Employer Partners

South East Water’s flexibility policy HALVED absenteeism during COVID-19

Read about how South East Water's flexibility policy led to a smooth transition to remote work during COVID-19.

We are excited by the possibilities of true flexible work and what it means for our roles, families, and whole lives.

At South East Water, we offer a variety of flexible work arrangements to help employees achieve work-life integration. FlexCareers worked with South East Water to help train leaders in flexibility and implement flexible working frameworks, and we packaged this offering into a formal program in July 2019. It includes:

  • Purchased leave
  • Flexible start/finish times
  • Flexible work location
  • Guiding principles
  • Toolkits to support leaders and employees
  • Expansion of parental leave to three months paid for both parents/carers and reducing eligibility requirements

However, we still experienced a few practical limitations relating to technology and people leaders expectations – for example, some critical roles were still perceived to require a physical presence which often led to a focus on presence, rather than outcomes.

When coronavirus (COVID-19) hit, continuing our services with a fully remote workforce – apart from our on-site maintenance roles – was our first priority.

Luckily, we had already embedded our flexible framework which led to a complete normalisation of remote working, very quickly.

As previously noted, the challenges regarding technology, leadership capability and cultural expectations still needed to be resolved. However, within the first month of working remotely, absenteeism halved, and we maintained strong employee engagement levels.  

The new coronavirus (COVID-19) workplace environment supported a further cultural shift towards flexibility and demonstrated the genuine business benefits of an inclusive workforce. There was also some great role-modelling by many of our leaders to demonstrate the different flexible working options. 

In July 2019, 79% of employees felt they were genuinely supported in making use of flexible work arrangements. This increased to 87% in March 2020 (metric via Culture Amp pulse survey).

Bridget Thakrar, General Manager, People and Safety SEW

I am personally most proud of our organisation’s ability to transition to a mostly remote working environment in a very short period of only one week, with an absolute focus on our people, safety and wellbeing while also continuing to deliver to our customers and the community.

– Bridget Thakrar, General Manager, People and Safety

Key learnings

Technology: We addressed some of our previous challenges around key operational areas very quickly, deploying technology at scale to enable access and connection.

Flexibility: We demonstrated that flexible work is workable for the majority of our employees.

Wellbeing and safety: We reinforced the importance of wellbeing and safety and implemented ergonomic setups where necessary to ensure optimal work environments in very challenging circumstances to make sure we continue to put safety first – even when we’re working remotely.

Lead by example: Our leaders demonstrated sound adaptability – a key focus for our senior leadership development.

Learning: We rapidly developed an in-house eLearning offering to support internal change management initiatives.

Build Back Better

In April 2020, our Executive Team started to look at opportunities beyond coronavirus (COVID-19). A voluntary group of cross-functional leaders workshopped different ideas. These were then themed and further developed with our Executive to feed into our corporate planning process. The opportunity themes are:

  • Leveraging the government investment stimulus
  • Future ways of working
  • Collaborative alliances
  • New customer interactions
  • Remote operations

We’re also co-creating flexible work solutions with our employees, taking into consideration their unique circumstances and showing that we care and understand the challenges of remote learning, caring and schooling responsibilities.

We will soon have the ability to deliver a fully digital remote working employee experience. This is going to allow us to genuinely promote our commitment to flexible work practices.

When embedding true flexibility, you have to demonstrate the work can be done at an equal or better level of quality in terms of output. The conversation can then move from trust to transparency of outcomes. Once you’ve demonstrated high performance, there is rarely a good reason why flexibility won’t work.

– Bridget Thakrar, General Manager, People and Safety

Our key advice to enable flexible working:

  1. Develop your leaders’ inclusion capabilities so they can be flexible when catering to a wide variety of employee needs. EQ is even more important for leading remote teams.
  2. Expand your internal talent pool and foster innovation and agility with a more diverse workforce.
  3. Focus on a culture that measures outputs and tools to help increase transparency and enable flexible work.
  4. Focus on building trust. Enhance trust by being exposed to an individual’s home life. Trust also helps leaders move to an outcomes-based performance measurement system.
  5. Develop a framework for your communication channels to avoid creating additional workloads.

Amy Fletcher – Organisational Development Lead SEW

Employee Story

Amy Fletcher – Organisational Development Lead

Flexibility allows me to be there for those important moments.

My role is to design and implement leadership and cultural development initiatives that support South East Water’s growth and direction. I work 0.8 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE), which means I work a four-day week. Working flexible hours through the day and one day from home allows me to juggle a fulfilling career with being a parent.

I’m passionate about the work I do and wanted the opportunity to contribute and add value to my workplace. I have young children and spending quality time with them before they reach school is something I did not want to compromise on. When choosing a business to work with, finding an employer that supports and encourages flexible work was part of my criteria.

On a personal note, I’ve come to be at peace with the fact the pendulum never stays in the middle. It swings both sides and therefore the arrangement needs to be flexible. There are times where work needs more of me, and there are times where my family needs more of me, and that’s OK. In a practical sense, the other side is ensuring the workload reflects the working arrangement – don’t try to fit five days of work into four.

Keeping the conversation open with my leader has worked for me. Also, being upfront about what you need and what your leader needs is important. For example, making changes to my work schedule is something I can do, provided I have notice and can source childcare. Having that discussion helps to prevent an assumption of being unwilling or inflexible down the track.

If you would like to discuss how FlexCareers can help you implement flexible working at your organisation, you can contact our experts here.

Read more case studies in our 2020 Flex Report: The New Normal. Download it here.

Find out more about SEW here.


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