how I could navigate and provide some tangible ways where I could demonstrate my productivity away from the office.  Prejudices’ come in all sorts of ways, whether this be from well meaning colleagues who suggest you’d be better off at home with the children (I got told this many times!), to the stress faced by leaving children each day in the care of someone else.

 

 

 

 

 

Was the craziness worth it? How long is a piece of string? Do I regret working long hours? Well, we got there, and we tried our best given the circumstances of our lives.  For me, that’s all that anyone can ask.

Flexibility is designed to increase the possibilities of fulfilling many life ambitions; family, career and well-being.  For many professions, being physically located at work is no longer a requirement to demonstrate an employee’s contribution. Studies have shown a Return on Investment (ROI) where productivity levels are enhanced when employees are happy and satisfied.  An ROI indicates that happy and satisfied parents, who are fulfilled professionally and contributing positively in a competitive marketplace, are more likely to work better and have less stress related illnesses.  Most likely employees who are treated well will demonstrate their commitment to your organisation by becoming an active voice, advocating for your organisation and dedication to the working conditions.

 

You can’t beat that.