By offering flexible leave and accommodating specific needs, employers can help staff to achieve their best.

Working from home

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As a housing association that operates across the south of England, Aster Group has a breadth of roles and working environments, so having a flexible working culture is crucial – coronavirus aside.

Flexibility is not about simple fixes like offering less-rigid office hours or the odd day working from home. Truly embracing flexible working means rethinking traditional team structures to encourage movement and development and empowering employees to shape their own careers.

Embedding flexible working within an organisation is undoubtedly much easier to do if it has the right technology in place, but it is not the be-all and end-all.

While tech certainly helps, it can blur the boundaries between work time and personal time, so it is up to leaders to encourage employees to shape their own routines so they do not feel pressured to be always online. Being able to balance home and work life easily is essential so that employees feel rested enough to give their best at work. Offering employees flexible leave so they can take time away from work when they need it is just one of the ways we do this.

Ultimately, organisations need to give their employees the autonomy to create a working environment that is right for them. The key is trusting them to do a good job. Ensuring that conversations are not only focused on work topics can give managers a better understanding of the other challenges employees might be facing at home.

Finally, flexible working means adapting to and accommodating specific needs. It is vital for businesses to recognise that their people face different challenges and that one person’s experience of working remotely is different to someone else’s. A blanket policy on home-working, for example, is unlikely to address the challenges faced by every employee. Businesses need to be willing and equipped to take each case individually.

When we started our transformation journey in 2014, employee uptake in flexible working was a little slower than it could have been. That soon changed when we adapted to this way of thinking, putting us in a good position to respond to the current pandemic as employees already felt encouraged to do things in their own way.

Case study: Holly Coe, head of reward and people operations, Aster

“With a three and an eight-year-old, I knew we would have to find a way to balance childcare and working full-time when lockdown hit. My husband is a key worker so has to go into work each day, leaving me at home with the children.

“I’m lucky enough to work for a company that enables me to work in a way that suits me. Even before lockdown, I was able to arrange my day to allow time to take my children to school.

“Having a career I enjoy and giving my all is important to me, but not at the cost of having a relationship with my children. I’m sure lots of people sometimes get ‘parent guilt’ where you don’t feel as though you’re there enough. My flexible routine means I can be at the school gates and go to parents’ evenings. That makes me feel like I can ‘do it all’.

“At the start of lockdown, I worried about how I might be able to home-school my eldest and be around to look after my youngest, particularly in the mornings. Working closely with my team, I log on each day as soon as my husband gets home and sometimes work into the evenings if needed.

“Feeling trusted to get on with your job flexibly is hugely liberating and means you’re doing what’s right for your family while knowing you are not letting your colleagues down. I know I can rely on the trust of my team; they understand my circumstances, which enables all of us to work collaboratively to get the job done.

“Even though some things feel as though they’re returning to normal, not everything is or should. Long term, I hope the lockdown experience will encourage a lot of businesses to offer a more flexible approach.

“Starting earlier, finishing later, planning in meetings to accommodate drop-offs and pick-ups – the list goes on.

The working culture my company offers has enabled all this for me and the flexibility principles in place mean I do not have to panic if something comes up that I need to take time off for.”

Rachel Credidio is group people and transformation director at Aster Group