The Flex-factor and How to Achieve it

I think we’ve all been there in a workplace at some stage in our career. It’s 4pm and somebody is packing up their stuff and going home because of a family commitment and as they leave a colleague loudly tuts and under their breath mutters ‘they’re off early again’.  For me, this typifies the difference between an organisation that allows flexible working and an organisation that lives, breaths and enables it.

It is one thing to say that you have flexible working practices, but it is another to demonstrate that you embrace them. Personally, I am a strong believer that people should be measured on their outputs alone and time at your desk doesn’t represent the quality of your output. Work is something that we do, not a place we go to and shouldn’t be measured by the amount of time you’re in the office. When talking about this very issue Justine Roberts (CEO and Founder of MumsNet) questions why new roles aren’t considered flexible by default, “What lies behind this reluctance? Part of the explanation, presumably, comes down to inertia. Then there is the surprisingly tenacious preference for measuring performance by the number of hours worked, rather than by the results achieved or targets met.”

Flexible working extends beyond the legal framework for making a request or allowing people to work part-time. It’s about creating a culture of flexibility by empowering employees to configure their own work to enable them to maximise their delivery. It makes sense that when you have great individuals that you trust them to deliver the work that we have promised to deliver. Give them the freedom of when they undertake this work and where from (also ‘how’, but that’s a topic for another day) and your outcomes will feel the benefit.

DevOpsGuys is a place where we truly embrace this philosophy. Flexible working is about integrating work around your home life. This could mean working remotely, it could mean working unconventional hours or an emergency coming up and you having to leave. Nobody tuts, nobody mutters comments under their breath and I’d be confident that if they did somebody would politely remind the tutting individual that we don’t do that here.

Sure, there are always deliverables which will sometimes require specific attendance at specified times and this is unavoidable. But a strong team working ethos (see our core value ‘Team Work Matters’) ensures that having a flexible working culture means it shouldn’t impinge on delivery. Flexibility isn’t about compromise, it’s about maximising peoples’ (and team) performance. I can’t foresee a circumstance where you’ll have an employee maximising their potential when they know they’re doing it at the expense of something in their personal or family life.

We’re really lucky here at DevOpsGuys, our founders James Smith and Steve Thair believe that success shouldn’t come at all costs. We don’t want to burn people out, people have lives beyond work which ultimately takes priority. If you genuinely care about your staff, you want them to be happy and fulfilled with work balancing alongside life and family commitments. But it’s not just about being ‘nice’, truly embracing a flexible approach to work will help the bottom line. It’s as much a sensible business decision rather than an ethical one.

If you need proof, there are plenty of studies that have demonstrated the value to business for adopting a culture of flexibility.  A study by the SHRM foundation found that adopting a more

flexible working culture will benefit employee engagement, retention and job satisfaction. This has obvious benefits as enhanced engagement is shown to increase discretionary effort (and thus the overall output of the individual). In addition to this, in the skills-shortage, candidate led jobs market we have within the tech sector, staff retention and the cost-to-hire are very valid concerns. Equally a study undertaken by Vodafone found that 86% of employers found that employees demanded flexible working, with 54% of employees feeling that it made them more productive. If you can truly embrace a flexible working culture you’ll also be able to reach out to a more diverse group of candidates when recruiting which can only be positive when trying to source the best talent.  If you factor in other benefits such as the reduction in overheads, reduction in sickness absence and the ability of some staff to handle business requirements in less conventional hours it seems a no-brainer that a culture of flexible working is a great way to give business performance a boost.

There are always lessons to be learnt when it comes to people and culture, but here are our top 3 ways to help you develop a culture of flexible working:

  1. Get the buy-in from the top

James and Steve strongly believe this and this has been filtered down through the organisation. Ensure that your leaders at all levels ‘walk the walk’. If you have a culture where a senior leader misses an important life event of one of their family and wears it as a badge of honour, what message does it send to everyone else in the organisation? 

  1. Call out people’s misconceptions and poor attitude towards flexible working

You hear the tut or comments about somebody’s working practices? Call it out. Make sure people are aware that it’s not acceptable. We’re all accountable to each-other here at DevOpsGuys and our internal culture belongs to us all. It’s important that people feel safe to call this out and this emotional safety goes beyond flexible working, but it certainly helps.

  1. Focus on outputs

Instil a culture of focusing on what people produce, not when they produce it or whether they were sat at their desks for 10 hours to make it. People have families here, they work with charities, have groups they attend, social events, they workout, they’ve had emergencies, they’re busy people both inside and outside of work. But every single one of them delivers excellent work. Do we all do it 9-5, Monday to Friday from our office? No. Sure that works for some people, but that’s never how we will measure the success of what we do.

At DOG we’ve seen real benefits of embracing a flexible working culture, with low sickness absence and near non-existent voluntary staff turnover. Whilst it’s important not to necessarily link correlation with causation, it’s supported by the fact that staff use their annual leave for holidays, rest and relaxation, rather than ad hoc life events and doctors’ appointments. One thing is for sure, we won’t be changing our stance on flexible working anytime soon.

Written by Ryan Cullen (@RyanDC86) who is the People Partner at DevOpsGuys, responsible for the people function and making DevOpsGuys a great place to work.

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Readers Comments (2)

  • Hi !
    This is Nadil

    Great Post!
    Agree with your above points, and above facts will lead to success as said. But I dont feel all the points would suite for startup tech companies where we allow flexible working hours(we don’t panic when they come in). for startups should continuously focus on their productivity rather worrying about other things!. Because a lot probability is there to fail.

    I feel great that one of my ex-colleague Clara works here!
    Wish all the very best for DevOpsGuys and May this new year would bring you lot of success!

    Thanks

    Regards
    Nadil

    • Hi Nadil,

      Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and your comments.

      Is it that you feel that productivity for a start-up company is it’s biggest area of risk and that being flexible as an organisation is a risk to this?

      My personal opinion is that the two are not mutually exclusive. Providing staff with flexibility and allowing them to undertake activities at a time or in a location that suits them will not only enhance the quality of what they deliver, but also enhance their engagement in their work. Enhanced engagement has been shown to increase the amount of discretionary effort that an individual puts into their work – this alone can be a catalyst for productivity.

      In addition to this, if a start up organisation fails to be flexible in its approach to staff (and I mean truly flexible as described within the blog) it may struggle to retain it’s best staff as increasingly employees are prioritising work that better interlocks with their personal life.

      There is some excellent research that has been undertaken surrounding the topic of flexible working (a good study is here https://timewise.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Timewise-Flexible-Jobs-Index-2017.pdf) and it’s increased demand from talent. It also shows that if you can be flexible with your staff you’ll have a wider net when it comes to attracting and retaining the best talent in a very competitive market-place.

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