Flexible futures

Accenture won this year's Workingmums.co.uk's Top Employer Award for Innovation in Flexible Working. Here they outline what their plans are for the future and why flexible working is at the hear of their business.

Accenture is about to launch new technology to allow remote workers to see their colleagues while they are talking to them so that they feel less isolated.

The move shows how the global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company puts flexible working at the centre of its business and is constantly looking to innovate and keep ahead of its competitors. For this reason it recently scooped the Workingmums.co.uk Top Employer Award for Innovation in Flexible Working.

Every laptop at Accenture has Office Communicator on it and around 95% of the workforce now have access to this. The next version of the programme will allow staff to be able to see the person they are talking to via computer as each laptop has a camera fitted to it. As staff upgrade their computers they will get access to the new system.

The programme is one of three main prongs of Accenture's provision for remote or mobile workers. The other two are its telepresence video conferencing suites, which give the impression that staff are sitting in the same room as those from other parts of the world who they are video conferencing with, and its 360 degree conferencing which allows the camera to follow the person who is speaking.

“Allowing remote workers to see each other is the next wave of what we are doing,” says Fiona O'Hara, Accenture's Human Capital and Diversity Lead for the UK and Ireland.

Accenture workers can already share their laptop screens remotely. “It's all part of our strategy to support a flexible working culture where people can work any time any place. Location and time are unimportant to a certain extent,” says O'Hara. “We have used the feedback we have had from people who are working remotely some of the time and they wanted to have some face to face element.”

Not many Accenture staff work remotely 100% of the time as the company likes to encourage people to mix home and office-based working, but many work from home or different locations during the week.

Flexible working

Accenture allows all its staff to request flexible working. Over 50% of its staff have formal flexible working arrangements, which includes all different types of flexibility, from flexi-hours and compressed hours to some homeworking and part-time working. “We measure by results,” says O'Hara. “We do not monitor people's time in the office or time online.”

The company extends this to the clients it works with and has begun a new project which focuses on managing clients' expectations. “Clients are paying for a service and want people there when they want them, but they also want the diversity in their teams to match that in our teams," says O'Hara. "We have people in our consulting workforce, especially working mums, who still want to be client facing even if they work flexibly. We want to bring both of them together so we have begun talking upfront about our flexible working policy and how it is a very important part of our policy on retaining talent. We emphasise that having the best talent means we can offer the best service to clients. We tell them we need their help to make this work.”

O'Hara says they tell a client how a particular member of staff works and how they need the client's support to make that work. “We are finding that clients are really trying to embrace diversity, work life balance and flexible working. From the business angle everyone is trying to cut costs like travel, to be more ethical, green and family friendly. There is a big cultural shift going on and the willingness is there,” she says.

Accenture was praised by the Workingmums' judges for being very open about its flexible work and diversity policies. O'Hara says it is no good having the policies if you don't communicate them well. They use their networking groups – Accent on women and Accent on family – to spread information and experiences and get feedback.

The company offers two forms of flexibility – flexible working, including onboarding for women returnees from maternity leave whereby they come back on shorter hours and gradually build them up, and flexible career models, whereby people can keep progressing on the fast track or continue on a slower track for a time while they have greater external responsibilities. O'Hara says Accenture constantly refreshes what it offers to staff, based on staff feedback. It also looks at how it can keep a step ahead of legislation, such as additional paternity leave. On the latter, it is waiting to see what the take-up is. O'Hara says its approach has proved successful in helping to retain staff. Around 95% of women who go on maternity leave return, she says. “We do not want to lose people,” she says. “We prefer to enable them to stay with us by offering them the support they need.”

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