Flexible working pilot projects in frontline construction jobs boost wellbeing and family life, lead to greater appetite for flexible working and a greater sense of trust, ownership and a better team dynamic with no negative impact on budgets or timeframes, according to a new study.
The study is based on the Timewise Construction Pioneers programme, an 18-month project that has re-designed shift patterns in onsite roles, to enable more flexible working, enhanced wellbeing and improved work-life balance. Participants were BAM Construct, BAM Nuttall, Skanska UK and Willmott Dixon. The pilots ran between June 2020 and February 2021.
The aim was to test whether it is possible to improve the wellbeing of those working on site through changing the hours and times of working, as well as considering home-based working where possible, and to do so without budgets or deadlines being affected, across a range of sites and projects. The pilots took place in a range of locations, from an HS2 site in London through to a substation build near Weston Super Mare, amongst teams employing between 14 and 120 workers.
In addition to wellbeing, the case for the project included decreased absence rates and greater gender equality.
Location based roles
Timewise used a system it has developed for location-based roles which need to cover a long working day – which it calls the ‘shift-life balance’ model. It tested different types of flexible working across the different sites:
- BAM Construct: tested a team-based approach to flexible working through a consultative method of setting shifts that takes workers’ personal preferences into account.
- BAM Nuttall: tested a flexi-day approach in which workers could accumulate additional hours in exchange for one day off each month. A large portion of workers were living away and preferred to tag a flexi-day onto a weekend, to enjoy extended time at home.
- Skanska UK: tested earlier starts and finishes through both an output-based model where the foreperson works with a planner to develop a more detailed version of the schedule of work, broken down into weekly and daily objectives, and sets working hours based on outputs to be delivered per day and a staggered approach where the foreperson alternates start times between the teams each week, so that all workers get the pattern they want every other week and are given a choice of break times.
- Willmott Dixon: Willmott Dixon supported commitments they had already made to staff (to limit hours worked to 45 hours per week inclusive of breaks and to ensure that an agile working plan is in place for all teams and on all new projects).
The flexible working pilot project achieved the following:
- a 75% increase in a sense of wellbeing – participants who felt their working hours gave them enough time to look after their own health and wellbeing rose from 48% to 84%.
- a decrease in overwork – participants agreeing that they regularly work beyond their contracted hours decreased from more than half, to just over a third (51% to 34%).
- a fall in guilt – at the start of the project, nearly half of all participants felt guilty of they started later or finished earlier than others onsite. This portion decreased to a third (47% to 33%).
- an increase in trust in colleagues working remotely – respondents agreeing with the following phrase: “if someone works from home, I am not sure they are working as hard as they would be on site” decreased from 48% to 33%.