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The Financial Services Compensation Scheme has used the Covid pandemic to reassess its flexible working patterns to ensure they are fit for the future.
How are organisations preparing for new ways of working and embedding flexibility? The Financial Services Compensation Scheme has used the break between lockdowns effectively to bring in a new flexible way of working.
FSCS staff, who are classed as key workers, had been mostly homeworking since the first lockdown. The organisation had long promoted flexible working and every job has been fully flexible for the last two years, but research showed many had not made the most of that flexibility. For instance, people only tended to use working from home for specific things. Covid changed all that.
In August, as the first lockdown eased, the FSCS piloted its ‘build back better’ approach to flexible working over a two-week period. They got rid of their core hours of 10am-4pm and introduced a system whereby people could flex their hours between 7am and 7pm. This was to give people more flexibility during the day and to avoid people working into the small hours and not getting enough rest. “We recognised that people didn’t just want flexibility in where they worked, but also they wanted flexibility within the working day,” says David Blackburn, Chief People Officer. The mantra of the new working pattern is “own your day” and the emphasis is on well being, communications and the environment. The new policy has been deliberately kept simple and fits on a single page.
The FSCS also brought in a 40/40 rule whereby only 40% of people can be in the office 40% of the time. That was before the second lockdown and followed a Covid secure assessment of how many people could safely fit in the building at any given time.
The approach was led by employees and based on regular pulse surveys aimed at finding out how people felt about their working lives during Covid, including their levels of anxiety about coming back to the office. These showed high levels of anxiety, but not about the office itself. The main concern was the commute to the office. Those most keen to come back to the office were generally younger workers who didn’t have the same room in their homes to work and missed the social side of work. Overall, many said they only wanted to come in part of the week. While one day a week was the favoured option at the time, it was considered that in the long term when Covid has abated this might rise to two to three days and that this was useful to build a sense of shared culture, which is how the 40% figure was arrived at.
Blackburn says he is a big advocate of running pilots to prove a new initiative works. He thinks some employers avoid embedding a flexible working culture because they think it will be too hard, but his view is that if you reduce it to a team by team level and pilot it so you can address any challenges it is not so difficult.
He adds that the last few months have completely challenged some of the fundamental ideas people have had about work. For instance, the office is now a hub for collaborative working and socialising. For Blackburn rather than having constant meetings, being in the office means freeing up his diary so he can wander around the building talking to people. “The whole experience has made us question what the office is for, be that training, meetings, collaboration or re-energising,” he says. “People want choice so we have given them a framework so they can choose,” he adds.
In a world of Covid which has underlined the need for trust and good communications, Blackburn says employers need to step up. Research shows candidates think employers’ values are increasingly important as are flexible working, diversity and inclusion and a sense of making a difference.
For Blackburn, Covid is going to widen the gap between good and not so good employers, between those employers like FSCS which have pulled out the stops to engage with staff during the pandemic – in FSCS’ case through virtual cookery, yoga and exercise classes among others and showing they are listening and taking action – and have provided a clear vision of future ways of working, put people at the centre of how they work and treated them like adults and those who have failed to engage. “At times of crisis and uncertainty, what people wants is a degree of certainty,” he says.