The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority is moving offices and flexible working is one of the key ways it hopes to retain skilled staff. WorkingMums found out more.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority, the body responsible for developing the national curriculum, is moving offices. As of next March its current London base will be closed and Coventry will be its new HQ. It does not, however, want to lose the experience and skills of its existing staff so it is offering flexible working to encourage many to stay on.
The organisation already had a good flexible work policy, offering flexibility to all staff, where appropriate, including those on fixed term contracts. Around 100 of its 557-strong staff work flexibly and its HR department says it is not aware of any request being turned down, although sometimes a compromise may have to be reached. The range of flexible work it offers includes flexi-time, compressed hours, part time work, job shares, term time work and partial retirement. It also offers remote working on an ad hoc basis or work that is mainly home based. Centre Support Officers (CSOs), for instance, who conduct school visits, are considered homeworkers although they are on the road a lot because they do a lot of work from home.
The move to Coventry is a huge project and is already underway. It has to be completed by March. “We have a lot of people who work flexibly in our office for reasons such as childcare,” says HR manager Saundra Thornton, “but the move will add a new category. This will put flexible working at the forefront of how we work.”
Those who want to try out life in Coventry before deciding if they want to relocate can, for instance, work there for two or three days a week and do the rest of their work from home on a trial period, where appropriate. Many QCDA staff have a lot of writing of reports and reading to do and homeworking is well suited to this, says Thornton. Other jobs have to be more office-based for practical reasons.
Thornton works in the London exit team. They have a range of options they offer to staff. She says around 47% of the QCDA’s 268 London staff have said they will relocate, with many working flexibly as part of the one-year trial relocation. Others are accepting redundancy or redeployment, mainly within the civil service. It may be, she says, that people find that they want to commute to Coventry for a few days a week and work from home for the rest of the week on a long-term basis. It will depend whether the trial period shows it works both for them and the QCDA. However, in the trial period they will be entitled to some reimbursement for travel to Coventry. Thornton’s team will be the last to leave London.
Thornton is a mum herself and so is well aware of the value of flexible working to parents. The QCDA has a clearly written policy on flexible working available on the intranet, she says, and this is reinforced through individual coaching sessions and support, as and when it is needed. The policy has become more formalised over the last few years and many staff work from home at least one day a week. QCDA’s Server Remote Access (SRA) supports flexible working as it allows people to log onto the system from home and the policy itself can be quite flexible with staff, for instance, opting to work from home during tube strikes rather than waste time trying to commute in.
Thornton says the organisation also uses flexible working to help women ease back into the workplace. She says a lot of women who go on maternity leave at the QCDA come back before their full year is up. This means they can benefit from a graduated return, starting back on two or three days a week and gradually building up to full time. According to the QCDA’s maternity policy: “Staff may return to work early and, if they wish, work temporarily on a part-time basis, gradually increasing their hours until they are full time by the end of their maternity leave period. Throughout this period, the individual will be paid at the greater of their hours worked or maternity leave entitlement. Following their substantive return to work, individuals who wish to work flexibly will have their request considered.“
Thornton knows how important such policies can be, having returned to work in April from her second maternity leave. She works part time with one day from home, having gone back full time after the birth of her first child.
She also mentions KIT days, saying they are invaluable for ensuring women don’t feel isolated and out of the picture, plus they are paid, an added bonus if you are entering your unpaid maternity leave time.
“When you have been out of the workplace looking after a baby and you return to the working environment it is such a shock,” she says. “You go through a broad range of feelings and women come back for such different reasons. Having a gradual return and KIT days gives you time to ease in and get a routine going at home and at work.”