Creating a culture of flexible work at UNSW

UNSW Diversity Champion for Flexible Work and Leave Patrick Armstrong

Flexible Working Day is an international day to celebrate and showcase the benefits of flexible work for both people and organisations.

Held Wednesday 22 May 2019, Flexible Working Day highlights the importance of creating a workplace that allows people to work in ways for them to achieve their best, enable work-life integration and for employers to reap the rewards.

In the lead up to Flexible Working Day, we spoke with Patrick Armstrong, UNSW Flexible Work and Leave Options Champion.

Why is flexible work important?

Creating a culture of flexible work is a win for all concerned.

For employees, it may relieve some of the pressure of their busy lives to know they have an employer who is empathetic to their need for work-life integration. While family commitments often play a large role, there are many reasons people seek flexible work arrangements including study, to manage a disability and caring responsibilities, to name a few.

It’s also important to note that flexible work doesn’t just mean working part-time. It includes adjusted start and finish times, working remotely as appropriate, working a compressed week or fortnight and being able to manage your work schedule flexibly. All these situations help make people’s lives easier.

For organisations, my experience has been flexible work builds loyalty, boosts productivity, and increases employee engagement.

Our lifestyles over recent years have changed significantly with technology, communications and family structures. This has shifted many people’s expectations around requesting flexible working. Workplaces will need to look at moving towards this culture to attract and retain the best talent, particularly newer generations.

In saying that, flexible work always needs to be of mutual benefit to both the organisation and employee, so must be based on an open and honest discussion between both parties. 

Why are you personally interested in this space?

When my now 14-year-old son was a baby, I was his full-time carer for five months while my wife returned to work. This was the most appropriate situation for our family at the time, but it came with many challenges. Ultimately, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

What it highlighted for me was the importance of having a workplace that understands the needs of people in all types of situations and allow them to adjust their work practices accordingly.

Over the ensuing years, there have been many times when family life has meant working from home or leaving early to care for sick children, school and doctor appointments, parent-teacher nights. The list goes on. Having been in workplaces that are understanding of the rigours of parenthood has significantly helped my family.

UNSW staff have access to great parental and carers leave options and I encourage others to become familiar with what is available.

What do you do in your team to model flexible work?

I lead the Internal Communications team in the Division of External Relations (DEx). Four people on the team have a formal flexible work arrangement. Two are in a job share role where their complementary skills allow them to perform the role very effectively. There are two others with part-time work arrangements following parental leave.

The rest of my team, including me, can work flexibly as needed, including working remotely. My team is mostly co-located between DEx and their stakeholders in faculties and divisions. We have an output-focused team culture where the emphasis is on the performance of the individual, not necessarily presence in the office.

What would you like to achieve in your term as Diversity Champion for Flexible Work and Leave?

The priority is to support our journey to create a university-wide culture that supports flexible work options for all employees. My working group will focus on raising awareness of what flexible works means and how UNSW can support it.

In practical terms, we will support HR in the communications initiatives around Flexible Work Guidelines that are currently in consultation phase. These guidelines will help leaders and employees have constructive conversations about flexible work arrangements.

Technology plays a large role in enabling flexible work and inclusiveness. Our aim is to look to increase awareness and skill level of available technology to support flexible work.

For more information on flexible work, visit Workplace Diversity.

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