In this two-part case study, HRD Connect explores Deloitte UK’s flexible working scheme – available to its 20,000 employees – which allows them to agree a scheme that best suits their personal circumstances while ensuring maximum productivity. Part two of this case study is available here.
Offering flexible work arrangements and empowering employees with greater agency over when and where they fulfil their duties has become increasingly popular and in-demand for companies across sectors and throughout the country, with both employers and employees becoming increasingly convinced that the benefits more than outweigh the drawbacks.
For employees, it provides a passage to a far superior balance between the personal and professional life, with the hours consumed by travel drastically reduced, the complications over priorities such as childcare avoided and the ability to reassess where to be based granted in many cases.
For employers, fulfilling this demand for more flexibility – which is fast becoming a pre-requisite to many of the most in-demand candidates – provides the opportunity to maintain or improve retention rates, heighten worker productivity, and save on many of the costs and resources that go with running a full-time office footprint.
As evidence of this, a recent trial that saw 61 companies pilot a four-day working week for a period of six months has returned an almost unanimous stamp of approval from both the companies and their staff.
Participants saw their revenues increase by a third on average when compared with the same period last year, with productivity gains through heightened employee satisfaction and reduced downtime deemed clear contributors.
This was borne out by the fact that retention rates across participants were higher than they had been the year before.
Of those companies that participated – which covered sectors such as banking, retail, and recruitment – almost a third (18) have already agreed to adopt it on a permanent basis, with the vast majority of those remaining (38) committing to continuing with the trial.
Flexibility increasingly found to be the way forward
The results add weight to the ever-growing consensus that a new, more flexible, more agile way of working is not simply a short-term quirk or a hangover from the era of Covid, but a structural, irreversible shift.
One company that is all too aware of this change in approach is the professional services and accounting consultancy Deloitte, which recently identified ‘harnessing worker agency’ as one of the three key themes within its 2023 Human Capital Trends research.
Based on the insight of more than 10,000 high-level respondents, it states that “work, workforce, and workplace models that assume organizations have sole decision-making authority are fading as workers demand more meaningful work, flexible workplace models, and more personalized career paths.”
But beyond its role as an advisor and thought leader to the business world and in particular its work for its market-leading clients, Deloitte is also ensuring that it does not fall foul of its own wisdom, by ensuring that it as an employer it provides just the type of flexible working that is so in demand.
Finding a way that works for everyone
At the core of its approach, is a flexible working scheme that is available to each of its 20,000 UK employees that allows them to agree a scheme that best suits their personal circumstances while ensuring maximum productivity.
In June 2021, while the company was still operating under the flexible working model it had implemented during Covid, it announced that it would retain the flexibility permanently. Outlining the decision, Richard Houston, CEO of Deloitte UK, made clear that while the context was regrettable, the way the company and its staff had come through it proved that things could be done differently.
“The last year has really shown one size does not fit all when it comes to balancing work and personal lives,” he said. “It has also shown that we can trust our people in when, how and where they work.”
Today, just under two years later, many of its employees are continuing to work to similar schedules that they were doing back then, with more time spent working remotely, while maximising the value from the time that they do spend in the office.
Speaking to HRD Connect, Miriam Earley, Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Deloitte UK, explains: “Hybrid working will look differently for every employer, but we know that our staff want that flexibility and therefore we are embracing that change and ensuring that the way we work supports that.”
That support, particularly from an HR perspective, is based largely around providing the resources and guidance to both individuals and teams to enable them to find the best balance between flexibility and productivity. This includes the creation of frameworks that help the individual identify and outline the way they wish to work, and a second framework for the wider team that ensures that it can be adopted without disruption.
“That’s a really strong example of how we structurally put things in place to enable a flexible way of working,” says Earley.
In addition, and arguably a little ironically, that support has also taken the form of investing in the offices to better accommodate the different schedules that people work. This includes creating more breakout and meeting room space and upgrading the audio and visual technology so that those taking part in meetings or work groups remotely, are no less engaged or involved.
“We are no longer in the days of the old box in the middle of the conference room that you couldn’t hear people at the end of the room, we have a far more tangible experience for everyone,” says Earley.
In terms of how it works in practice, there is no one-size fits all approach, which would of course run counter to the principles. Instead, it is adapted to fit specific requirements. This means that some staff will have a formal four-day week, where they make up the extra hours, while others will specify which days they work in the office and which they work remotely.
For Earley, who has a young family, this is particularly useful as it enables her to divy up days for childcare duties around those when working from home. “It is then up to me to make sure I make the best use of my time in the office in terms of meeting and collaborating with colleagues.”
But for others, the new way of working has enabled them to consider relocating to somewhere further away from the office they used to need to be close to or to use the extra day to pursue other interests, such as exploring the natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands.
Running to the hills
Phil Brocklehurst, senior manager at Deloitte and an avid outdoor and adventure enthusiast, moved from Deloitte’s London office to Edinburgh in 2019 and switched to a four-day week in September 2021, so that he could spend his extra day off exploring the Scottish Highlands to improve his work-life balance.
So far, he has spent his time climbing, ice-climbing and running marathons across the Scottish islands and Highlands.
“My senior team lead by example and inspired me to consider what I could do to make my time away from work even more fulfilling. Flexible working policies work if the company understands and respects it. After deciding that I wanted to pursue my love of the outdoors, they supported me to manage my workload and make it work!”