Flexible working case studies

a sample of the sorts of flexible working currently going on around the School.

‘Flexible working’ can mean a wide range of arrangements to suit different situations. Here is just a sample of the sorts of flexible working currently going on around the School. If you have a story which you'd like to share about an effective flexible working arrangement, please get in touch with your HR Partner or Adviser.  


A Working Father at LSE (Andy Wilson, Directorate)

I recently returned to work from 4 months of Shared Parental Leave taking care of my daughter. My wife and I wanted to share caring responsibilities so that we would have an equal opportunity to develop our careers. We both made flexible working requests and thanks to LSE, and my wife’s employer, we each spend one day in the week caring for our daughter.

During my shared parental leave I was re-elected as a local councillor and I was asked to take on additional responsibilities as the lead member for Finance. In order to fulfil my new role I needed to find more time to be available for commitments during the working day. I decided to make a flexible working request to reduce my hours so that I was required to work an average number of hours per week. I am now able to flex the amount of time I spend working at LSE, at the Council and at home with my daughter so that in some weeks I work more (or less) than my average hours.

Making a Job Share Work: Cynthia and Jess (HR)

We work in HR on a job share arrangement, which means that we each work 2.5 days a week in the same shared role. Previously, we were both working full-time. However, we both had interests outside work which we were pursuing and which meant a lot to us because it helped us maintain our work-life balance, but we were finding the time commitment very demanding. We spoke with our managers and they agreed to trial a job share which would enable both of us to dedicate more quality time to our outside commitments while at the same time doing a similar job within HR.

Our HR work is very customer-focused so it was crucial to us that we could make a job share arrangement work without affecting the level of service that we offer. Good communication is the key. We share a mailbox and an extension number, and our email signatures specify when we’re going to be in the office so that people know when they can contact us. We also have half a day’s handover every Wednesday so that we’re always both aware of any outstanding issues – not only does this mean that there are no gaps in service, it can also mean that we actually offer a more complete service because we bring different perspectives to our work. This is just one of the ways in which our flexible working arrangements complement each other.

Of course, it’s also a big help that we’re both fully committed (and personally motivated) to making the job share work. This kind of commitment and a degree of flexibility can make a job share possible in all kinds of roles. It might not be for everyone, but in the right circumstances it can work really well.

Creating a Flexible Working Culture: the Library

The Library supports flexible working in a number of ways, so that staff can balance their work and home lives while ensuring that operational requirements and the business needs of the Library and its customers and users are fully met. Library staff work across a range of different work patterns, including part-time, term-time working and flexitime.

There’s a strong focus on the value of an informal discussion before a formal request is made through the School’s policy. This is often the best way to agree some flexible or ad hoc arrangements without needing to go through the formal process. For example, a member of staff could agree with their manager to finish early on a Friday if they’ve worked long hours earlier in the week, or to come in earlier and leave earlier for a temporary period of time e.g. during school holidays. The Library is also open to trialing flexible working arrangements to consider the potential impact on the team, workload, operations etc. There is an expectation that the employee and manager will work together to mitigate the impact. At the core of the Library’s positive approach to flexible working is a mutually beneficial, win-win arrangement, where this is feasible.

Formal requests for flexible working are treated on a case by case basis, in accordance with School policy. Whether it’s formal or informal, managers are encouraged to discuss with staff how flexible working will operate in practice, to work together on reviewing any potential issues with what was initially requested, and to think creatively about how any issues can be overcome. For example, this might involve looking at other options or compromising on aspects of the original request. Of course, this approach works best when everyone involved is prepared to be flexible in their thinking and reach win-win solutions. At the same time, we recognise that it’s not always possible to agree to every request; if a request does get turned down, it’s important that managers explain their reasons.

Creating a Flexible Working Culture: ARD

What kind of working practices do you have in your team and management style to allow flexibility and create a flexible working culture?

The Graduate Admissions Office (GAO) has a well-established flexible team culture, and the default position is that team members are trusted. The focus is very much on good outputs and great service to our stakeholders, rather than on ‘presenteeism’ or rigid working practices without a cogent rationale. Team members are permitted to work at home or remotely wherever feasible and appropriate; flexible working hours are also permitted on the same basis.  The nature of much Graduate Admissions’ work is highly seasonal, and at times involves long working hours: line managers find various ways of compensating those they manage during less busy times. The taking up of Shadowing, PAL Days, LSE Mentoring and Volunteering Days is also encouraged.


How do you manage staff effectively when they’re working flexibly and aren’t necessarily all in the office at the same time?

There are a variety of ways in which team members are managed within a flexible working culture:

  • For at least one sub-team, there is at least one day where, unless there is good reason not to, all members of the team (including line managers) will be present.
  • Regular informal meetings (e.g. weekly line managers’ meeting), bi-weekly whole team meetings for much of the admissions cycle.
  • Regular one-to-ones between line-managers and those they manage.
  • Use of (not necessarily high) tech to maintain lines of communication and carry out shared tasks: line managers can phone in to the weekly meeting if working at home; use of shared inboxes, so that, for example, applicants’ queries can be answered by those working at home/remotely.
  • We have regular informal, inclusive team-building activities (light-hearted quizzes and collective activities - bake sales, away days, shared festivities etc.) that encourage good communication and empathy between team members, ensuring not only a good team ethos, but trust and goodwill between managers and those they manage.     
  • GAO service-users and stakeholders (applicants with queries, offer-holders, PSS and academic staff) across the School are asked for their feedback on GAO team-members on a regular basis.
  • Outputs are monitored: whether working remotely or in the office, team members work to individual daily/weekly targets and the quality of their work is also monitored in a variety of ways.      
  • We use a shared calendar in Outlook to co-ordinate and plan ahead (e.g. flagging up ‘out of office’ days in advance).

GAO is entirely open-plan, which makes it easier to maintain good communication and monitor the performance of team members when they are in the office.


Why do you think having a flexible working culture is important to ARD?

Flexible working makes a big difference to how ARD works in a number of ways:

  • It builds in some extra resilience for the overall team and helps individuals to manage unexpected life events. Short-term events (e.g. broken boiler) and long-term issues (e.g. regular hospital appointments) can both be mediated by allowing some flexibility in working arrangements.
  • It allows one team member, who lives in Birmingham and has childcare responsibilities, to work full-time. She can make use of home working some days, and, when coming into the office, has flexible hours, which allows her to travel at off-peak times, saving on costs.
  • Some team members’ roles involve a lot of detailed reading (e.g. the Graduate Admissions Selectors): such an activity is not always best carried out in an open-plan office. Allowing Admissions Selectors to work at home or remotely increases productivity and can lead to better quality outputs.
  • Flexible hours/remote working is routinely put in place for colleagues with childcare or other caring responsibilities so that they can maintain a healthy work-life balance.

In all such cases, individuals appreciate the importance to GAO of their particular circumstances, wellbeing and happiness. They feel valued as people as well as colleagues. Such working practices build loyalty.


What benefits do you see as a team to having a flexible working culture?

All of the above:

  • Productivity benefits in terms of being able to work quietly and effectively at home/remotely when working on complex or intricate tasks and projects; time spent working rather than commuting.
  • Motivation, commitment and going the extra mile: GAO is a happy and highly effective office. It was shortlisted in 2017 for the VIP Team Award (and the Head of Admissions won the 2016 VIP Director’s Award).
  • Retention gains: some excellent and highly-valued colleagues simply would not be able to work without the flexibility offered by GAO’s working culture: that would be a loss to GAO and to LSE.

Flexible working builds loyalty - to GAO and LSE more broadly.

A local approach to flexible working: LSE Careers

What kind of working practices do you have in your team and management style to allow flexibility and create a flexible working culture?

Staff within LSE Careers have access to a wide range of flexible working options. These include staggered hours, time off in lieu, home working, compressed hours, annualised hours and part-time hours.


Space for improvement

During the Department Away Day in 2018, staff identified flexible working as an area in need of review. Working from home and flexi-time received considerable attention with suggestions for reconsidering the default position. The default position was based on the premise that LSE Careers is client-facing, and that much of the work should take place on the School campus. Flexible working arrangements were reviewed and approved on a case by case basis, taking into consideration the needs of the individual and those of the department. Staff also identified that flexible working arrangements varied in shape and form across the teams; therefore, good communication regarding local practices and a clear plan for managing flexible working arrangements was needed.


Flexible Working Pilot

To address this issue a flexible working group was established with representatives from each team in the department. The working group carried out research, benchmarked across Russell Group careers services and consulted staff. Based on the recommendations of the working group a three month pilot was launched to trial:

  • Home working once a fortnight for all staff (excluding new staff still in their review / probation period)
  • Staggered hours to allow staff to start and finish work at varying times

To ensure the success of the pilot, all staff were trained on using LSE Remote Desktop, redirecting desk phone, using Outlook calendars to indicate flexi-work schedule. A technology audit was also carried out to determine whether staff had access to a laptop/PC at home and spare laptops were made available for booking out.

Throughout the pilot staff provided anonymous feedback and were able to discuss progress openly during weekly team meetings. An end of pilot evaluation survey was carried out and helped the department review the impact of the new flexible working practices. The results were positive and evidenced the benefits of flexible working.


How do you manage staff effectively when they're working effectively and aren't necessarily all in the office at the same time?

Clear communication and guidelines are necessary to ensure that all staff are aware of how to request and manage flexible working. Managers and their teams work together to create a balanced flexible working and annual leave schedule. Outlook calendars are updated to accurately reflect where staff are (i.e. working from home, working elsewhere on campus, TOIL etc.) and phones are redirected as necessary.

By organising a series of training workshops and including flexible working as a standing agenda item for weekly meetings, it has meant managers and their teams are able to constantly review arrangements, reiterate information and quickly resolve issues.

It is also important to ensure trust is at the centre of all working relationships and flexible working practices. We have encouraged transparency, clear and open communication and have involved the entire department in designing our local flexible approach.


Why do you think having a flexible working culture is important?

By supporting a flexible working culture in the department, we have received feedback of increased staff wellbeing and job satisfaction. We recognise that work-life integration and work-life balance is important to staff and we need to create an environment that supports that. We value our staff and their contribution; we therefore, want to support a flexible work culture because it makes our staff happy, boosts productivity and fosters a climate of trust.

Tailoring flexible arrangements to changing circumstances (Monika Hockenhull, Directorate)

I’ve had several flexible arrangements at LSE over the last few years to suit the developments in my personal life. In my previous role, I worked 4 days a week in the office, compensating for the fifth day in the evenings and weekends from home. This mix of flexible/staggered hours allowed me to spend one day a week with my children and catch up on work when they were asleep or with other family members.

I’ve now changed the arrangement due to the fact that my son started school in September. I now finish work earlier two days a week to be able to pick him up from school, working from home one of those days to save commute time. I will continue compensating for the hours in the evenings. This arrangement does not allow for a clear cut between work/home life, however, the flexibility is very helpful – it reduces pressure and childcare costs.