Staff at engineering and design consultancy Harrison Grierson are encouraged to negotiate their working arrangements with management. We caught up with Managing Director Glen Cornelius to see how the system works and the benefits for employees and the company.
Glen, Harrison Grierson doesn't refer to this system as part-time work.
No, not at all. We refer to the system as flexible working arrangements. Even before the COVID-19 virus changed how we work, we had a flexible working approach where our people can agree their working arrangements with their manager. The system allows staff members to work at a time that suits them, rather than the standard 8am - 5pm that many people are required to work.
What are the benefits of this working arrangement from a business perspective?
We believe that our people are more engaged, more motivated and have ownership of their role within the company. Everyone has other things going on in their life, so this enables time to deal with them away from the pressures of the working environment. It allows staff to be more focussed when they are working, rather than turning up at the office with the mindset that they "have to be there." We have seen proof of this over the COVID-19 lockdown. Even though our engineers were working from home, there was a lift in productivity. We put this down to our people having more time without the travel, and being away from all the distractions of an office environment.
How many staff members have taken up the option of a flexible working arrangement?
Between 20-25 per cent of our people currently have a flexible working arrangement. People choose flexible working for a range of reasons; some want a day to pursue other interests or give back to the community. Others want to drop their kids at school each day before coming to work.
What are the most popular working hours?
It varies depending on individual circumstances. Some staff opt for an earlier start time of around 7am. Others prefer to start around 9am or 10am and work later into the evening. Some split their workday and will continue working later in the evening. How flexi-hour arrangements work is up to our staff members and their managers as it needs to work for the team and our clients. Staff decide what hours and which days they want to work, and if that fits in with the business requirements, it allows them the flexibility to manage their time. A big part of the success of this arrangement is that management has come to trust that if we do the right thing for our people, they will do the right thing by the company as far as their hours of work are concerned.
Does trust come easily to managers?
It's difficult for some managers to get their heads around the level of trust required for this system to work well. However, the arrangement is no different than if a staff member is working from a different office than usual. If there is a problem, it falls to the manager to ensure they are using appropriate motivation techniques ensuring the staff member feels an integral part of the team environment.
How well is it working for Harrison Grierson?
We are happy that the flexible hour arrangements are providing a positive working environment, and there is no desire from the company to revert to the old way of working.
How do you integrate technology?
Technology is key to flexible work and has become an essential part of our new ways of working. We invested heavily in technology several years ago and continue to do so to ensure our people can access our systems from anywhere, and the experience is positive. Like many other companies over the COVID-19 lockdown, we needed to use video conferencing for meetings. Luckily, we already had the systems in place. We have found that online meetings can facilitate shorter discussions. Instead of scheduling the standard one-hour sessions, the technology has allowed us to focus on the job at-hand and meetings have generally been more concise than they would have been in the office.
What are the potential risks for a company moving to flexible working?
There are always issues that will have to be worked through, depending on the business circumstances. The first thing to get in place is the correct technology which will allow staff to work from remote locations. During the COVID-19 lockdown, we moved seamlessly from working in the office to having all team members working from home as we had the infrastructure already in place. All our staff have laptops with Office 365 and can connect to the Harrison Grierson network from any location that has a wi-fi connection available. An essential aspect of moving to flexible working is to make staff aware that flexitime is not about just sitting at home playing games on the computer or social media. I'm not saying they do that; however, there is a general discussion to be had on outputs along with the benefits of remote working. For Harrison Grierson, even though our people are not working in an office environment, they understand that on-time project delivery is still their primary focus. It's important when people are working remotely to arrange daily check-ins with the various team members to ensure everyone is engaged in their work. Undoubtedly more leadership is required to ensure smooth operation, but there are great rewards for both staff and the company.
How do you protect the team culture when staff are not in the office quite so much?
It is possible to keep the team culture intact even when everyone is not involved in face to face contact every day. Leader's daily check-ins with staff should include a chat about what's going on outside the working environment. And maintaining a team culture can also be done remotely with virtual get-togethers and other fun activities. There's been plenty of creativity in that area at Harrison Grierson over the last few weeks.
What is the future of working from the office for Harrison Grierson?
That is a good question and one we are working through now. The lessons that have come from the COVID-19 response have gone a long way to normalise remote and flexible working. We are looking at how to embed the remote working philosophy into our team culture as we go forward. Our new way of working will see increased remote working, as it brings the benefits of gained time through reduced commutes, meaning more time for family, friends and other activities. We have also seen increased collaboration and innovation on our client projects and how we work internally. These gains excite us, positioning Harrison Grierson for the future and how we create amazing communities together.