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Flexible working – Introducing structured tools to work flexibly

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Traditionally, those working in the construction industry lacked flexibility in their working hours, regardless of the role conducted. The coronavirus pandemic forced the industry into allowing certain roles to work remotely wherever possible, as per government guidelines.

A construction package on the Enabling Works Contract (EWC) on the southern section of High Speed Two (HS2) Phase One utilised structured tools to enable the site-based team management team to adhere to government guidelines, without a loss of output. Team members also benefitted from flexibility which remote working brings.

This paper will be relevant to teams interested in applying flexible working, especially for those who manage primarily site-based teams.

Background and industry context

The construction industry faces employment challenges in areas including recruitment and retention. Long hours are often worked at sites or offices away from home, resulting in restricted hours away from the workplace for downtime, socialising and spending time with family. A perceived lack of work-life balance makes the industry less appealing to those seeking work and is often cited as a reason for workers leaving the industry.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the construction industry into a new way of working where many worked from home, either in a full-time or part-time capacity. Employees saw the benefits of this, with most individuals stating an improvement in work-life balance. Most teams also observed an increase in output.

As an industry, it was learnt that employees can in fact be trusted to deliver their roles and responsibilities from home (when able). Constructing Excellence cited that a lack of trust had been the greatest issue preventing the roll-out of flexible working within most businesses [1].

With a skills shortage affecting the industry, employees are often secured from outside the local area, requiring staff to relocate either temporarily or permanently to areas with a higher density of opportunities. Flexible working has allowed those in temporary accommodation to reduce the number of days spent away from home. Those who would have permanently relocated may also choose part-time temporary relocation.

Approach

The P083 Victoria Road Utilities Works team of the Enabling Works Contract (EWC) on the southern section of High Speed Two (HS2) Phase One, consisting of staff members from both Costain and Skanska through their joint venture partnership (CSjv), identified that an effective transfer of roles and responsibilities was crucial in enabling site-based employees (such as engineers and foremen) to benefit from flexible working.

The team implemented a number of structured tools to allow the engineering/construction team to benefit from flexible working, enabling remote and non-standard hours working.

The team developed a clearly defined roles and responsibilities table (Figure 1), which listed each of the package tasks and assigned a ‘primary person responsible’. A ‘secondary person responsible’ was also assigned, who would pick up the task in the absence of the primary individual.

Chart of  roles and responsibilities within a team
Figure 1 – Roles and Responsibilities Table.

This clearly defined and pre-agreed responsibilities table allowed the engineering/ construction team to work remotely, knowing that an individual was pre-assigned to pick up the relevant duties. This was especially important for tasks with a fixed location which could not be completed from home (such as site inspections or ‘Start of Shift’ attendance).

A meeting matrix (Figure 2) was also developed, which identified primary and secondary persons responsible for all meetings. This allowed individuals to work under non-standard hours with a pre-assigned individual to pick up any meeting attendance or chairing responsibilities. Additionally, this ultimately led to a reduction in the meetings attended per person, as attendance was reduced to those required to attend.

All team members agreed to sign up to both tools, which negated the need to come to agreements for individual flexible working periods. Critical to allowing flexible working is the willingness for more senior staff members to ‘step-down’ to fulfil site-based tasks.

Chart of a meeting matrix for team members to attend team meetings
Figure 2 – Meeting Matrix

Outcomes and learning

The implementation of structured tools was found to ease a forced transition into part-remote working during the coronavirus pandemic. The effectiveness of employees when working remotely proved that flexible working can work within the construction industry, brining benefits to employees and employers alike.

Although the site teams were initially reluctant to create such structured roles and responsibilities, feeling that this somewhat constrained and limited their opportunities, feedback was that such structured tools allowed them to work in an effective way remotely. Such clear visibility of the responsibilities of more senior roles also allowed employees to set stretch goals and a clear path of development.

It was recognised that such management tools are best drafted in a collaborative manner, as implementation of the tools requires buy-in from all of those involved.

Recommendations

Flexible working can effectively improve the work-life balance of employees whilst reducing overheads, such as office-space rental and travel reimbursement. Roles in the construction industry are often said to result in poor work-life balance.

Since the dawn of the coronavirus pandemic, remote working has been normalised within the industry and has shown to increase outputs in many areas whilst increasing job satisfaction. It is recommended that teams develop ways to manage flexible working arrangements relevant to specific circumstances.

The tools discussed within the report are presented as examples of introducing structure to enable teams to work flexibly. Construction companies should not be reluctant to introduce structure to enable flexible working.

Conclusion

Flexible working for site-based members of staff typically requires increased levels of planning and coordination in order to implement flexible working effectively.

Structured tools, such as roles and responsibilities tables and meeting matrices can be used to clearly define tasks which should be picked-up to fill-in for absent members of staff when working in a flexible manner.

Acknowledgements

The CSJV P083 team were instrumental in developing and implementing these tools.

Siobhan Bennet – Talent & Reallocation Manager

References

[1] Constructing Excellence. ‘Better Ways of Working: Flexible Working’. [Internet]. 2009 March [cited 2021 Sept 24]. Available from: https://constructingexcellence.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Flexible-Working_final.pdf