Other ways to work

Karen Middleton considers the gains and challenges of developing a flexible workforce

Other ways to work CSP CEO Karen Middleton

Since I’ve been at the CSP I have been leading work to modernise and develop the organisation. 

We started with ‘Good to Great’, a programme with a range of elements including the governance of the organisation, its culture, planning, and influencing healthcare policy. Our focus is now on specific areas that will enable us to achieve our vision for how we want to be working by 2023 – indeed how we need to be working by then if we are to remain relevant, efficient and effective.

One of these areas is developing a more flexible workforce. Given my previous employers, I would say that the CSP is pretty flexible, and I am struck how much talk there is of the NHS needing to be a more flexible employer too. This seems to be a strong feature of most organisations nowadays, and is the result of insight into what is important to employees and what delivers the best outcomes for the business in a changing context.

Of course, technology is enabling much of this flexibility: we can work anywhere at any time if our work depends on technology. But it’s also about a mindset and I have definitely had to change mine. I’ve learnt that flexibility means different things to different people. It isn’t just about where and when you work. Being able to hold people to account for their impact rather than their activity is key, and trust is critical. The flexibility has to work both ways and has to be in the service of the organisation. Some might say ‘the more flexible, the better’ but some want and need clear boundaries. And, of course, for different jobs there are different levels of flexibility – some really don’t have much flexibility at all.

There are many issues here that need our attention. We’re all human so connections and relationships are important. Being able to meet up regularly – even remotely – is important and sometimes in a flexible working environment it can be challenging. People need to know what is expected of them, by when, so regular one-to-ones or catch-ups are vital. 

I’ve also noticed certain assumptions that must be voiced and checked out. One assumption is that people working, say, from home are not working as hard as those working in the office. In my experience, the reverse is often true. 

The more fluid your work and home life, the less clear are your breaks from working.  It’s important to ensure proper time off and time out – we will perform better as a result.

Lastly, never forget that the nature of many people’s work means that flexible working is not available. That can be tough if everyone else has flexibility. Managers need to manage this tension.

So as I lead a more flexible organisation, I realise there are as many issues as there are solutions. While there may be unintended consequences, there are so many positives that it is worth the effort of working through.

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