Flexibility for All: New Lessons From PwC’s Experience

Flexibility for All: New Lessons From PwC’s Experience

Today’s digital work environment has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for working outside the traditional model of 9-to-5, Monday through Friday, chained to your desk. While some jobs will always require employees to be in a certain place at a certain time, communications technology now makes flexibility possible for most knowledge workers in terms of where, when, and how they get their work done, at least some of the time. Flexible work is attractive to many employees, but it’s more than just a perk: Many organizations are discovering that it can help drive important business goals such as engagement, retention, productivity, and inclusion. To that last point, flexibility is now seen as a valuable tool for helping working parents and caregivers manage their home obligations without sacrificing professional growth and career progress.

One company that has had a positive experience with flexibility is PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which over the past ten years has evolved a culture of “everyday flexibility” that makes flexible work available to all employees, regardless of their role or circumstances. Anne Donovan, U.S. People Experience Leader at PwC, recently outlined what the company learned in this process at the Harvard Business Review. One key lesson, she writes, is to “be ‘flexible’ when creating a flexibility culture,” rather than implementing a rigid, formal policy:

Flexibility for a caregiver might mean being able to leave work early to take an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment. For a parent, it might mean taking a midday run, so evenings can be spent with their children. And for others, it could simply be taking an hour in the afternoon to go to a yoga class and recharge. When we look at flexibility this way, it’s easy to see why formal rules actually hinder adoption and progress. It’s impossible to have a one-size-fits-all approach for flexibility. We let our teams figure out what works best for them, as long as they deliver excellent work, on time. The rest is all fair game.

Everyone deserves the same degree of flexibility. Flexibility is not related to a generational need. Every employee, at any age, benefits from and is looking for its availability. A culture of flexibility will not be created, adopted, or embraced unless the origination stems from an understanding and belief that every single person in the organization deserves the same consideration and flex work policies.

PwC’s experience mirrors that of the Australian telecoms company Telstra, which Gartner explored in a case study a few years ago. Telstra’s “All Roles Flex” policy was conceived as a way to improve take-up of the company’s already generous flexibility policies: Even though any employee could use flextime, managers were unprepared to manage teams of flexible workers, while employees feared that taking advantage of this policy would hinder their chances at a promotion. To address that gap, Telstra made flexibility the default, having employees design their own work schedules as a matter of course, without having to give a reason or get manager approval. Managers can overrule an employee’s chosen arrangement only if there is a legitimate business reason, and must work with the employee and HR to develop an alternative that works for everyone.

As PwC’s Donovan notes, Telstra found that the cornerstones of a culture of flexibility were to be “flexible about flexibility” and to offer it unconditionally, without judging whether one employee’s need for flexibility is more valid than another’s. A key part of the motivation for this was to combat the stigma against flexible work, which often attaches to parents and caregivers (especially women) and can hinder their careers. One goal of Telstra’s policy was to improve the representation of women in leadership, and indeed, promotion rates for women at Telstra increased significantly after “All Roles Flex” was implemented companywide.

Gartner Corporate Leadership Council clients can read the full Telstra case study here, and can also take a deeper look at remote work and how to determine whether it’s right for your organization. For more ideas on how to design effective flexibility policies, check out this blog post from Blakeley Hartfelder, Senior Principal, Research, and our webinar last year with Genentech’s Head of People Analytics Chase Rowbotham.