Engineering firm funds research into lasting flexible work systems

BUILDING and civil engineering company Sir Robert McAlpine has funded a study using first-person accounts to provide employers with “more than stats” on the subject of flexible working.

The Forever Flex: Making Flexible Working Work Beyond a Crisis report is based on a survey of 1,420 employers and in-depth interviews with leaders and decision-makers at 32 companies of various sectors and sizes. Conducted during lockdown, it was designed to resonate on a “human level” and give examples of how flexible working could be managed across sectors.

In 2019, Sir Robert McAlpine backed Mother Pukka’s Flex Appeal campaign to fund research that would provide flexible working solutions. Its goal is to improve the work-life balance for employees, and address the issue of mental health in the construction sector — which records an alarming rate of male suicides each year.

“If flexible working can somehow have a positive impact on mental health and help us reverse the alarming trend of male suicides in construction, then I am 100 percent committed to supporting it,” said Sir Robert McAlpine CEO Paul Hamer.

The lockdown hit in March 2020 plunged companies and countries into the great Covid “flex-periment” — but “forced” remote working is different from flexible working. The focus of the Flex Appeal study shifted towards providing examples applicable after the pandemic.

A third of all employers noted an increase in productivity over lockdown, and 34 percent recorded an increase in employee wellbeing and happiness. In other key highlights, 72 percent of respondents wished to retain home working after the pandemic — but just 66 percent of construction sector employers intend to do so.

The report found that while the pandemic challenged employer misconceptions about flexible working, there remained, and remains, a need clarity and a shift from “accidental flex” to “true flex”.

Advice based on interviews with leaders and decision-makers at 32 companies that have embraced the concept:

  • Go beyond HR: set up workshops and coaching for leaders to help them understand the implementation of flex
  • Adjust the terminology: tailor flex to an organisation’s culture and specific and priorities
  • Test: find out what works best, pilot and trial flexible working changes on small teams, rather than unveiling a major launch.

Hamer said the study provided a practical guide. “We don’t have all the answers yet and we’re on our own journey to introduce flexible working for everyone,” he said. “Each of us has the right to a healthy work life balance.” The findings would help pave the way to greater inclusion, diversity and a reduction of the gender pay-gap, he said.

The report was commissioned by campaigner Anna Whitehouse (aka Mother Pukka) and conducted by Claremont.