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Flexible work stories

Find out what employees say about flexible work!

1. Wade Oestrich, Deputy Director-General, Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing

Tell us about your experience of flexible working

I have started a flexible work arrangement about 2 months ago with the intention to work from home every second Friday. So far, I have managed to do it once, but I have taken a few ad-hoc days prior.

How did the early conversations with your manager about flexible working go? 

My Director-General Tamara O’Shea was supportive. She has been encouraging me to do something like this for a while. She is really progressive when it comes to workforce matters. She has been on the receiving end of flexible and inflexible arrangements and has managed both of these as a leader. She has seen the win-win that can come from flexible work arrangements if they are well managed and committed to.

What was the impact on the team and what happened to make it a success, or not?

Even though I have only managed to get one work from home day in so far, I have learned a lot from not achieving what I set out to achieve. I would have to say the biggest reason is that I have not made it a priority. I feel like I am being selfish working from home rather than recognising that I am actually doing the organisation a favour by taking that day through improved productivity.

The upshot of that is I tend to treat the work from home day as being optional, rather than a priority and so I allow things to overtake it. This leads to a vicious cycle where, because I treat it as optional, other people do too.

My executive directors are not affected by it. I have a web cam on my departmental laptop so we can skype just as easily (most times!) as having a face-to-face discussion. Failing that there is always the phone.

How do you and your manager ensure business needs are met?

It is not a problem really. The main challenge is I have three Ministers to provide a service to and there are quite a few structured Ministerial meetings that I need to attend. It is not something I feel I could comfortably do remotely. To me, it is respectful to be physically present at a scheduled Ministerial meeting if you are based in Brisbane. Those meetings can change a fair bit to accommodate the demands on the Minister’s time which can make sticking to the working from home schedule a bit tougher.

What would you recommend to employees and managers starting their flexible by design journey?

I think the most important thing is that the supervisor and employee need to clearly agree on how the arrangement is going to work, up front and in detail so the expectations of each other are clear and well aligned. Nothing will bring it undone faster than if the supervisor and the employee are not on the same page. Make sure you discuss things like protocols for commencing and finishing work, required work outputs and deadlines, appropriate methods of contact etc.

I think communication is key. If you are the employee, you need to be contactable. Nothing frustrates supervisors more than when they continually fail to get hold of an employee. Because incidental communication is not possible when working from home, you need to be more playful about your communications. It is a good idea to arrange regular touch points so you and your supervisor can go over what has been done and what is planned to be done.

If the communication is done right, it makes everything easier.

2. Jacqueline Hanekom and Melissa Johansson, Principal Advisors, Department of Transport and Main Roads­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

Tell us about your experience of flexible working?

We started a job-share arrangement in June 2015 and use flexible work hours to accommodate school hours on some days, and remote-working. Jacqueline has actually been working from the Roma District Office since January 2017.

How did the early conversations with your manager about flexible working go? 

The initial job-share arrangement for this role was in place after Melissa was appointed to the role, as agreed with her manager at the time. The branch had recently adopted a ‘Why not?’ approach to flexible work arrangements, so from the beginning there was support and willingness to give a job-share arrangement a try.

When the role was advertised, Jacqueline had decided to leave her full-time role in the private sector to have more time to meet family commitments, and saw the dream job on Smart Jobs. From the outset, we felt an affinity with each other and were confident we could make it work.

After a successful 18 months in the role, Jacqueline dropped a bombshell—her husband had accepted a job in Roma and she would be moving. Now in most circumstances this would have meant an end to the arrangement, but with the encouragement of our highly supportive manager Michelle Nielsen, we prepared a proposal for a remote job-share working arrangement. The proposal was accepted by the Chief Finance Officer and our arrangement began a new chapter.

If presented with a thought-out and feasible proposal, Michelle is open to flexible working and, as a result, has many staff within her team who are on flexible work arrangements.

We appreciate Michelle’s support, and that of our director Anna Jack. We make a conscious effort to ensure as much coverage of the role as possible, swapping working days where necessary, alternating holidays and checking in with each other regularly to keep the role working as seamlessly and effectively as possible. We both have young children and are grateful to be able to continue working at our level, by sharing the load with someone we trust.

What was the impact on the team and what happened to make it a success, or not?

We hope the impact on the team was positive! We have the same qualifications and similar experience working in corporate communication roles within public and private organisations over the last 15 years. It is actually brilliant having ‘two heads’ working together, sharing a role. We are each other’s sounding board, problem solver and proof reader... and often finish each other’s sentences!

Until very recently, we have been the only communication resource for the branch, so have spent a lot of time getting to know the different service areas in our branch and working alongside our colleagues, particularly in HR and the Office of the Chief Finance Officer (CFO), to share resources and get the job done.

It works because, although we bring some different skills to our work, our approach is always the same. Regardless of the project or issue, whichever team we are working for can expect us to take a ‘bigger picture’ strategic view of their project or issue before assessing their specific communication need and developing a plan to help them communicate to the right people in the most effective way possible, given existing resources and channels. Across the branch, people know we job-share and that it could be either of us attending meetings, but that our advice will generally be the same. 

How do you and your manager ensure business needs are met?

Our manager Michelle keeps on top of her team movements, but she also expects the team to be responsible for their own workload and hours. Although we have essentially been one FTE, we work as a team. We use a shared mailbox, have a programme of work, and discuss our deadlines together. We use our cross-over time to attend key meetings, especially initial briefing sessions, so we both are across most jobs. Our CFO often remarks that he does not realise which of us has started or completed a task, which we see as a good thing!

What would you recommend to employees and managers starting their flexible by design journey?

We firmly believe our arrangement works because it is based on trust and respect. From the beginning, we have trusted each other’s integrity, professionalism and know we can rely on each other to get the jobs done. Having said that, we absolutely recommend having some sort of cross-over time—ideally a day—built into any job-share arrangement, so you can plan and attend high-level meetings together. We respect the wonderful arrangement we have, and each other’s pressures outside work. Preparing a detailed update at the end of our working time to handover to each other is key, and we always text or call each other for important issues.

It is also only right that managers feel they are getting value out of any flexible work arrangement, which is why we submitted a clear proposal to our manager and director about how we would fulfil our workload within our flexible arrangement. Our manager should have the confidence in us know that someone will be working that day, someone will respond to requests to our mailbox, and all deadlines are met. She does not need to worry about who does it. Plus, having access to ‘two people for one’ when it comes to strategic planning and advice should be the added bonus for the manager of any job-share arrangement.

3. Phillip Kohn, Director, Department of State Development

Tell us about your experience of flexible working?

I have been working 4 days a week since 2011. First as an AO8 and then as a Director.

How did the early conversations with your manager about flexible working go? 

I requested 4 days a week upon commencement with the department and my manager at the time was happy to agree provided the arrangement was able to be reassessed depending upon business needs. When I was offered the Director position, I again asked for 4 days a week and again there was no problem from my then manager.

What was the impact on the team and what happened to make it a success, or not?

Due to the longstanding nature of the part-time arrangement there was limited impact on the team.  As my responsibilities grew and I managed increasing numbers of people the advent of mobile technology enabled me to respond to emergencies on my registered day off. Having effective staff in whom I have faith makes it relatively straight forward.

How do you and your manager ensure business needs are met?

On my day off I ensure my team members are present across our workload. Being able to respond to emergencies through the work mobile ensures business needs are met.

What would you recommend to employees and managers starting their flexible by design journey?

First make sure people are not working unreasonable hours. Then assess business needs. Be flexible and ask all staff if they would like to work flexible hours—do not wait to be asked. Obtain 6 month to 12 month agreements about flexible work arrangements, and use unused FTE to employ more people if required to meet business needs.

4. Jenny Mead, Right to Information Commissioner

What’s your personal flexible work story?

My story starts in 1994. My first child was 2 years old and I had returned to work as a Legal Policy Officer after taking 12 months maternity leave. I asked my supervisor if I could job-share—at this time there was no award or directive relating to part-time work for family responsibilities. My supervisor agreed to a job-share trial—I worked 3 days and my job-share partner worked 2 days.

This arrangement continued for six years, we went through a number of machinery-of-government changes and further maternity leave. In 2000, my job share partner decided to accept a full-time position elsewhere in the department. I then commenced job sharing with another person until they recently retired. During this time, we applied for and were jointly appointed to Manager, Legal Services Unit; Director, Legal Services Unit; and ultimately as Right to Information Commissioner in 2010.

What is the key to flexible work?

The key to a successful job-share arrangement is communication between the 2 officers and seamless service to internal and external clients. In all our roles we have managed staff. It is the responsibility of the officers job-sharing to ensure they reach a common approach on issues and communicate that clearly. Each person should have sufficient knowledge of the job to ensure queries can be managed in an efficient and timely manner. Flexible work is a huge benefit and officers should demonstrate to their managers how it will work and ensure there is no disruption to the organisation’s delivery of services. This may mean taking phone calls out of designated office hours from time to time.

I currently manage a number of flexible work arrangements within Office of the Information Commissioner from the SO level down. In some cases, we have officers who work remotely for part of the week, others work part-time or compressed hours and others job-share. We ensure we have systems in place to support these arrangements as far as possible, but again, I expect my staff to ensure the arrangement works.

What advice would you give to managers and employees about flexible work?

When commencing such an arrangement, managers should ensure staff understand the expectations and parameters of the arrangement. It should be regularly discussed, including at performance planning meetings. Managers should also be appropriately flexible and cognisant of setting appropriate timelines. It works best where all parties cooperate to achieve the same end.

5. Paul Reynolds, Director, Department of Education and Training

What’s your personal flexible work story?

I have had a wonderful experience with flexible work thanks to an extremely supportive employer and a strong commitment from all parties to make it work. I have been with the Department of Education and Training since 1992, but moved to the Sunshine Coast in 2001, when my role was still attached to Central Office in Brisbane.

I was appointed Media Manager for the department in 2001, but being a statewide role it did not matter where the position was based, so long as I was responsive to the needs of the Ministerial Office, senior executives of the organisation, as well as journalists, on a 24/7 on call basis. It has worked quite seamlessly since that time.

How did the early conversations with your manager/s about flexible working go?

Under the arrangement, I worked part of the working week (usually Mondays and Fridays) out of the department’s North Coast Regional Office and the remainder of the week in Brisbane. That posed a few initial complexities in that I needed my own Director to be supportive, the Ministerial and Director-General’s office to be on board as well as the North Coast Regional Director. There also needed to be physical office and desk space available. Everyone was very positive about the arrangement from the get go and that has continued to this day.

What was the impact on the team and what happened to make it a success, or not?

The impact on my media and public affairs teams has been negligible. The critical success factor has always been about being available to take that call or to respond quickly to an email to provide the same level of advice no matter where I am. Our department has a deep commitment to its employees having a good work-life balance, and that is particularly evident with how much the organisation has supported me over such a long time. That level of trust in your reliability, your responsiveness and your commitment to get the work done professionally and within deadline, makes it easy for me to stay motivated and provide the very best level of service I can in return.

How do you and your manager ensure business needs are met?

I never know the shape of the monster that is going to walk through my door on any given day and that makes my job all the more interesting. It keeps you on your toes and helps me stay as sharp as I can in responding to enquiries or just dispensing advice. Much of our media work has tight turnarounds with deadlines measured in minutes and hours, not so much days and weeks. In that respect, I hate missing deadlines and you can only be as good as the team that you have. Fortunately, I have a team of highly motivated go-getters that I think are well respected right throughout our great organisation. I like to think that they are known as much for their efficiency as they are for their proficiency. I am very proud to work with them and very proud to work in the department.

What would you recommend to employees and managers starting their flexible by design journey?

Flexible work is not for everyone, but when implemented in the right way, for the right person, at the right time, they can lead to tremendous business efficiencies. In many cases, it is about having the right mind set to be able to work remotely and independently, in the same way you would if you were in your base location. The secret is having a commitment for such an arrangement to work well not only for yourself, but for your business unit and your organisation. I am ever thankful that it has worked well for me and the department.