« In my case, the on-demand flexible solution seemed to be the best compared to « a fixed telecommuting day » or «Wednesdays off ». »
Interviewed by Judy Raffray
House of Cadres met with Laure who is a HR development director at Sodexo Groupe in France. While sharing with us her personal experience of flexible working as an employee and a team leader, she explains the key success factors of a new way of working environment.
You hold a HR director position at Sodexo Groupe in France. Is flexible working compatible with executive responsibilities?
I benefit from a high level of work flexibility. This is not a contractual flexible work pattern – such as a fixed telecommuting day – but rather an on-demand type of flexibility, depending on my needs, which may change from one week to another. If I have constraints such as a medical appointment for my children, I can easily telecommute, or leave the office early with the option to work again from home later in the evening. I also have the option to work from a coworking space that is close to my home.
Was this flexible work pattern offered to you by your employer or did you have to ask for it?
I am a mother of 3 and when I came back from my second maternity leave, I thought about reducing my schedule to part-time. When talking with my managers about my work organization, I quickly realized that a part time schedule was not the best choice for me, nor for the company taking into account my job responsibilities and my career aspirations. My managers were very understanding and told me: « We can certainly find a way to help you manage both your personal constraints and your job ». In my case, the on-demand flexible solution seemed to be the best compared to « a fixed telecommuting day » or «Wednesdays off ». I admit I had some doubts about this work organization. But it worked out really well thanks to a mutual trusting relationship. It ended up being very beneficial for everybody. I was able to continue working full time and grow professionally – without being labeled a « part-time » worker, which would have been very likely to happen five years ago in France. The company was able to retain and grow a human asset. When I gave birth to my 3rd child, I was holding a new position in the company. The question of moving to part time was raised again. However, my managers and I readily decided to go for the on-demand flexible solution again as it perfectly fit our respective needs and goals.
How do your managers view your « on-demand » flexible work organization?
I am fortunate to have managers with whom I share a mutual trusting relationship and who are comfortable with work flexibility in general. They are open to this organization either because they personally experienced it, or because they witnessed colleagues working that way. Successful flexible working organizations require communication, trust, good digital tools in order to monitor work progress and easily reach team members, and above all a road map displaying respective responsibilities. As far I am concerned, I have annual personal objectives as well as a clear vision of the group’s challenges and goals and of the way my team and I can contribute to achieving them.
Talking about team work, you lead a team of 5 people. What is your position on flexible working as far as your team members are concerned?
I am completely open to work flexibility for my team members. This is probably because I work with quality people whom I trust. I had the opportunity to recruit 2 team members and I immediately offered them the option to telecommute once a week (Sodexo Groupe in France signed a telecommuting agreement). It should be noted that Sodexo aims at enhancing its customers’ quality of life. For that reason, as an employer we also have a workplace quality of life responsibility toward our employees.
Flexible working patterns in our team are very diverse. One of my team members is from Brazil and sometimes must travel there for several weeks. Another female team member telecommutes once a week, others only have to deal with occasional family constraints and use on-demand flexible working solutions, and last but not least some do not need them at all. All of them can easily work from home or have a flexible work schedule depending on their needs. What matters most is ensuring that team members have a clear vision on their individual mission and that they share it with their colleagues and embrace it. Once those rules are established and as long as communication remains fluid between team members and I, the way they organize their work does not really matter. We use a project management tool which enables team members to be informed of projects in progress, of responsibilities and monitor work as it is being done. Thanks to this permanent information sharing way of collaborating we do not have to constantly be at the office to perform work.
Nevertheless, I believe it is important to maintain some « working together » rituals with ongoing onsite team meetings, in order to share information and ideas. As of today, I don’t believe we can move to « full-time telecommute » given the group we work in and our activity. But as long as my team members and I agree on a flexible work organization ahead, it works very well.
Mobile digital tools have facilitated on demand flexibility while blurring the frontier between professional life and personal life. How do you manage this balance from a personal and a managerial standpoint?
Personally, I sometimes find work-life balance difficult to manage because one is easily caught up in a project or tempted to constantly check one’s smartphone to monitor work progress… I appreciate having a flexible work organization and being able to work from home in the evening, but when it becomes a pattern it is unhealthy. In order to prevent our professional life from taking our personal life, it is crucial to remain vigilant and frequently ask ourselves: is working again tonight that vital?
As a manager I have to take into account the fact that my team members and I do not necessarily have the same life profile, nor the same personal constraints. If I send an email late at night – for instance because that day it corresponds to my work schedule – I inform my team that I do not expect a response from them the very same night. It is important that the manager communicates those rules. Some team members prefer a classic 9-6 schedule with no work at home at all. Others choose more flexible schedules with the option to finish some work from home. When coming back from business travel abroad, team members who travel a lot can arrive later at the office or choose to do some work at home. Flexible patterns are applied on a case by case basis.
Team leaders sometimes ask my opinion when they have to make a decision on an employee’s telecommuting application. This question often reveals a management issue and not a problem towards telecommuting as a work organization. I advise them to ask themselves the right questions: « Is this employee well integrated into the team? Does he/she have and do we have a clear view on his/her objectives? What is his/her career development plan? Dealing with these issues is a prerequisite in order to establish trust which is a primary condition for a successful flexible working organization.
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