Reimagining our working life with choice, learning and balance

Asian woman work from home during using laptop for teleconference with her team

Laura Probert looks at achieving truly flexible working and learning, and how she’s already done it

In an era where the conventional boundaries of office and classroom have dissolved into the digital landscape, the pursuit of truly flexible working and learning seems like the Holy Grail for contemporary organisations. Yet achieving flexibility isn’t the endpoint but a path that requires constant evolution, experimentation, and a willingness to embrace trial and error.

HR professionals are realising that time and productivity are not directly correlated

The flexible working paradigm shift

At Egress, we ventured toward the utopia of flexibility with the best intentions and jumped in at the deep end: introducing a four-day workweek. Our goal was simple yet ambitious; to balance productivity with well-being. However, as the weeks unfolded, so did unforeseen challenges, particularly with uniform off-days and continued demand for service delivery which meant some employees continued to work five-day weeks. Something seriously had to change, and fast.

We trialled the four-day week for only six weeks, but the evidence was undeniable. Through a detailed post-mortem, we unearthed an unfortunate but not surprising realisation: flexibility cannot follow a one-size-fits-all approach. Being adaptable became the cornerstone of our redesigned strategy, culminating in the birth of our eFlex initiative.

Empowering personal choices

Underscoring the fundamental belief that flexibility isn’t solely about the organisation’s needs but equally about individual autonomy, was our approach. Instead of giving employees a specific day off like a standard four-day week, we instead broke time up into larger and smaller chunks for employees to take when they choose at short notice, which we named eFlex, amounting to 15 additional days of leave on top of holiday allowance.

Our employees now have the freedom to extend their lunch breaks or take extra half-days as needed, aligning their professional responsibilities with their personal lives. Remarkably, this approach to managing flexible working has had a minimal impact on our daily operations and has in fact become a productivity enabler. HR professionals are realising that time and productivity are not directly correlated, and eFlex completely supports this notion, as we’re more productive and successful than ever before.

Not only has this approach been instrumental in enhancing workplace satisfaction, but it has also become a cornerstone for talent attraction and retention. A year and a half into our journey, the initiative stands as a celebrated success story, proof that flexibility, when embraced holistically, can be a potent tool for fostering a happy and productive workforce.

Putting forward a progressive employee benefit to a board can be high pressure but utilising the evidence and showing a willingness to adapt and evolve is critical for people professionals. We’re the customer service for employees and taking a feedback-first approach is essential for progress for both board executives and employees.

Reinventing learning and development

Similar philosophies guide our approach to training and development. Although we’re still at the start of our L&D journey, we are eschewing rigid frameworks, opting instead for a more organic, employee-led approach. Recognising the spectrum of individual needs and ambitions, we foster environments that support a bespoke journey of personal and professional growth.

Hiring an L&D professional is on the wish-list of many organisations, and we’re lucky to have an in-house L&D Director who has already had a huge impact on our commitment to continual learning.

A new frontier in employee development

Our latest trial, two allocated half-days per year, is tFlex. It provides designated time for self-study, exams, or other professional growth activities. Initially piloted with our customer experience and engineering teams, tFlex emerged from our employees’ direct feedback – a collective desire for more time to evolve professionally.

The early signs indicate that this development approach might soon become an integral part of our culture across all teams; once we have evaluated and measured the trial, we hope to mould tFlex to improve our workforce’s overall learning agility. In 2024, it’s important to recognise the correlation between learning, motivation, and job satisfaction, and sow the seeds for a future-ready workforce.

Elevating skills beyond current roles

Our ethos extends beyond the immediate skills required for an employee’s current role. While many organisations view qualifications as peripheral to business needs, often beneficial only for embellishing a CV, we diverge from this mindset. Instead, it’s essential to invest in team members’ all-round development, understanding that this not only enriches them personally but also strengthens the fabric of an organisation’s culture.

We view every skill learned, even those seemingly unrelated to current duties, as a vital piece of our collective growth. Even if the payoff isn’t immediately apparent, investing in a workforce’s skill stack is hugely beneficial; it’s a long-term investment in our people, fostering a sense of value and belonging, and we’re challenging other companies to take this leap of faith.

Embracing the fluidity of flexibility

Flexibility is not a one-size-fits-all solution; it’s an intricate puzzle that demands careful consideration and responsive iteration. We’ve learned that to achieve truly flexible working and learning environments, we must remain attuned to the diverse needs of our employees, promoting initiatives that respect individuality while reinforcing communal objectives.

Our journey has shown that flexibility is a dynamic force – one that must ebb and flow with the tides of innovation and feedback. As we continue to refine our models of working and developing, we invite others to join us in reimagining the future of work: a future rooted in personal choice, continuous learning, and the unyielding pursuit of a balanced, fulfilling professional life.

Laura Probert is Chief People Officer at Egress

Laura Probert

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