A personalised approach to flex

Louise Moloney was involved in a pilot programme at Roche to find a more flexible form of flexible working that works for everyone.

Louise Moloney


Pharmaceutical company Roche was already fairly flexible before Covid, but has recently rolled out a pilot programme which takes that flexibility a step further. That programme and other flexibility introduced in the last two years has won it WM People’s Best for Flexible Working Award.

Louise Moloney is not only a beneficiary, but was in the group who piloted the programme. She is one of several Group Heads of Safety Operations at Roche and has been at the company for 22 years.  She says that, although more flexible than most in the past, the degree of flexibility offered depended a lot on individual line managers.  Before Covid, she would generally be in the office three days a week, but sometimes she would be in more often if her work demanded it. In the past employees would have to ask for permission to take a longer lunch off to take time off for the doctor or dentist.

“We had more flexible working than many other organisations, but it was not as full and true as it is now where we are empowered to make our own decisions,” says Louise.

She was part of a small group, which included HR representatives and people from different parts of the business, who came together because they were very passionate about improving work for everyone. They discussed doing away with a flexible working policy and replacing it with three guardrails around when, where and how you work, looking after yourself and supporting your colleagues. For instance, if working on a global project with US colleagues you may need to ensure you are working in a time period where you cross over. The look after yourself guardrail was to prevent people overworking by, for instance, doing compressed days on a regular basis.

The guardrails were shared with line managers and line managers were given different scenarios so they could think about what they would do if different circumstances presented.

Louise said the guardrails led to team discussions where issues of fairness were openly debated and a reasonable solution found. They also mean that Roche employees are treated like adults rather than told what they can and can’t do.

How we roll flexible programme

The programme that emerged from the pilot was dubbed How we roll and it only began two months before the Covid lockdown in 2020 when many in the company had to work from home. It was rolled out more widely from September 2020.

Although more people have been going into the office of late, numbers on site have been limited for Covid reasons. Louise started going in once a week before Christmas to get a mix of the best of homeworking – being able to drop her children off and start work immediately – and the buzz of the office. Her office building is being refurbished and will have a free gym. Louise acknowledges that the office needs to become more of a “destination” to attract people back. “People have started to question more what the office is for,” says Louise, adding that when she went to the office before Christmas it was all about interacting with and chatting to colleagues. She says she has also become more efficient in the way she uses the office, for instance, she may no longer come in for whole days.

Despite the lifting of restrictions in the wake of Omicron, she says there are lasting cultural changes that remain from the last two years. The main one, thanks to How we roll, is that people no longer feel in any way micromanaged. No-one has to ask permission, for instance, to go for a walk between meetings.

Louise says Covid has accelerated that change.  It also means colleagues have seen inside people’s houses and understand the kind of pressures outside work they might be under whereas before these were hidden. Louise, whose children are aged seven and nine, spent much of the first lockdown living in her bedroom because her house was being renovated and homeschooling her children.

Roche has also brought in a location agnostic hiring process during Covid so they can get the best talent wherever it is. One of Louise’s colleagues, for instance, is based in Northern Ireland and has caring responsibilities. “They add so much to the team,” she says. More remote colleagues are encouraged to come to the office occasionally, but this is not mandatory and advance warning is given.

For Louise, there are not many downsides to the new ways of working. For some working from home can make it more difficult to distinguish work and home life, but Louise recommends walking around the block or closing the door on work to mark the end of the day. “What works for each individual is different and How we roll acknowledges that,” she says.

*All the winners of WM People’s Top Employer Awards will feature in our free Best Practice Report, out soon.

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