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Flexible Working Environment

This year the ABS won the 2018 Flexible Working Day Federal Government Champion Award in recognition of its commitment to the development and promotion of flexible working environments across its workforce and offices.

The ABS Flexible Working Environment (FWE) push began in the ABS Adelaide Office back in 2013, when a change in the office environment and supporting policies and guidelines were first trialled. Over the last five years, a focus on the three key contributing factors required to build a flexible workforce and agile business delivery – People, Place and Technology – has seen a positive cultural shift in flexible working attitudes and tangible benefits across the ABS.

The key highlights in 2017–18 for the ABS FWE program have been:

People – Culture and Staff Management

A dedicated program called ABS Flex Works was introduced in January 2018. Flex Works brings together all the flexible working arrangements and opportunities afforded to staff under the one banner. These include teleworking, part time hours, compressed work weeks and job sharing. The aim is to improve the flexibility of working conditions for staff, recognising diversity and work–life balance. Underpinning this is an expectation that managers say ‘yes’ to reasonable flexible work requests from employees and encourage innovative approaches to work.

A flexible approach has improved staff satisfaction with working conditions: in a recent staff survey, 82% of staff are satisfied with access to flexible working arrangements; 32% of staff have a formal teleworking arrangement in place.

Place – Property

The ABS concluded its Activity Based Working (ABW) fitouts with the delivery of the final offices in Hobart and Canberra. All ABS Offices now provide spaces designed to accommodate staff diversity, different work styles, changing business requirements, and to maximise utility of space. Purpose built spaces improve productivity while encouraging healthy work practices and diversity. The combination of good design and flexibility has allowed the ABS to dramatically lower its footprint across all offices by at least 20% of what would have been previously required, yielding a corresponding reduction in ongoing operating costs while providing more functional space.

Technology – ICT enabling strategies

At the forefront of technology considerations are mobility and communication. Each ABS staff member is allocated a laptop to maximise mobility both within and outside of the office and to assist with facilitating teleworking. The ABS Next Generation Desktop gives staff access to all required applications via a secure virtual desktop anywhere, anytime. Development of applications like Skype, office video conferencing facilities, follow me printing, and telephony systems further reduce the reliance on fixed locations and the requirement to work from the office.

FWE has contributed to staff attraction and retention within the ABS, especially for data specialists who are in demand across the economy. It has also increased productivity and allowed better use of available staff time.

Other contributing factors to our success have been the professionalism, adaptability, and willingness of staff to work with management to get this right. This collective attitude has seen many ABS leaders and senior managers also embrace and model flexible work, adding their positive stories to those of ABS staff. The addition of the FWE strategy as part of the ABS’s objectives in its Gender and Diversity Action Plan 2014–17 has also been pivotal and reflective of our commitment.

The ABS will continue to monitor FWE through staff consultation and management fora. A FWE staff survey first conducted in 2016 will be repeated in late 2018 to measure changes in perception of the components of FWE. This will help determine where future effort can be placed to continue to improve FWE and staff support as they balance their work-life demands and their career aspirations.

Presentation of the Flexible Working Day Federal Government Champion Award