How to create an effective flex policy
An open and transparent flexible work policy is critical to fostering an effective, collaborative and healthy workplace, where people feel supported if they choose to work flexibly and where meaningful and rewarding career opportunities are available. The following article includes practical advice on developing and implementing a flex policy.
This article was written and compiled as part of a set that draws on four flexibility toolkits developed by the Champions of Change Architecture Group, with the aim of contributing to flexible work cultures within the wider architecture profession.
Developing and implementing comprehensive flexibility policies was at the core of the Champions of Change Architecture Group’s initial program of activity. After extensive work, all practices have All Roles Flex policies in place, and the focus is now on embedding flexibility into the cultures and everyday habits of the workplace. To support this transition the Champion Action Groups developed a suite of toolkits. The Champions and Implementation Leaders are now keen to share the knowledge assembled and the processes developed with the wider architectural profession.
An effective flex policy provides clarity for those seeking to work flexibly, while promoting a collaborative culture where teamwork and engagement are central to success. The policy must reflect the values, cultures and aspirations of the practice, and those who lead it. A policy should be an active document embedded within the life of the practice. Easily accessible to all, it should be reviewed on a regular basis. Leaders must wholeheartedly stand behind a flex policy if it is to succeed in its implementation.
Flexible working is first and foremost a matter of culture. The policy supports this culture. To make flexibility work, a practice needs a strong group of trusted professionals who understand flexibility as a tool and an important way of working. The ability of a practice to take advantage of flexibility will always depend on a relationship of trust and reputation, of reliability and clear communication within the office.
This article offers an approach to developing and implementing a flex policy, based in the experiences of the Champions of Change Architecture practices. It is organised into four sections:
1. Developing a Flex Policy
A five step guide
2. Flexible Work Matrix
Available for download
3. Components of a Flexible Work Policy
Including examples that may be adapted
4. Tools to support implementing a Flexible Work Policy
Including tools to download:
- Communication Wish List
- How to Prepare a Flexibility Proposal (for employees)
- Roles and Responsibilities to Availability Guide
- Remote Working Advice Checklist
- Protocols Supporting Flex
DEVELOPING A FLEX POLICY
The first step in developing a policy is to understand the context – both across the industry and within your practice.
Step 1 – Review your practice profile, research best practice and develop the business case
Identify where your practice is currently, and research legal obligations and best practice.
Research industry standards and best practice
There is a substantial body of material available to support those developing flexible work policies, within architecture and in Australian workplaces more broadly. Other articles in this set are an excellent place to start, as is the Parlour Guide to Flexibility. What is Flexibility and Why does it Matter? provides a broad overview, the Case Studies document experiences of other practices, while the Resources provides useful link to advice and research elsewhere.
Understand your legal obligations as an employer
The Fair Work Act 2009 provides employees with the right to request flexible working conditions, provided they have been employed for 12 months and they fall into one of a number of categories, most of which relate to caring responsibilities, health, ability, age and domestic violence. The Fair Work Ombudsman notes that best practice employers should go beyond their minimum legal obligations and let all employees request flexible work arrangements, giving their employees flexibility where possible to help them balance their work and personal lives.
Collate data to help understand your practice
A good starting point in the policy design process is to understand the current position of the practice – what models of flexible work are currently in use? What are your team’s general expectations around Flex?
This is helpful to understand the lie of the land, even if all expectations aren’t catered for within the final policy. Indeed, expectation management (at all levels) is also an important part of the design and implementation process.
Depending on the size of your practice, this phase could occur through individual conversations, group consultations (such as a Listening and Learning session), a practice-wide survey, or all of the above. The advantage of a survey is that it will allow you to track patterns of flexible working overtime.
Metrics examined can include:
- Measuring existing flexible working arrangements
- Measuring productivity and utilisation rates
- Understanding the data in terms of gender and other demographic factors
- Identifying patterns
- Exploring what factors are influencing these patterns
Step 2 – Understand where your practice is at and what needs to change
The next step is to articulate the practice’s aims and ambitions for flexible work, identify what can be improved and where the practice wants to be, and the timeframes for this to occur. The Flexible Work Matrix provides a useful tool for assessment.
Step 3 – Develop and implement the policy
It is important to develop and implement a policy and procedure that fits the language and culture of the practice.
- Agree on principles that frame the policy
- Create systems for managing information and communications
- Develop processes and protocols
- Prepare and customise policy and procedures
Step 4 – Testing and review
The introduction of a flex policy is not a set and forget situation. Successful implementation requires continuous monitoring and feedback from employees, managers and employers.
- Schedule regular check ins with staff and leadership
- Monitor the progress of the changes implemented through the flex policy
- Set up a review period with your staff and leadership team (for example, every three months)
- Assess if changes need to be made or better systems developed to help manage the flex initiatives
Step 5 – Ongoing measurement and refinement
Regular staff surveys and analysis of metrics are key to the ongoing success and relevance of your flex policy.
- Survey staff
- Run focused listening and learning sessions
- Review utilisation rates
- Review policy and make any improvements required
- After 12 months, survey your staff again
- Review the metrics
- Has there been improvement?
- Has there been a change in productivity and is this due to flex or other factors?
- How can you finetune your flex initiatives?
- What will you commit to in the next year?
FLEXIBLE WORK MATRIX
The Flexible Work Matrix is a useful tool for assessing where your practice is, and identifying where it wants to be. It provides a detailed outline of flex considerations and options, and is useful as both a planning tool and a framework for discussion.
It documents four phases – from an inflexible workplace, to three stages of flexibility (base case, enhanced and best practice). Each practice can track where they currently are against each consideration and where they want to be.
You can download a clean copy of the following PDF of the Flexible Work Matrix.
COMPONENTS OF A FLEX POLICY
A Flexible Working Policy includes a range of components. There is no one-size fits all, and each policy should reflect the values and culture of the practice. This section offers an outline of key components and examples that can be used as the basis for practices to develop their own policy.
Establishing the principles that underpin the policy helps to guide its development and integrate it into the culture of the practice. Principles provide an important framework for assessing the detail of a policy and its impact and implementation.
An example of such principles is offered below, developed by the Champions of Change Flexibility Action Group. Each practice should tailor the principles to suit the particulars of their practice:
- Flexibility is about maximising productivity and value; offering flexibility ensures that the practice can hire and retain the best and brightest staff.
- The foundation of successful flexible working is trust and communication. No arrangement can work without this.
- There are different ways to work flexibly – some flexibility is structural (formal flex) and some is incidental (Informal flex).
- Flexibility is a two–way street – sometimes you get it, and sometimes you give it.
Processes, protocols and procedures
A policy should outline the procedures for developing and implementing formal flex agreements under the flex policy. These flexible working arrangements are individually negotiated and approved on a case-by-case basis. It is also important to note that flexible work arrangements may not be appropriate for all roles.
The following are offered as an example of flexible policy procedures and considerations that may be adapted to suit.
Applying for Flex
- Discuss with your HR/practice manager and director.
- Confirm your application in writing.Assessment will be undertaken by your HR/practice manager. Any
amendments will be discussed and agreed with you.
- A formal approval will be provided to you in writing within 21 days
of your application.
- The approval will form an amendment to your contract.
- Confirm what % of work is to be undertaken in the studio.
- Confirm what % of work is to be taken outside of the studio.
- [Insert company name] has a minimum policy of % in time to be
spent in the studio.
- Complete the remote working checklist.
- Core hours are defined between 9am and 5.30pm as per your
- Anything outside this will be considered and requires prior
- Anything less than five days per week will be considered and requires prior approval.
Periodic calendar shifts
- Planned shifts must be applied for in writing.
- [Insert your approach to this here]
Communications and management
- Roster of days made available to all staff
- Calendar sharing
- Daily email updates
- Trial period of three months before formalising
- Review period is three months unless otherwise agreed
- Adjustments to the flexible arrangement may be required before
- Annual review
A flex policy should identify the responsibilities of the employer and employee in implementing the policy.
The following are offered as an example that may be adapted to suit.
- Encourage effective, open and transparent communication.
- Provide business software and reasonable remote IT telephone support that allow working outside of the studio.
- Provide team support system to ensure flexible work arrangements do not impact project deliverables.
- Provide clarity on time expectations for business and team structures.
- Encourage a culture of trust, supportive of flexible working.
- Discuss implications to change of contact (for example, leave and salary entitlements).
- Endeavour to schedule meetings, which suit flexible working arrangements.
- Encourage effective, open and transparent communication.
- Carefully assess and analyse flexible working needs and communicate these clearly.
- Be prepared to offer flexibility in return to support others.
- Be aware of the impact your flexibility has on the time management of others.
- Be a positive example for flexible working to assist with cultural change.
- Be prepared to refine your flexible working arrangements to benefit all.
- Ensure access to electronic diaries for management and team members and complete the “out of office” form.
- Record your “out of office” time in your diary and provide a contact number.
- When working in a remote location, work in an environment that is distraction free and conducive to productive activity with [Insert company name] business remaining the primary focus.
- Employees should not be caring for infants or primary school aged children during the hours they will be working, unless otherwise agreed.
- Provide appropriate hardware to enable effective communication with the studio.
IMPLEMENTING POLICY AND SUPPORTING FLEXIBLE WORK
Flexible working arrangements require clear, strategic communication about the types of flexibility available, employer and employee obligations regarding flexibility, and the process to apply for and monitor the arrangements. Overt support and participation from practice leaders is also important.
The following tools and guidelines will assist with implementation.
Communication is essential to ensuring that everyone understands their options and obligations. It is also fundamental to de-stigmatising flex working, and embedding it with the everyday life of the practice.
Consider supporting the policy with a set of frequently asked questions and providing examples of how people are already working flexibly within the practice or elsewhere. It is also helpful to debunk some of the myths that dog flexible work.
The following Communication Wish List outlines a broad range of communication needs. You can also download the following PDF of the Communications Wish List.
Agree on a flexible working arrangement
- Discuss if it is a formal or informal flex arrangement, ad hoc or ongoing.
- Review period of flex arrangement (for example, every three months).
- Set up a trial period to iron out any issues.
Maintain a successful flexible working arrangement
- Set up regular check-ins with the person you are reporting to and your team.
- Inform external parties.
- Inform your colleagues.
- Ensure you stay connected – virtually and face to face.
- Set personal boundaries.
- Convey availability to colleagues.
- Flexibility training including how to use communication tools.
- Clarify roles and responsibilities.
- Clarify program and deadlines.
- Effectively manage reasonable workloads and expectations.
- Schedule flexible hours – contact vs non-contact.
- Discuss expectations of availability during business or after hours.
- Be flexible to adjust if situation changes.
Culture, attitude and entitlement
- Foster a culture of trust.
- Communicate expectations of deliverables/productivity.
- Clarify aspirations and expectations.
- Acknowledgement of efforts.
Supporting employees to develop a formal request
Educate and support employees who wish to prepare a Flexibility Proposal to work under Formal Flex. The following could be included as an appendix to the policy, or provided on other internal communication platforms.
Employees should be encouraged to address the following items when preparing their proposal:
- Clarify whether your proposal falls under the Fair Work Act 2009.
- Confirm proposed hours of work.
- Confirm proposed location of work.
- Confirm start and end dates.
- Consider benefits and challenges of flexible working.
- Consider team and project communication.
- Consider the impact of flexible work on your team and how this could be mitigated.
- Consider additional resources to support flexible working.
- Consider a funding model for any additional resources.
- Consider technologies that may support flexible working.
- Clarify support needed to work flexibly.
- Clarify opportunities where you can be flexible about your flexibility.
- Consider the review process.
- Consider the impact on your employment contract (for example, leave).
Roles and Responsibilities to Availability Guide
This brief guide outlines roles and responsibilities typically undertaken by a project architect / manager who is recognised as having leadership qualities, and suggests how some might be redistributed to a director and a 2IC (second in-charge) when the project architect / manager is working part-time or flexibly.
The intention is to ensure that the projects are adequately resourced and managed while enabling a promising staff member to maintain a leadership role while working flexibly.
You can download the following PDF of the Roles and Responsibilities / Availability Guide.
Remote Working Advice Checklist
Remote working can be incredibly convenient for balancing work with outside demands and pursuits, but it also can be isolating and requires a significant amount of self-discipline. The following checklist covers useful advice on keeping WFH on track.
- Take appropriate breaks to ensure repetitive actions are not continued for long periods. Breaks involve stretching and changing of posture, and possibly alternating activity.
- Check you have a comfortable posture.
The work environment
- Check the level of illumination and location of lighting fixtures are suited to the activity.
- Check there are sufficient levels of ventilation and thermal comfort.
- Check the location, height and other physical characteristics of furniture and computer/s are suited to the task, and take into consideration other factors (for example, egress routes, direction of light source).
- Check walkways are clear of clutter and trip hazards such as trailing electrical cords.
- Make an agreement about a reasonable communication system between you and your project director / team.
- Take breaks every 30 minutes of keyboarding and stand at least once per hour.
- Keep wrists upright while typing and make sure they are not supported on any surface while typing.
- Maintain an upright or slightly reclined sitting posture, ensuring a slight hollow in lower back.
- Use your hand to hold telephone receiver or wear a headset (no cradling).
- Break up long periods of continuous computer use by performing other tasks.
- Set up your workstation and establish boundaries around your work hours with your partner, children and/or house mates.
- Schedule regular meetings and catch ups with your Director, team and clients to help you maintain ongoing contact and foster positive working relationships.
- Stay connected via phone, email and/or online (via zoom, instant messaging platforms, etc) to keep you across latest developments with work, your team and the studio.
- Use outdoor spaces where possible when you take breaks and try to incorporate some exercise or other activity as part of your working day.
- Play music or listen to the radio to create a harmonious working environment.
- Identify any potential distractions and put strategies in place to minimise them (for example separating your workstation from the rest of the house).
Protocols supporting flex
Download the PDF of the following protocols supporting flex.
Establish a communication hierarchy. For example, if it’s urgent pick up the phone or text. Use Teams or Zoom as the primary method to communicate, and emails for external or more complex communication.
Mixed mode meetings
If one person is remote, make sure everyone uses VC to meet. If you have one, bring your laptop (silent and mute) to the physical meeting and join the VC to improve face to face communication. Use the hand up tool before jumping in to speak.
Give at least one weekly all staff VC update from your leadership group on news, projects etc.
Use the whiteboard
Use virtual whiteboarding tools such as Miro or Microsoft Whiteboard to improve online collaboration.
Show your face
Have your camera turned on to improve communication. Make impromptu calls and drop by. Everyone needs a webcam both in the office and at home. Make sure you use headphones when on VC in the office to avoid disturbing your team.
Where are you?
Have a shared platform providing a summary of everyone’s part-time arrangements (intranet, weekly updates or similar). Also indicate in a more detailed shared diary: your working times and your working location. Schedule quiet time in your diary if you need uninterrupted time. Get in the habit of checking people’s diary before you arrange a meeting or call.
Have a shared central place to track tasks and ensure they get picked up by your team. Mention people in threads and at least give a thumbs up when you receive a message that you will action.
Trial working with VC on in the background so you can have a casual conversation with colleagues even when you are not on the same project.
Host a weekly informal interactive social event (for example, virtual drawing, origami, print making).
Join the club
Encourage a range of scheduled online wellbeing events, such as Yoga, Pilates etc.
Small group communication is best
Establish an organisational diagram based on networks of small clusters that suit your company
structure and project team. Establish a frequency for catch ups that keeps regular face time but leaves enough time to work independently (for example, one daily 15-minute catch up with your project team, and one weekly one-hour catch up with your wider managerial group).
There are no geographic boundaries ¬– take advantage of virtual connections. Establish training and mentoring programs that can occur regardless of physical location (for example, one on one mentoring, skills and professional development group sessions, CPD sessions, buddy systems). Invite your junior team to listen in to meetings where possible.
This article was written and compiled by Justine Clark and Susie Ashworth as part of a set that draws on the four flexibility toolkits, created by the Champions of Change Architecture Group. Valuable assistance was given by Monica Edwards and Susanne Jensen of the CoC Architecture Group Advocacy and Comms Focus Group.
Contributors to the CoC toolkits include Joe Agius (COX), John Prentice (Woods Bagot), Brian Clohessy (BVN), Susanne Jensen (COX), Jessica Hartany (Bates Smart), Thihoa Gill (Grimshaw), David Tordoff (Hayball), Sandeep Amin (at the time DesignInc), Chi Melhem (at the time Tzannes), Gemma MacDonald (DKO), Nicole Allen (Grimshaw), Karyn Dodman (Tzannes), Tara Keast (DesignInc), Natalie Lane-Rose (at the time Bates Smart), Karen Le Provost (PTW), Fiona Martin (Fiona Martin Consulting) and Monica Edwards (SJB).
Images courtesy of BVN, Woods Bagot and COX Architecture.