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Telstra asks: Why CAN’T a role be done flexibly?

Published on Saturday, 21 Mar 2015
Lynne Barry

HR director Lynne Barry opens up on company’s All Roles Flex initiative

As the number of stay-at-home parents decreases and younger members of the workforce put a higher premium on leisure time, the introduction of flexible working arrangements is designed to help employees meet their family commitments and achieve a more satisfying work-life balance.

The international operations of Australian telecommunications and information services company Telstra are headquartered in Hong Kong. Although the business already had policies such as flexi-time and home working in place, a year ago it went a step further by introducing their All Roles Flex initiative. Lynne Barry, Telstra International's HR director, explains how this new scheme works and why it marks a shift in perspective.

Background

We are a technology company that helps people to connect, no matter where they are or what they are doing. We help other organisations introduce technology to enable their employees to work more flexibly and we would be remiss if we did not grab that opportunity ourselves.

We believe that the approach of other companies to flexibility starts from the full-time model and asks for what reason would flexibility be allowed. At Telstra, we work from the premise that all roles can be flexible, and the question for a manager is why a role could not be done flexibly, rather than why it should be an option.

All Roles Flex reflects the belief that flexible work should assist the individual and the business, and the more we embrace this as an organisation, the greater the benefits.

Structure

We truly want all our employees to have enriching careers and have time for the things and people that are important to them outside of work, so the All Roles Flex programme applies to all roles in our organisation.

The way it is utilised by our employees depends on the individual's circumstances. For instance, some employees prefer the traditional nine-to-five, while others will shift their start and finish times to meet the needs of their families, or even just to avoid peak-hour traffic.

While we implicitly trust them to get the job done, we also trust them to know what is right for their unique needs - whether that entails strong structural boundaries between their work and home lives, or perhaps more fluidity.

When we introduced the All Roles Flex model, we also needed to ensure that the right technologies were available to support our people and enable them to work flexibly. To do this, we have started rolling out our "Future Ways of Working" programme, which aims to make Telstra a leader in personal productivity, innovation and collaboration by providing the tools and environment in which our employees flourish.

Feedback

The feedback from staff has generally been incredibly positive, and our people are really taking the time to think about how they can incorporate the principles of flexible working to have both a rewarding career and the time for the things that are important to them outside of work.

For example, one of our colleagues in Hong Kong has recently arranged to work part-time in order to take care of an ageing relative. This means she will be in the office two days a week, will work from home one day a week, and we have also arranged for a resource to job share. Ultimately, the work gets done and our employee's needs are met. It really is a win-win.

Results and Plans

Despite having a good policy, we found flexibility was not always being widely practised. To turn intentions into action, we ran a series of roadshows with our people managers and senior leaders to help them understand the personal and business benefits of the programme, and empower their people with the technology and mindset to practise it in their work lives.

Telling stories that demonstrated how flexibility could work for our people was an important part of raising awareness and driving uptake. For example, one of our finance colleagues in Hong Kong has recently taken up a flexible work arrangement and now starts later on two days so she can take her son to playgroup on these mornings.

Understanding what flexibility means to each person has also affected the success of the programme. It will be different for everyone - a change in start and finish times, working in other locations, being open to candidates in other locations, reducing hours or enabling employees to enter, exit and re-enter the workforce, or to increase or decrease their workload or career pace at different life stages.

At Telstra, two of our core values are "show you care" and "trust each other to deliver". We've seen staff put these into practice by being more conscious of each other, knowing what days or hours their co-workers are in the office, and making the extra effort to communicate - really seeing them as a whole person and not just a colleague.

As told to John Brennan

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