Flex from 1st: CIPD member Heather Palmer on first-hand experiences of flexible working over the last year

Flex from 1st: CIPD member Heather Palmer on first-hand experiences of flexible working over the last year

Heather Palmer, founder KaleidoPeople and HR Business Partner Employee Relations and Policy BBC. 

1) How do you think attitudes to flexible working have changed over the last year? 

The attitudes to flexibility are definitely more positive. Employers are now engaged with teams to consider how, why, and when employees conduct their jobs, and can create better mutual outcomes – the overwhelming feedback is that people want future ways of working to be more flexible. 

The silver lining to this COVID storm-cloud is that we have a real-life case study on flexible working across every sector, employee group, and community. The past year has brought the fragility of life to the fore, the importance of wellbeing, care for others and compassion into stark focus. The realisation that our preferences, choices and priorities in life and work are inextricably connected...this is not simply about work life balance but working life in balance.  

We have a golden opportunity coming out of COVID to show flexible working is for everyone – a fusion of all aspects of our lives which enable us each to adapt, learn and grow as we journey through our careers and life’s milestones. 

In my experience, the challenge of course is balancing the needs of BBC teams around the world while continuing to deliver world class content and services to audiences. 

We'll all be hearing the phrase 'hybrid working' a lot more – as it is likely to become the industry norm – but what does it actually mean? 

What 'hybrid working' actually looks like is that some people will remain permanently site based due to the nature of their work while others will work in a more agile way with a mix between home and BBC locations. 

The aim of the hybrid model is to help balance this. 

Rhona Burns, Finance and Operations Director for BBC Radio and Education, who is leading the programme, said the plan will enable a better work/life balance, help us to attract and retain talent and, because of a smaller property footprint and less travel costs, improve sustainability. 

2) How have you benefited personally from flexible working (eg flexible start and end times, working from home, working the same hours in fewer days) over the last year? 

At the beginning of the pandemic, I secured a new role in the employee relations team in the BBC. I haven’t met my team face to face yet and am looking forward to meeting up when it is safe to do so for all of the team. Personally, I have been working with others at the centre of the BBC pandemic response, to ensure our policy and provisions support staff wellbeing. Technology has been critical to delivering my role effectively and in my own business where I now coach and conduct my community based HR support as KaleidoPeople online. I must express my gratitude to the patience and humour of remote support service desk teams who helped in getting my home set up to work well by meeting my adjustment requirements (I need large screens as I have eyesight problems) and resolving access problems and connectivity issues. 

Being in the safety of my home whilst being able to continue with my everyday work was vital for my wellbeing as I still had purpose and structure to my week. I have been able to flex my working hours and start and finish times to undertake my share of dependent support and home-schooling. 

Working from home I have developed better self-regulation and respect for boundaries to be able to disconnect, as well as being a role model in encouraging consideration and promotion of conducive new ways of working for others. 

I am now more self-sufficient and confident in accessing apps to work remotely than pre-COVID. These skills and flexibility in my working day are also beneficial in other aspects of my life, as I regularly attend online training globally and networking across time zones, increasing my understanding of global HR and reaching new clients and building new friendships. 

3) What do you think the future of flexible working looks like post pandemic? 

Post COVID I anticipate that flexible working will be increasingly sector specific with hybrid working coming to the fore. By empowering individuals to work between office and remote locations, the discretion to choose when and how we work will enable hybrid working in the broadest sense to become more accessible, democratic, and inclusive. That said there will always be roles and organisations where specific working hours and attendance is integral to the business, for example in manufacturing and frontline services. It is likely that more traditional forms of flexible working such as part time, compressed hours or job shares may see increased application across these sectors. 

More people have experienced working differently during the pandemic, and many have experienced part time working by default of flexi-furloughs that may never have been considered. My husband is now thinking that the ability to work differently himself has arisen from his experience of homeworking and furlough during COVID, including partial retirement as an option on later life. 

Without doubt flexible working will be increasingly important a key factor in employee value proposition as organisations compete for talent on a global basis. Alongside other factors such as sustainability, social responsibility and fair pay prospective employees will seek out hybrid working in making decisions around career choice and employers as individuals choose based on wider lifestyle choices and compatibility.