Members at the Far North District Council (FNDC) spent the early days of the pandemic organising against inflexible conditions forced on them by their employer.
The result was an award-winning, truly flexible-working policy, led by our members with enduring potential for post-pandemic Aotearoa.
“The early days were fairly chaotic,” explains organiser Mark Furey. “At first, council bosses didn’t trust our members to work from home. They expected to see a drop in productivity.”
Mark says management treated members' homes as an extension of the office. Workers were asked to go to each other’s homes to provide training, while concern about Covid-19 was still at fever pitch.
“We had tense words with management to establish what a home is. It’s not an extension of the workplace; it’s a place where people should feel safe.”
Motivated by a staff survey which revealed 83 per cent of workers felt their productivity was the same or better while working from home, management changed tack, introducing sweeping work from home policies for all workers.
The problem then became one of flexibility. “They refused to let our members into the workplace,” Mark explains. “Quite a few of our people were unable to work remotely. It caused a row because management didn’t understand where we were coming from.”
Members sought to resolve the situation collaboratively, persuading their bosses to hand over the reins of the council’s flexible working policies to those they directly affected.
PSA delegates Brad Hedger and Sheree Whaanga-Gill take up the story.
“We organised a meeting with our members,” Brad says. “While most saw the benefits of working remotely, a significant minority had concerns.
“The pandemic turned everything on its head,” Sheree says. “We didn’t want to force more upheaval on people at such a difficult time. We wanted to give them options.”
FOR WORKERS BY WORKERS
Brad and Sheree – together with PSA members across the organisation – took charge of everything; from their working patterns to the equipment and ergonomics they needed to work from home.
The result was the Creating and Enabling Great Workplaces initiative – a hybrid plan for flexible working, which offered workers the option of working remotely, or from the office, with total flexibility.
The council’s flexible working policies have since been nominated for three HR awards. It secured a win for Best Workplace Flexibility Program at the annual NZ Human Resources Director (HRD) Awards.
Chief executive Shaun Clarke is proud of the win: “The initiative was beautiful because it ran from the centre of the organisation outward,” he says. “We were blown away by what didn’t happen to productivity.”
“We don’t always see eye-to-eye,” Brad concludes, “but I think this has been an important lesson about putting faith in your people.”