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Striving for firm wide flexibility

Flexible working. Far from a new phenomenon, but one that is becoming increasingly important for businesses to manage as employees seek out their ideal work-life balance.

Historically seen as a women’s problem [1], flexible working is something that impacts all workers. With some staff in the office between contracted hours of 9am – 5pm; some working flexi-hours to go to a sports training session; and some working remotely several days a week, it is clear that all employees have their own lives, and organisations must be open to working around these.

So how do organisations implement these policies? And how do they empower their senior management to lead by example and ensure the right support is available?

Benefitting the business

While statistics show that 73% of professional services firms had a flexible working arrangement policy [2], businesses are still struggling with their implementation. Indeed, 41% of respondents to a UK Law Society study indicated that their workplaces are currently resisting flexible working practices [3].

It is challenging to put a finger on what exactly the cause of this resistance is, however it is likely that an aversion to change comes into play. Businesses have successfully functioned for many years without flexible working practices, so there is understandably reluctance to change business practices.

Nevertheless, successfully implementing flexible working practices has shown to improve business outcomes with some organisations reporting at least a 13% increase in productivity [4]. Not only that, but flexible working arrangements can lead to significant employee attraction and retention figures [5], and in an increasingly competitive field where employers are all seeking the best talent, having embedded flexible working options could be crucial.

Leading by example

A lack of senior leaders in flexible working arrangements in law firms – and indeed exhibiting behaviours to show their support for flexible working – is a roadblock to the embedding of policies [6].

To successfully implement a new policy, leaders must demonstrate behaviour that signals their belief in it and not just talk about it. The adoption of a flexible working policy in particular relies upon leadership teams’ openness to change and trust in their employees to continue to deliver the high quality work that is expected of them. This obvious interaction with, and indeed belief in, the policy can go a long way to set an example to employees, and show that the organisation really backs the flexible working policy that they are implementing.

Role redesign

To better support flexible working policies for all employees, organisations should also look to redesign roles so that they can be adaptable to fit in with flexible work patterns. It is no longer enough to simply tell an employee that they can work flexibly when their role – in its current form - does not easily enable it.

One step that can be taken to tackle this can be to provide teams with laptops so they can work remotely when required. These measures could also comprise providing home office set up assistance for those who want to work from home and ensuring that senior leaders have a full executive suite of technology including laptops, iPads and iWatches enables them to be mobile and efficient, while also working to the high standard expected of their role.

Flexible working is a business issue that must be addressed and implemented at all levels of an organisation. It takes time and commitment to build up trust in both the policy itself, and the individuals that choose to take up an arrangement. Equipping teams with the right technology and infrastructure to allow flexible working is a good way to start, while taking a more holistic look at roles to see how they can be adapted to better suit flexible arrangements.

It is also important to recognise that flexibility may not suit all individuals, and this is of course perfectly okay. Businesses however need to ensure that all staff – whether or not they want to work flexibly – feel supported in whatever they do.



About the Author

Louise Ferris is Director Human Resources at McCullough Robertson and an expert in the area of human resources management. She provides strategic advice across a broad range of people and culture activities including attraction and retention, culture and the development of leadership capability at all levels of organisations.

Louise has worked in the legal industry for over 25 years and has built a reputation for understanding the business of law and balancing a high performance environment with a supportive and growth mindset. She has a strong interest in dealing with issues through a practical lens and has implemented a number of effective initiatives across the business to drive a sustainable and engaged workforce.

Louise has a particular passion in the area of mental health and wellness and was recognised for her work in 2016 as the winner of the Open Minds Mental Health Week for large employers. More recently Louise was awarded the HR Professional of the Year through Lawyers Weekly.

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