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Want a flexible workplace? Throw out the policy guide


January 28, 2019   by Jason Contant


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Looking to create a flexible workplace culture? Toss out the rule book and don’t formalize the process, recommends PwC.

“A policy guide or a formal program can work against you,” wrote Anne Donovan, the U.S. people experience leader at PwC, in a blog posted on Harvard Business Review Monday. “It seems counter-intuitive, but having rules in place actually hinders the development of a truly authentic culture.”

PwC has come a long way over the past decade by “truly instilling a culture of flexibility across the firm,” Donovan wrote. “This did not happen overnight. It wasn’t easy, there were growing pains along the way, and we’re still learning.”

One thing the firm learned is to be flexible about creating their culture, what’s loosely called “everyday flexibility” at PwC. It isn’t something that all teams adopt; it’s a mentality and a way of life that should be individualized for each person.

For example, flexibility for a caregiver might mean being able to leave work early to take an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment. Or, for a parent, it may mean taking a midday run so evenings can be spent with children. 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,” Donovan said. “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.”

It’s important to remember that every employee deserves the same degree of flexibility. “This isn’t about one segment of the workforce, so if you’re sending out any kind of internal communications materials about flexibility, make sure it speaks to all employees,” Donovan suggested. “After all, we are a diverse workforce made up of diverse people, from working moms and dads to thousands of others without children who also want flexibility.”

Donovan said it’s not uncommon for managers to tell her that they believe in allowing employees to work flexibly, if and only when they’ve been with the firm a certain amount of time and earned that trust. “If you trust an individual enough that you hired them to join your organization, you also should trust them to get the work done when and where they prefer, as long as they meet deadlines.”

For PwC, flexibility is not about working less, it’s about encouraging people to work differently. “When done right, flexibility results in a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce. And it helps attract the best employees, and makes them want to stick around.”