The Future Favours the Flexible: Reflections from the 2022 AHRI National Convention

It’s a topic that comes up in discussion with our clients and partners again and again… and again a few more times: what does flexible work look like in the future?.

I was lucky to have the opportunity at the AHRI National Convention and Exhibition in Sydney this August to join a panel to discuss ''The Future Favours the Flexible" from an employer branding perspective. There were such fantastic questions and thoughts from the audience, and along with the insights from my fellow panellists, it is a discussion that will clearly continue for some time.

Through my recent discussions with clients, it’s become clear that there are two key employer branding considerations in relation to flexible work. First is the challenge of developing an approach or policy that works for everyone: employees, customers, clients and the organisation as a whole. The second is communicating that proposition in a way that makes sense to your talent, both future and current.

Our CEO Mark Puncher always says the keys to effective employer branding are proposition, strategy and storytelling, and this can similarly be applied to flexible and hybrid work arrangements. Below, I unpack some of the key points from the panel discussion under these key elements.

1. Proposition (Getting your leaders on board)

AHRI - The Australian HR Institute conducted a survey of over a thousand HR professionals across Australia exploring employers' mindsets on hybrid working, flexible working practices, and productivity in 2022. When asked where the pressure was coming from requiring employees to return to the office, a whopping 75% put it at the feet of senior management!

This just shows the importance of getting your Leaders on board with a clear proposition that is connected to the business strategy. In addition to getting your leaders onboard, you also need a clear proposition for your talent and a strategy to bring it to life.

2. Strategy (That everyone can get behind)

This can be hard to do without getting bogged down in the detail too early and I loved the approach that my fellow panellist Anita Patrick uses at PepsiCo ANZ which outlines the 4 Cs. These are key roles that the office can fulfil for teams; create, collaborate, celebrate and connect. This approach outlines a high-level strategic intent that everyone can understand. It is clear and concise making it an easy-to-digest proposition to prospective talent.

To help you attract talent your employer brand should be positive and attractive while remaining authentic and grounded in reality. The 4 Cs deliver on this, offering a positive message that attracts the talent you want without all the detail of a policy outlining what you can and can't do. This type of simple messaging connects people behind an idea that makes logical sense, but to truly connect with people on an emotional level (where it matters), the power of authentic storytelling cannot be overlooked.

3. Storytelling (Connecting it all to what matters)

Bringing your flexible work arrangements to life through storytelling is a powerful way to connect with talent, especially when it comes to DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging).

We have never had a bigger opportunity to design what we want our work spaces to be. Even using the language of work-spaces rather than work-places opens up a broader discussion that moves away from the narrow (and often tedious) return-to-the-office debate. This reframes the challenge, creating the opportunity for out-of-the box thinking such as the cafe in Japan staffed by robots that are operated remotely by people with severe physical disabilities.

When we talk to our clients' employees, they don't tell us about how many days they have to be in the office or the likelihood that they will have an incidental conversation that leads to increased innovations and engagement. No, people tell us about what it means to them and how it has enriched their lives. From having the flexibility to collect children at daycare early allowing space for the park, to the relief for someone with chronic illness who can self-manage their condition with privacy and dignity. These are the stories that show the exciting potential that the future of work can have.

The future of work is flexible. And finally, it seems that work just might flex around people, rather than the other way around. Organisations that can adapt to this world and share this message effectively through powerful, people-led storytelling are best placed to thrive in the years ahead.

About the Author

David Concannon. MBus (HRM), CPHR is the Chief Operating Officer at Employer Branding Australia, working with a fantastic team to help bring organisations' talent offers to life through deep research, insights and the power of people-centred storytelling. A QLD State Councillor with the Australian HR Institute and a certified HR practitioner, David has always believed that if people have a better experience at work, in organisations that truly value their contribution, that the world will simply be a much better place.

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