Interestingly, these forums identified many shared concerns and barriers to embedding a flexible work culture, as well as a few great examples of innovative work and thinking. A summary of the key barriers and new initiatives is included in the Knowledge Share Paper below.

The forums highlighted enormous opportunity for NAWO to play a role in facilitating further knowledge share, continuing conversation and acting as a ‘resource hub’ to connect you to the best information and people to support you to overcome challenges.

This paper is an invaluable resource for setting the context for ongoing conversation and future activities on this topic, both within your business and throughout the NAWO network.

We look forward to bringing you more Knowledge Share Papers on key topics of interest to NAWO members in the coming months.

NAWO Knowledge Share Paper

Instilling a culture of flexible work

Reflections from NAWO’s 2018 Knowledge Share Forums on flexibility

NAWO Knowledge Share Forums are forums limited to 12 participants – 1 per NAWO member organisation – who are passionate about driving diversity and inclusion strategies forward in their organisations. The forums are designed to inspire the co-creation of pragmatic actions that will make a difference in the topic area.


The world of work is changing, we all know it. Automation, Industry 4.0, increasing demand for talented, innovative, and agile people. Whether we be manufacturers, supply chains, retailers, warehouses, transport and logistics specialists or agricultural producers, the challenges and opportunities we are being presented with are common. High level, we all share the objective of getting the best product or service to our customers at the right time and at the right price, safely and at the highest possible quality.

So how should we be resourcing ourselves with the talent we need to achieve both the outcomes we want and best face into the increasing pace of change?

There are many angles from which we need to face into this change, but one that is always a hot topic for the NAWO community is how we can enable people to be agile and flexible in how they work – facilitating and enabling more individual control over when and where they work – to best achieve business outcomes. Instilling a culture of flexibility.

An added and very important benefit of flexible workplaces? Attracting and retaining female talent, enabling flexibility expands the talent pool immediately!

NAWO ran three Knowledge Share Forums on this very topic in WA, QLD and SA. Participating companies were: Caltex, Bluescope, Orora, ABB, BP, Visy, Bunnings, FMG, Rio Tinto, Orica, CBH, Asaleo Care, PPG, Kimberly Clark, ARTC, Dulux Group, Owens Illinois (OI Glass), Pernod Ricard, Parmalat, Detmold Group, Boral, Screening Transport and CSR.  Interestingly, these forums identified many shared concerns and barriers to embedding a flexible work culture, as well as a few great examples of innovative work and thinking. Following is a summary of the knowledge and the barriers to change shared by forum participants.


There was terrific discussion around this at all three forums and this is generally where each group landed.

Flexible working is the ability to negotiate how, when and where you work to achieve agreed business outcomes.

Having a flexible work culture goes way beyond the traditionally held paradigm of part-time work for returning mothers. It is about enabling flexible work options for all workers.

Many forum participants found this a useful change of mindset. Participants shared that a culture of flexible work requires as a pre-requisite an output and outcomes driven mindset, trust, and mutual respect and accountability from everyone involved.

Forum participants agreed that there is no one size fits all (sorry about that – no magic formula). Every company will need to define the culture/principles that work for their business, based on desired outcomes and objectives, and the people who work there. It necessitates the organisation of inputs and resources and actively supporting managers and team members to act in line with the principles until it just becomes ‘this is the way it’s done around here’.



  1. Talent pool surveys are consistently identifying flexibility as the #1 ticket item on job seekers’ wish lists, ahead of salary – regardless of gender.
  2. The pace of innovation and change requires ever changing sets of skills, based on projects in play, and increasingly organisations need more dynamic and agile resourcing to meet business objectives.
  3. All generations are understanding and valuing the ability to integrate their work and personal lives more holistically than ever before, and we now recognise a significant link between work-life integration and mental health.
  4. The growth in the gig economy is seeing more self-employed consultants in the market than ever before, enabling increased agility as organisations pull in expertise as and when needed to get projects completed.
  5. Women and men are increasingly looking to share the parenting load and are looking for workable options to help them contribute meaningfully to the workplace at the same time as fulfilling this very important unpaid role/period in life. The pool of talent in this demographic will continue to grow.
  6. A large number of women (and a smaller number of men) who have been out of the workforce on parental leave for 5+ years are an untapped talent pool and organisations with flexible work cultures are well placed to tap into this.
  7. Offering flexibility is more likely to attract a greater proportion of female talent to the opportunities you have available, so if improving gender diversity in your teams is a priority, then your ability to offer flexibility is key.
  8. There are opportunities for decreased costs of operation and increased productivity as businesses identify more agile and efficient ways to get work done and effectively leverage technology (hot desking, reduced head office/corporate overheads, reduced commute time and therefore increased time working).
  9. Some companies who have implemented flexible work initiatives are also reporting an improved readiness to manage their businesses through crisis due to the technology improvements already in place to enable people to work outside the traditional office environment.
  10. 24/7 operations are changing rapidly, with automation a key driver. Resource companies, for example, are hubbing operational management functions from more central locations, running regional 24/7 operations via remote control as technology takes over tasks once completed by operators.


Discussion in the Knowledge Share Forums indicated that, in general, there are informal flexibility options for people in office based roles across our network – flexing start and finish times, working from home, applying time in lieu and hooking into meetings via conference call when working remotely. However, the general consensus described by forum participants was that this is very Manager/Team specific, with some teams still keeping their informal flexible work practices ‘quiet’ so as to not ‘rock the boat’.

Senior leadership buy-in is critical for embedding a true flexible work culture. Forum participants identified 5 key potential barriers to this buy-in:

  1. How to ensure and measure improved productivity
  2. Ensuring fairness and equity
  3. Ensuring no detrimental impact to customer connectivity/contact
  4. Lack of technical infrastructure
  5. Ensuring a safe place of work for flexible workers

On the frontline in 24/7 operations, forum participants described 8 more traditional barriers to a culture of flexible work:

  1. Rostering and rules imposed by traditional enterprise agreements
  2. Male dominated, low turnover workforces with low interest in flexibility and flexibility being perceived as a ‘for women/mothers’ thing
  3. Constraints from a safety, training and development perspective that need resources applied to redesign
  4. Traditional command and control style management & cultures
  5. Low trust environments
  6. Perception that flexibility is about ‘working from home’ and this option is not available to everyone
  7. Inconsistent application of guidelines/policies by line managers due to a range of reasons from interpretation, belief and unconscious bias, to misguided views around cost
  8. Middle managers can be the biggest challenge – they often choose to work long hours and don’t give themselves flexibility


Encouragingly, several NAWO member companies are rethinking the way they enable their people to work. A couple are even analysing how 24/7 shift workers can have access to flexible options and this is super exciting.

Following are 8 great initiatives:

  1. BlueScope’s Bflex principle based programme, currently being piloted at two production sites, is a great example of a company attempting a new approach by piloting at more progressive sites to avoid ‘biting off more than you can chew’.
  2. Bunnings, whilst not quite 24/7, is applying a very mature approach to roster management for store/customer facing team members – teams work out their own rosters together, two weeks in advance, thereby accommodating team members’ work/life integration needs.
  3. FMG has integrated family rooms into the workplace to enable staff to bring their kids to work. This is particularly helpful during school holidays or when dealing with sick (but not too sick) kids.
  4. Rio Tinto is investigating innovative rostering opportunities and looking at other company models (such as Qantas) to inform their thinking.
  5. Pernod Ricard has introduced trained ‘Better Balance Ambassadors’ across all levels of the organisation.
  6. CSR Bradford is rolling out ‘Chatters that Matter’ to increase levels of engagement and understanding between people in the organisation.
  7. Similarly, Dulux is finding success through storytelling – sharing stories through their business news channels rather than taking a policy approach.
  8. A number of examples were given where companies had offered flexible work options to more positively transition staff to retirement and we see enormous potential here.

An interesting general outcome of the Knowledge Share Forums was recognition that there could be more happening in pockets of our organisations than we are aware – informal, case-by-case flexibility – so there may be many more good news stories that could be used to develop a case for more consistent application of the principles of flexible work. Participants agreed that there is great power in sharing these stories and ‘leading out loud’ with successful examples of flexible work.

Across the board, structural changes were identified as a key to instilling a culture of flexibility. Opportunities included:

  1. Applying a FIFO rostering mentality to manufacturing and site-based work.
  2. Reconsidering job share options beyond current norms.
  3. Improving understanding of the true costs of losing team members and replacing them.
  4. Employee driven problem solving – engaging employees at site and/or involved in certain challenges with finding and implementing flexibility solutions rather than looking only to leadership/HR to define.


This paper summarises the conversations, ideas and challenges shared at the NAWO Knowledge Share Forum and highlights some key considerations regarding barriers and potential opportunities for instilling a culture of flexible work. It provides a useful starting point for generating discussion within your organisation. Maybe you could use it to host a similar Knowledge Share event within your organisation?

For more useful information, check out our Podcast specifically on this topic, “Let’s get flexible”, an interview with CEO of FlexCareers, Natalie Goldman.

NAWO is a valuable ‘resource hub’ that can connect you to the best information and people to support you to overcome challenges.  Please get in touch to find out more…