Making 'work from home' work

Making 'work from home' work
Date14th Jun 2023AuthorEmma SoperCategoriesLeadership, Policy and News

I’ve been asked to share a little about how we have embraced flexible working at Connell Co-op College. Throughout our workforce you will find staff with personalised arrangements to help keep them in work - around children, other caring responsibilities, health and mental wellbeing and even other types of work. Sometimes these are short term arrangements and sometimes are part of the way they were appointed. The leadership team at Connell believe that you have to make work ‘work’ around life. And when you do that as an employer, you reap all sorts of benefits. At a time when staff recruitment and retention is presenting all of us with challenges, it might be worth reading on to see if there are some things we do that might work for you. 

Alongside this flexible approach, it’s key that there also be high levels of trust. We trust that our staff will work as productively at home as they would at work and actually, we know that many are even more productive! Saving on the commute lets you fit in a workout or a load of washing – it’s these small things that make a real difference to individuals. 

Alongside this trust is investment in our staff through professional development and a commitment to their career progression - whatever the level, whatever their age or starting point, we make sure that we always have conversations about ‘what next?’, both through line management and our Performance and Professional Development Review cycles. We’ve tried particularly hard to find a model that allows us to develop our non-teaching staff in the same way we would our teaching staff - making sure that they get access to training in professional skills and leadership through in-house training, external CPD offers, and also apprenticeships. 

At Connell part time working, even for senior leaders, has been normal for some time. It’s always been well known that your staff are your most valuable resource. The time it takes to train and embed ways of working mean that when you have good staff you want to keep them. And so, for many - thus far always with our female staff - it has become normal that as someone becomes a mother for the first time, a conversation is had about coming back four days a week. Heads of Department, Directors of Faculty, and senior leaders have all trodden this path. And for us it works. Typically, we would say that most leadership jobs do require four days a week, but it is not inconceivable that some roles might be adapted or made to work on three - if there’s a will, there’s a way.

Since Covid, we’ve also embraced what would be viewed as truly ‘flexible’ working - as much as you can in a college environment. Covid meant that everyone got set up for ‘home working’ and we’ve made sure that, going forwards, that level of IT provisioning has remained - there may be a variety of reasons why someone needs to be at home beyond Covid, and making the provision means that work can continue. Over the last two years there have been many examples of staff needing to be at home for a day, or perhaps a week or two, and having this provision in place means that continuing to work (even if it’s different work) has been the natural option, even for those who cannot routinely work from home due to the nature of their roles.

Different roles can be done remotely to different degrees, and it makes sense to be flexible when you can to attract and retain talent. For example, around 18 months ago, we hired a marketing and comms professional. As a parent of young twins, ‘Alex’ wanted part time work and flexible hours - something that they could easily do within their industry with commercial contracts. And so, when they posed the question to us, we really couldn’t see a good reason to say no. When we need them on site for an event they’re there; they join meetings virtually and in person as required; they make the work we need to be done fit around their life, and they get the stability of a permanent contract. In return, we get an experienced professional who enhances the work we do. Now working four days per week for us, Alex typically works three of those days off-site. The impact this role has had on our organisation has been significant - we would not have hired this calibre of person without being willing to offer the flexibility that has become normal in their profession. 

Other staff have requested flexible working for other reasons. Some request it in order to get on with complex tasks that are hard to do onsite due to interruptions. These requests are managed ad hoc and are usually planned for. Others have asked for this as a permanent arrangement, 1 day per week, and they plan their weekly tasks around this flexibility, making the most of the quiet environment at home for tasks that are best done without interruption or distraction. This model is used across a number of support staff functions. All of them state that this approach improves their productivity, and for one staff member it’s had a significant positive impact on physical and mental health, and thus improved their attendance at work. 

From September 2023, I expect to have two teachers who will be 0.9 FTE over four days - taking their PPA/remission on ‘the fifth day’ at home. This model is allowing one to take on caring responsibilities but reducing the impact on their income, and is allowing another to take on a promotion whilst maintaining their time at home with a young child. Two professionals at opposite ends of their careers, benefiting from a mindset that tries to make work ‘work’ around life - we are all people first and employees second. To keep high quality staff, we have to find ways to ‘flex’ the needs of the workplace around the changing demands of people’s real lives.

Over the next 12 months we will also be experimenting with our first phased retirement. During this period one colleague will reduce from full time to 0.6 and then eventually to retirement while another completes an apprenticeship, gains their professional qualifications, and ultimately takes over the workstream of the retiring colleague. This model will allow professional development and career progression for one colleague whilst another is able to gradually reduce workload and stay in the workforce a little longer than they might have done otherwise. For us - we get a smooth handover, with knowledge and skills transitioned, meaning, we hope, no loss of quality within the organisation.

So, flexible working, part time working, phased retirement and investment in meaningful professional development opportunities are all being used to keep our staff within our organisation for longer. If you're not already doing these things give it a try - your staff will thank you for it and you’ll see them stay longer, be more productive and take less time off sick. It also helps them feel trusted and valued.

Emma Soper is principal of Connell Co-op College, a sixth form college in Manchester. Read the intro to this short series on creative responses to recruitment challenges here.

Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now