Flexible work in a post-lockdown world

June 11, 2021 Hannah Heath No Comments

While the past year has been a bumpy one by anyone’s standards, there have also been some positives to take away.

And on my positive list was the opportunity to go back to the drawing board and completely re-imagine our approach to flexible work. 

We figure there will be tonnes of other businesses doing similar re-imaginings and so we thought it a good time to share our approach. It covers where we started from, what we thought about before we wrote our new policy, and the key concepts that make up our new approach to flexible work, like compressed fortnights, where we work, and our core hours.

Background

The definition of flexible work is, well, flexible. There isn’t a one-size fits all approach and everyone’s starting point on the journey to flexible work is going to be a bit different. At Ento, we’ve dabbled with flexibility in the past and so to help add context to the rest of this post, I want to start by outlining the lay of the land before COVID hit. 

  • Working from home – After three months at Ento, all employees were eligible to work from home one day per fortnight, subject to meeting performance expectations. 
  • Hours of work – Core hours of 10am to 4pm where we expected everyone to be at work. Outside of core hours people could start and finish when it worked for them. 
  • Managing  time – We were happy for people to work as it suits them, attending appointments / the gym / taking breaks etc when they pleased, as long as they got their work done and were keeping track of their time. 
  • Remote first – Quite simply, we weren’t. If people were working from home it was on them to figure out how to collaborate effectively with those in the office. And if they were involved in important meetings, we expected them to be in the office. 
  • Part-time options – While we have always been happy to discuss and support individual needs wherever practical as a business, we didn’t have a formal process documented and instead handled any requests in an ad-hoc way. 

So while we had some flexibility, we definitely had plenty of scope to do more!

COVID revelations

And then came COVID-19 and, within days, we’d made the move to working entirely remotely. Over a year later, thanks to further lockdowns, we still swing between being in the office and working remotely. During this time we’ve learned and observed a whole bunch of things, many of which challenged long held assumptions that had limited the flexibility we enabled: 

  • Not everything grinds to a halt when we are all working from home! 
  • Zoom fatigue is real and it’s exhausting
  • Communication (tone and intent especially) become very important
  • We have to work that bit harder to protect our culture
  • Working remotely forces more robust processes – in a good way!
  • Cross team collaboration opportunities are no longer organic and have suffered
  • Creating opportunities to chat about non-work stuff is important
  • Stair/kitchen/lunchroom chats are super valuable for staying connected 
  • People are way more prompt arriving for meetings! 

We quickly recognised that there would never be a more appropriate time to discuss a new approach to flexible work, and to define a policy that would work for Ento into the future.

Understanding what Ento needs from flexible work

The first step in re-writing our approach was to gather feedback from our team on what aspects of flexible work were important to them, what they thought we should include in a policy and what risks we might need to consider. 

We used our 1:1 company questions (which you can read all about here) to collect feedback before analysing that data to understand what was important.

The feedback that the team gave us led us to tackle flexible work along three axis: 

  • Where we work 
  • The hours we work each day 
  • How many days we work 

Feedback around potential risks was super consistent across the team and centred around two key themes: 

  • Collaboration. This has always been something we’ve valued at Ento and we believe that this is best achieved via in person interactions. Nothing beats being able to put smart people together in a room to solve a problem quickly and efficiently. It enables us to quickly build shared understanding, make decisions quickly, and get on with the ‘doing.’
  • Culture. It’s a slippery, hard-to-put-your-finger-on, thing culture, but the values we share and the individuals that make up Ento are what make it such a great place to work. While we’ve been super successful in moving a lot of that culture on to Slack during COVID, it doesn’t quite replace getting to know each other in person. Creating opportunities to build and strengthen our culture together continues to be important. 

These two ideas, the consideration we’ve given them, and how we protect for them are regularly referenced through the rest of this post!

The last thing we did before launching into developing a policy was develop principles to guide our decisions. These principles are: 

  • Adopt a ‘remote first’ mindset
  • Strike a balance between flexibility and protecting opportunities to collaborate
  • Seek opportunities to build flexibility into planning so that predictability isn’t impacted
  • Never compromise Ento’s ability to move quickly!

Flexible work @ Ento

And now to the future! The rest of this post will take you through the key concepts that make up our shiny new approach to flexible work. 

It’s important to note that what follows completely ignores COVID restrictions and instead imagines a world with no restrictions – the dream for all of us in Melbourne right now! We rolled out compressed fortnights in October 2020, along with our new core hours approach, and in April 2021 we rolled out our approach to where we work as we made a return to the office in Melbourne. This last one is currently on hiatus while we’re in lockdown!

Compressed fortnights

To ensure we survived the Covid downturn, we reduced the hours we worked each week (dropping back to either 3 or 4 days per week) and, while far from ideal, it showed us the value an additional weekend day can bring to our lives. In a post-Covid world we wanted to find the best of both worlds, full time employment and better work-life balance, and we believe compressed fortnights are the solution!

Each fortnight we work full time equivalent hours (76 hours) over a nine day period with every second Friday an RDO. This means the average work day is slightly longer (8.4 hours) than ‘normal’ (7.6 hours) to enable us to squeeze in a fulltime fortnight in those nine days. 

We decided to align our RDOs primarily to solve for collaboration – everyone on the same schedule makes cadences and scheduling meetings much easier to manage. It also means people on their RDO don’t get accidentally dragged into working by those who aren’t on RDO – something we experienced while on reduced hours!

Where we work

Increasing how much we could work from home was pretty much a given by this point, we’d seen that it could work, but first we needed to consider what we wanted to protect – collaboration and culture. And we then decided on the minimum office time we felt would be required to do so.  

Our new approach enables our team to choose where they work for at least 50% of the fortnight. We’ll still have offices (now in both Melbourne and Sydney!) and everyone will still have a desk there but, should they wish to work from home, there is the flexibility to do so. 

Put simply, each fortnight, everyone works 4 days in the office and the rest of their time it’s up to them. Those four days can be consecutive, spread out, 8 half days, or whatever works for the individual.

Core hours

Where we’ve always had flexibility at Ento is in choosing the hours that we work. However, practically speaking, not everyone at Ento has been able to fully utilise this level. For some of our teams, key meetings (such as standup) were outside core hours limiting their ability to access the full flexibility we were aiming for with core hours.

Our new approach is an evolution of the idea of core hours:: 

Team core hours: each department at Ento has their own set of core hours that covers a contiguous six hour period (the same length as our old core hours). This time is to ensure enough availability overlap to hold necessary meetings and conversations. 

Business core hours: a four hour period between 11am and 3pm. During these hours, all employees are expected to be available for work. Employees can obviously still take a lunch break during core hours! We’ve retained business core hours (with a reduced duration) to ensure cross team collaboration can easily occur. 

This table shows team core hours of each department – all inclusive of business core hours.

By allowing each team to decide their core hours, and reducing the period covered by our business core hours, we’re enabling teams to have the same level of flexibility when it comes to choosing their schedule and when they work. 

What doesn’t change is our flexibility within this – if people do need to arrive after or leave before core hours, that’s generally not a problem – we trust people to communicate with their manager, and keep track of their own hours to make sure hours are made up over the fortnight. We all have lives and things like specialist appointments have a way of being scheduled at the most inconvenient times! We want core hours to be our normal but recognise that there will be exceptions.

Additional flexible work arrangements

The Fair Work Act puts quite a few conditions in place that you have to meet to be able to request flexible work arrangements. These largely require you to be a parent or carer. We don’t think limiting it is fair and our approach is that anyone who has been with us for 12 months will be able to request flexible work. 

When it comes to flexibility, there are always outliers and individual circumstances to work through. In our new policy we formalised and included the process for making a request for additional flexible work arrangements to make it clear and easy.

Summary

COVID was the catalyst for change for many of us, in work, life and beyond. At Ento, that meant reassessing our ways of working, which started with conversations with our team. These discussions informed the update to our flexible work policy, which centred around where we work, the hours we work and how many days we work each week, with a focus on protecting two of the things we value most at Ento: collaboration and culture.

We’re excited to have rolled out our new policy, but it’s important to note that how we do flexible work at Ento is still a work in progress. While we’ve introduced each initiative one by one over the past few months, we do understand that these things evolve with time. Plus, if there’s anything we’ve learned through the events of 2020, it’s that we can’t predict everything!

If you’ve read this because you are thinking about applying for a role at Ento – I hope it resonated with you and helped you figure out if Ento will be the right fit for you! If you are thinking about developing a new approach to flexible work – I hope you’ve been inspired! If you want to talk flexibility or have questions about our approach please connect with me and let’s continue the conversation.

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