Flexible Working

Background to introducing the measure

Against the backdrop of current demographic trends, flexible work arrangements are gaining in importance as younger workers increasingly place greater emphasis on achieving and maintaining an improved work-life balance. With the launch of the (pilot) project „Flexible Working” the W&W Group aimed at creating an attractive and supportive work environment to facilitate the recruitment and retention of expert staff.

Implementation date/duration

The pilot project „Flexible Working” was launched in May 2011, with an initial duration of roughly one year and a half. It was extended by one year in September 2012. In June 2013, a company agreement on „Ad hoc Mobile Working” was signed in coordination with the works council; this agreement was extended by one year in June 2014. Since the end of 2015 the concept of „Ad hoc Mobile Working” has been expanded to include 5 other subsidiaries of the W&W Group.

Partners involved

The pilot project was supported by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (Fraunhofer IAO). Fraunhofer IAO has assisted other companies in implementing similar projects successfully.

Object of the measure

The pilot project „Flexible Working” tested location-independent working with 34 employees and 11 executives. The pilot project was first introduced as an operating agreement in the company’s holding in Stuttgart, Germany, in May 2011, in the following departments: controlling, accounting and tax, communications and human resources.

Several internal rules and guidelines underpinned the pilot project, notably:

  • Employees need to have access to telecommunications technology to perform their tasks.
  • Employees have to ensure that they are reachable during normal working hours. The work arrangement must not negatively affect the employee’s performance.
  • Employers have to maintain an equal workload distribution without overloading office-based employees.

 

W&W Group’s IT Services Department provided the necessary telecommunications technology to facilitate the successful implementation of the pilot project. This included internet telephony, desktop sharing and video-, audio- and web-conferences facilities (Lync). In addition, the Fraunhofer IAO accompanied the project from May 2011 until July 2012. The institute identified what key factors promote or hinder the successful implementation of such flexible work arrangements.

Following the success of the pilot project the W&W Group decided to widen its scope to include operational units of the company and further develop the concept of flexible work. Five new company agreements introducing the concept of « Ad hoc Mobile Working » were concluded at the end of 2015. “Ad hoc Mobile Working” allows for voluntary location-independent working. It is not a guaranteed right and is only granted (e.g. in person or via email) on an ad hoc basis as it is not suitable for long-term practice. Participants must be prepared to return to pre-flexibility arrangements if the situation or the company’s needs require it. It is foreseen to introduce this form of work arrangement in 2-3 other subsidiaries of the W&W Group.

Effects and benefits realised

The pilot project has had a twofold effect: establishing W&W Group as an employer who offers attractive and supportive work environment and increasing the flexibility, motivation and productivity of its employees while decreasing potential stress factors.

The results of internal pre- and post-evaluations carried out by the Fraunhofer IAO showed that participants made use of this work arrangement predominantly 1-3 times per month and on occasion 1-2 days per week. 48.2% of participants perceived a decrease in the „potential for conflict” regarding the balance between family/life and work. 59.3% of participants reported an improvement in „managing difficult situations at work”.

Key success factors/obstacles

As part of the pilot project, the W&W Group carried out a kick-off meeting and an in-depth pre- and post-evaluation which made it possible to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the pilot project.

Several factors contributed to the success of the pilot project. First, the level of commitment from executive management to successfully deliver the pilot project; this required placing trust in the employees and moving away from the traditional emphasis on a stringent ‘attendance culture’. In addition, by facilitating an ongoing exchange between executive management and human resources, issues arising during the project implementation phase could be addressed. Secondly, the establishment of internal rules and guidelines and thorough expectation setting. For example, employees need to be reachable during normal working hours. This was achieved by setting up a phone and email policy which allowed for the employee to be contacted if necessary. Thirdly, having access to fully functioning technology resources (such as remote access technology). This precluded the introduction of communication solutions to facilitate and support ad hoc mobile working.

Obstacles mentioned by participating employees included technical problems and the lack of personal contact with colleagues. Employers stressed difficulties in defining the terms and conditions of flexible work arrangements. For example, which departments or staff members can make use of this flexible work arrangement and which cannot and why. In addition, ensuring compliance with labour law posed challenges, in particular with regard to taking responsibility for assessing health and safety conditions of an employee’s workspace. The works council of the W&W Group developed a leaflet on ergonomics at work to assist employees in complying with ergonomic standards in their workplace. Lastly, digitising existing archive materials in order to ensure an unrestricted and remote access proved to be difficult. The process of digitisation of the W&W Group’s archives remains ongoing.