A key part of our five-year strategy is for work to be what you do, not where you go and for over a year we’ve been working on enabling greater flexibility across RHP. This has been achieved through our flexible working programme called ‘Your work, your way’, which was designed to enable and empower people to be the best version of themselves, get the best out of their lives and do the best for our customers.
We were grateful we were already on this journey with the right attitudes and tools in place as the COVID-19 situation progressed. It meant that the transition to remote working for all office-based employees practically overnight, was on the whole, very smooth with minimal disruption for our customers.
We’ve learnt a lot on our journey to flexibility and haven’t always got it right. Here are our top three learnings that meant we were in a strong position ahead of the current crisis:
- It starts with mindset
You can have all the fancy flexible working options you want, however if you haven’t worked on shifting people’s mindsets first it’ll be a struggle. For a number of years, we’ve been eager to enable greater flexibility and have offered a range of different options (both formal and informal) based on what employees told us they’d value. This ranged from sliding start and finish times, longer lunch breaks to fit life admin in and more freedom to work remotely. What we found however is there was little take up on these options and people kept feeding back they still felt there was no flexibility available to them. That’s when we realised what the problem was. When we explored the issue further, we discovered the barrier was largely at middle manager level where there was a certain amount of nervousness about it which meant blockers were being created. We did a lot of work with this group to explore the value to them, their team and our customers of allowing more flexibility within their teams and the need to start on the basis of trust. We also adapted our performance management approach to focus more on outcomes – making it easier to manage when someone can not be seen.
- One size doesn’t fit all
For years we’d also been hung-up on making sure everything we were doing was fair and consistent for everyone no matter their role or team. The problem we came to realise with this is that everyone isn’t the same. Their individual needs are different, their roles are different and the way they support our customers is different. By making the options the same for everyone we were diluting what we were doing and able to offer. Instead we developed a ‘freedom within a framework’ which brought fairness and consistency through a set of principles each team could follow to explore what might work for them as both a collective and individuals.
- Technology is an enabler, not the answer
We’ve also realised along the way that technology shouldn’t be your starting point but instead acts as an important enabler once you’ve shifted attitudes and created a framework. Last year we committed to providing every office-based employee with a laptop which has made a huge difference (and meant we were good to go when lockdown came). We also introduced Microsoft Teams around 18 months ago as a project collaboration and video conferencing tool and people had been getting used to a blended approach to meetings where some were dialling in remotely. Teams has been invaluable to us during lockdown and we’ve been exploring new functions including the ‘Live event’ tool which we’ve been using for all sorts of things including our Chief Exec’s weekly briefing, a virtual awards ceremony and even an online yoga class. Most recently, we’ve implemented a new mobile telephony system which has made it completely cloud-based, enabling us to deliver full contact centre capability from people’s homes, helping us deliver a more seamless service.
So many positives have come out of this tricky time for our people in terms of the value they’ve gained from remote working and we don’t want to lose this. We’re currently holding focus groups with our employees to harness the learnings from this time including what benefits they’ve found, what they’ve found tricky and if they have everything they need to do their job well. This will help us turbo-charge ‘Your work, your way’ providing even more choice for people about how, when and where they work whilst still providing the best or our customers and each other. Our aim is to go ‘back to better’ not ‘back to normal’.
Head of People, Communications & Engagement
RHP Group is a London-based housing company that provides over 10,000 affordable homes and has just under 250 employees. RHP is an Investors in People Platinum organisation and has appeared in the top 10 of the UK Great Place to Work list twice in the past five years. For more information about RHP visit www.rhp.org.uk or follow them on Twitter @RHP_UK.