Introducing workplace flexibility into your agency

22 Oct 2021
Estate Agents Co-operative

As Australians, while from time-to-time, we have been known to be bits of larrikins, something else we are celebrated for, around the world, is our work ethic.

When we take our rite-of-passage gap years overseas, often, we don’t have a hard time finding work because people hear our Aussie twang and they trust and believe that, even if we misbehave out of hours, we’ll show up for work, roll up our sleeves and get that job done.

Funnily enough, we don’t seem to have that same trust and belief from employers within Australia. In fact, pre-Covid, research by global recruiter, Randstad, found Australian employers were the least open to flexible working arrangements of those in any country in the Asia Pacific Region. We just didn’t trust employees to be at home.

Even the USA, which is known for its poor work-life balance, and extremely limited holidays (just ask any backpacker taking their full two weeks), has been much more open to remote and off-site workers for years.

For some reason, in Australia – despite what the rest of the world says about us – we seem to be suffering from some deep-seated trust issues, even Freud would say our mums can’t be responsible for!

So why is it? Why do so many Aussie employers think they have to see us to believe we are really working? Have to stand next to us, have us in a meeting room, share a kitchenette and a bathroom, just so they feel comfortable we are doing what we agreed to do?

Thanks to Covid, we have seen some big changes on this front, but as lockdowns ended, both Government and workplaces started issuing the order to get back to the office.

And though some of our business leaders, major recruiters like Randstad included, continued to trust in their teams and offer that flexibility, others rapidly sunk back into old habits demanding the mass return of their employees.

Flexibility, for many businesses – especially in a field like real estate – may not be our natural go-to. Trust may not be our natural go-to. Not having access to an employee 24/7 might not be our natural go-to. But if you are looking to implement real flexibility into your workplace, to retain top performers and attract the best new employees, here’s some ways you can do it.

  1. Think about families and workplace flexibility

During Covid, parents were hard at it, working their day jobs and taking on the home-schooling requirements of their children. There is no doubt this was a tough time. In all likelihood, in some cases, productivity did decline.

But, in talking to many parents about how they made it work, they just did what most Aussies do, and rolled up their sleeves and worked harder.

“Our managers were amazing,” said one busy mum. “My husband and I worked from home, took a half day shift teaching each, and then worked our remaining hours at night. The half day allowed us to accommodate must-attend online meetings, the night shift was when we got stuck into continuing heavy workloads.

Just because Covid is largely behind us (hopefully) and home-schooling is over, does not mean families still can’t benefit from, enjoy and most importantly, work around some flexibility.

They are still juggling up to 12 weeks of children’s holidays each year, compared to their own four weeks. Why not let them take the day and work the night shift?

  1. But don’t just think about mums and dads

“Early on in my career, I asked my manager, a mum of two who worked 9am to 2pm three days a week, if I could cut down to a four-day week,” Samantha told us. “I would work longer hours those four days so my work wouldn’t suffer, and finally, after years of waiting, start my Masters degree on the fifth day.

I was met with a firm no. Apparently mums were allowed flexibility, but if you wanted to study or better yourself – a benefit to the company – flexibility wasn’t for you.”

Flexibility can’t just be available to some and not others. Outside of being discriminative, special conditions breed contempt and bitterness, affect morale, and can cost you your best performing employees.

Everyone has lives and other commitments, look at each case openly and listen to how your employee can balance work and life.

  1. Continued working from home

We get it, we have trust issues! But we don’t have to!

For the most part, Covid proved something very important about Aussie workers – you can absolutely trust us to get the job done, even when we are at home and away from your watchful eye.

Draw on the evidence here and embrace the opportunity to employee more diverse people, with more diverse backgrounds from right across the country and continue to bring them to team meetings through Zoom, or connect with them by phone. They can do it, we’ve seen it!

  1. Is 9-to-5 really important?

Unless you work in a strict customer-facing job, in retail or you’re Dolly Parton, 9-to-5 just isn’t that important anymore. It may come as a shock, but different people work better at different times and in different environments.

Our example of the parents in point one perfectly exemplifies that office hours don’t need to be strictly traditional, in order for the job to get done well.

In real estate, we often make calls at night, show homes on weekends, and conduct inspections after hours during long, light summer evenings. Consider allowing your employees to mix and match, doing some 9-to-5 hours as needed, then completing their work later in the evening if they feel that is when they are most productive.

  1. Expand sales opportunities for women

As we’ve noted in previous articles, despite high-income or even bread-winner status, on average, women still take on more of the household chores and childrearing responsibilities than men.

Yes! We know there are absolutely exceptions, but on-the-whole, the research doesn’t lie.

Because of this, roles that require out of hours work, like sales – a provider of potentially higher income – can be difficult to manage for some women, meaning they can’t leave admin or property management jobs, if they choose.

After a quick survey, we learned of several agencies that have found a novel approach to remedying this situation – job share.

Teams of two initially meet with the client so both have rapport with them, and then one agent services daytime needs, while the other agent services evening needs, they split days of the week, or split weekdays and weekends.

Clients enjoy the experience because they feel they have a whole team working with them, and the agent team has the flexibility they need to manage their lives, without their work suffering.

Novel and out-of-the box solutions can be big winners for all involved, we just have to be open to hearing them out!

Flexibility is becoming increasingly important, and in fact, after poor managers, a lack of it is one of the top reasons people leave their employers.

With Covid having shown us we can have flexibility and still perform our jobs effectively, more people will be looking for it, so employees who refuse it will miss out on top performers.

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