Working flexibly

Over the months since the coronavirus pandemic forced everyone across the country to change the way we live our lives, both businesses and individuals have had to make lots of adjustments – for the way businesses and customers interact, and the way employees keep those businesses operating. Those adjustments have then had to be implemented and refined, often at very short notice, over that whole period.

It’s looking now as if it will be quite some time before it’s possible to return to the old ways of doing things, so it’s a good point at which to draw breath, take stock, and take a look to the next few months, and beyond. Does what’s been put in place work, or do we need to change things? If it’s working now, can it continue to work in 3, 6, or even 12 months’ time? And what can we take from the measures that have been adopted to cope with extraordinary conditions and hold on to as life becomes a little more ordinary?

Since March, many thousands of Nationwide employees have been working in ways that weren’t considered appropriate, or even possible, before. Sometimes, that’s because the Society’s investments in new technology appear to have been made as if somebody knew that the pandemic was on its way! But in other cases, managers have had to adopt very creative approaches to ways of working for their teams.

In the past, NGSU has supported members who’ve been seeking more flexible working arrangements, and have often encountered firm resistance from managers who were convinced that the operation would fail entirely if flexibility weren’t kept within some very tightly-drawn boundaries. NGSU has always said that every request should be considered from a “How can we make this work?” mindset, rather than a “nobody else does that” approach. The last few months have demonstrated that with the right creative thinking, very many different approaches can deliver the outcomes that are needed. Indeed, for the past few months, without that creative thinking, the outcomes simply would not have been delivered.

We’re therefore happy to have worked with the Society to revise the Flexible Working Policy. Some of the changes just take out some of the excessive formality, encouraging managers and individuals to reach agreement locally where there is no knock-on impact on pay and allowances. But we also believe that the changes reflect the “How can we make this work?” perspective, encouraging an open conversation of “What if we try X?”, or “Would Y meet the same objective?”. That’s not to say that every request will be accepted straightaway, but we’ve found so many times when we’ve supported members at an appeal that those conversations simply haven’t happened at the earlier stage.

It’s unlikely that there’ll be huge changes from one day to the next, but we hope that the experience of the last few months will help everyone understand that in many cases, a fair degree of flexibility actually allows the business to deliver its outcomes just as effectively (if not more so). And if there’s been a proper conversation about what the employee is seeking to achieve through their request, and what the actual needs of the business are (so it’s not perceived as a manager simply being hostile to any flexibility at all), we’re confident that the end result will be at least as good for the business as a whole as for the particular employee.

We’re obviously keen to hear what your experiences are as the new Policy is taking root in the Society, so let us know – through your Rep, by emailing us at ngsu@ngsu.org.uk, or by calling us on 01295 710767.