Flexible working - Aster Group case study

By Rachel Credidio, Group people and transformation director


As a housing association that operates across the south of England, we have a breadth of roles and working environments, so having a flexible working culture is crucial in catering for these varying circumstances – coronavirus aside.

Flexibility isn’t 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’s not the be all and end all.

While tech certainly helps, it can blur the boundaries between work time and personal-time, so it’s up to leaders to understand their role in encouraging employees to shape their own routines so they don’t feel pressured to always be online. Being able to balance home and work life easily is essential to employees feeling rested enough to give their best at work. Offering employees flexible leave so they can take the time away from work that they need, 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. Making sure conversations aren’t just focused on work topics can help managers to get a better understanding of the other challenges they might be facing at home too.

Finally, flexible working means adapting to and accommodating specific needs. It’s 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. When we started our transformation journey in 2014 uptake in flexible working was a little slower than it could’ve been, but as soon as we adapted our way of thinking that soon changed, putting us in a good position to respond to the current pandemic as employees already felt encouraged to do things in their own way. 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.

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

“With a three and an eight-year old I knew we’d quickly have to find a way to balance childcare and working full-time when lockdown hit. My husband is a key worker so still 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 by 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’re 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 pickups – the list goes on. The working culture my company offers has enabled all of this for me and the flexibility principles in place mean I don’t have to panic if something comes up that I need to take time off for.”

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