Equitable Flexibility Offers so Much More than ‘Working from Home’

The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that flexible and remote working can be effective when it is implemented at scale and that it can have wide-reaching productivity benefits. The pandemic has also shown that flexible working is no longer a ‘women’s issue’, it’s about economic success and attracting and retaining the right talent for your organisation to prosper.

Chief Executive Women and Bain & Company recently launched our latest research Equitable Flexibility: Reshaping our Workforce which looked at flexible working options and what has been learned from the pandemic. CEW’s vision of women and men having equal social and economic choices means we are deeply interested in ways to ‘level the playing field’ for everyone participating in the workforce.

For businesses to flourish in the recovery from the pandemic they need to attract and retain talent – at a time when Australia’s population is not growing. The only answer is to tap into all the available talent, and offer terms and conditions that make your business an employer of choice. According to the research report, employees (both men and women) report higher job satisfaction and better work-life balance when they can access flexible working options.

Our research found employees are more satisfied and engaged when they can access flexible working options, which has proven financial returns for organisations.

Our research also highlights that implementing a range of flexible working options at scale across organisations – including different start times, compressed working weeks or working from a range of locations – can be a significant lever for economic growth.

Men, perhaps for the first time in their working lives, have worked flexibly during the pandemic – and they want to continue. Two-thirds of men surveyed are expecting their workplaces to become more flexible after the pandemic subsides. Embedding it culturally starts with senior men role-modelling flexible working.

A great example from our report is a senior executive from Stockland, Greg Kiddle. Greg has negotiated to work nine months of the year to pursue interests outside of work and to support his wife’s business. This, and other innovative examples that meet the needs of employers as well as employees, will reshape workforces for the future.

Importantly, flexibility must be implemented equitably (in other words, practiced at scale and taken up by men and women at all levels without preconditions or judgment), to realise its maximum benefits. If not done thoughtfully and embedded culturally, it can be ‘a double-edged sword’ with unintended consequences. Our survey of employees indicated restricted career progression, longer working hours and being constantly ‘on call’ were the most commonly named potential adverse side effects of flexibility, if not implemented equitably.

Our report poses five key questions for leaders to contemplate as they shape their workforces for tomorrow and respond to economic and employee demands:

  1. Do we set clear definitions, company goals and norms around flexibility, and do we collect data to track our performance against them?
  2. Does our culture support the uptake of flexible work options by all groups?
  3. Do we provide employees with the right technology and training?
  4. Do we ensure employees have equal access and consideration for roles and opportunities?
  5. Are leaders, particularly senior men, actively and authentically role-modelling flexibility?

We look forward to hearing and seeing how business will implement equitable flexibility to drive our economic performance into the future. What is your organisation doing to realise the benefits of equitable flexibility?

Susan Metcalf
Chief Executive Officer
Chief Executive Women