Progress through innovation

What is the future of flexible working?’s Top Employers Award for Innovation will uncover the most innovative work going on in this field.

What is the future of flexible working? For some companies, the future is here already. They are the companies in the forefront of innovation around flexible working, who not only see the business case for it but are pushing the boat out to take it to another level.

In the 2008 report Working Beyond Walls, the Office of Government Commerce, says that by 2020 “traditional associations between work and place [will] have gone”. The report on the future of public sector working foresees a world where the public sector estate will have shrunk as more people work via the web rather than in a specific office. It talks of real time multi-media social interaction rather than face to face meetings and says this will require different ways of managing employees.

Another way flexible work is likely to be enabled in the future is through the development of workhubs, locally based offices which homeworkers can use on an as and when basis, for example, to meet clients.

For its Innovation Award, is looking for organisations with policies related to flexible working, childcare, parent engagement and support, return to work following maternity leave, maternity and diversity [particularly relating to women] which are truly innovative and break new ground, whether in a particular industry or in general

The five shortlisted entrants are: KPMG; Just Teachers Ltd; Deutsche Bank; Manpower; RBS; Deloitte

What makes for an innovative policy on flexible working and diversity? For the top companies it is about thinking outside the box on issues such as encouraging women returners after maternity leave and managing their colleagues’ perceptions. Several companies, for instance, now offer maternity or transition coaching to enable women to prepare for their maternity leave and their subsequent return. This includes discussion of flexible working, including concerns that flexible working might damage your career prospects. Some companies provide external coaching services while others have now embedded coaching within the organisation. Many also have women’s networks and leadership groups to promote women within the organisation and build their confidence so they can break through the glass ceiling.

Several companies have pushed the envelope on the type of flexible working they offer. This can include career breaks and annualised or banked hours whereby a person can work longer hours at a busy point and buy back time off in a slack period. Others allow staff to buy extra holiday.

Some are more innovative in the field of childcare and offer extra services such as summer camps for children or back-up childcare in emergency situations.

Many of the top companies have embedded flexible working to such a degree that they have regular reviews of their policy so that it can keep ahead of the game and several major organisations also have flexible working networks, fora or champions who spread information about flexible working around the workplace to ensure everyone understands what the organisation offers. Others put case studies of flexible workers on their intranet to show colleagues what is available and how it works and also offer managers a toolkit for implementing flexible working.

Others are innovative in the field of employee engagement, providing programmes and tools for employees to feed back their views on how flexible working can be improved. Many see this as the best way to promote flexible working. In this way they get ideas from trickling from the grassroots up as well as innovative leadership trickling from management down.

The winner of’s Top Employers Award for Innovation will be announced at an awards ceremony in London on 5 October where the keynote speaker will be Minister for Equalities Lynne Featherstone.

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