Flexible workers need help to switch off, says Dell HRBP

Flexible working must be underpinned by support to switch off, HR business partner UK at Dell Yvonne Stewart has told HR magazine.

“More organisations should consider flexible working as it works particularly well for people in terms of employees’ work-life balance and allowing them the flexibility to do the school run for example, and to be available at the right times to collaborate with people in other countries,” said Stewart.

“But the flip side of that is it’s difficult to switch off when you’re always connected. In today’s society that becomes more and more difficult.”

Stewart reported that this was a significant challenge for all organisations, both those offering flexible working and those who don’t.

“That’s difficult no matter what training you give people. It’s very difficult to see exactly how much time people work on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “Our low sickness and absence rates would suggest we’re getting the balance right but it’s difficult to collect data that confirms this issue of people being ‘always on’ isn’t an issue for us.

“Sometimes it’s easier if you have a family or a partner you’re going home to – that almost forces you to switch off – but it’s less easy if you live on your own and the temptation’s always there.”

Stewart said that, along with health and wellness initiatives aimed at addressing specifically the pressures of today’s ‘always on’ environment, company culture was the most decisive factor in encouraging people to get the balance right. 

This has been key, she said, to the success of Dell’s “Connected Workforce” programme, which caters to those who want work across different locations, fully remote employees who choose to work at home, and those who want to split their time between working remotely and in the office. Now in its seventh year, the programme supports 70% of Dell employees to work remotely.

“We have always tried to give people time back," she said. "It’s very much a ‘you give what you get’ culture. So if you’re travelling at the weekends we’d encourage you to leave early. We are very flexible."

Also key to the success of Dell’s flexible working programme has been a robust policy, and thorough training, reported Stewart. Training includes online tools and sessions on how to build relationships remotely, and how to communicate effectively cross-culturally for example.

“We train people to realise for instance, that some nationalities tend to say ‘yes’ a lot on calls so an email summarising what was decided after a call will be crucial,” said Stewart. “We train people to assess their own cultural orientation and map that along their team.”