Ep. 16: Working on Trust


8 min read

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Speaker 1: Welcome to the Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse work place.


Toby Mildon: Hello and thank you ever so much for tuning into this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show. I'm Toby Mildon and I'm joined by a brilliant guest today, Ursula Tavender. Ursula founded Taking Care of Business to support companies embracing flexible ways of working and achieving a true shift in culture, so that more people, regardless of their circumstances or working pattern, can stay and progress at work. Ursula also participates in a number of influential government groups and regularly writes, speaks, comments and campaigns for business change on the issues of supporting parents at work, flexible working and the gender pay gap. Ursula, welcome to the show.


Ursula Tavender: Thanks so much for having me, Toby. It's lovely to be here.


Toby Mildon: So, Ursula, can you tell me a bit more about Taking Care of Business and the Mumbelievable blog that you started as well? 


Ursula Tavender: Thank you. Yeah, so it all started with Mumbelievable, basically. I had a bit of an identity crisis after the birth of my first child and found it really difficult to combine my working life that I loved with being present for my family in a meaningful way. And it just seemed to me like I was all at sea. And so I've always written. My former and professional background is communication, so it's always been a bit of an outlet for me. So I started the blog, and thousands of people felt the same and it was just a real revelation to me that there was this massive issue among people trying to combine their personal circumstances with their work. And so overtime, it eventually evolved into a business and it started by supporting people returning to work after a break like I had, you know, in this sort of similar position that I had found myself in.


Ursula Tavender: And then over... So over time, it was just like I had hundreds and hundreds of the same conversation about the barriers that people were facing when they were trying to combine their lives with their work and with developing their careers as well and how much of an issue and a challenge they found that. So I realized that my time would be better spent helping businesses to change rather than... As much of a privilege as it was working with individuals, I realized that wasn't going to help anything to change and I was so kind of fiercely driven by the injustice of the fact that so many people were effectively excluded from work. That drove me just to switch the focus of the business to a consultancy, which is when Taking Care of Business was born in 2017. And I am now... I'm so lucky to work with a number of corporate organizations and other organizations of all different sizes and types to, I guess, overall help them become more inclusive, but using flexible working as a mechanism to achieve equality across all demographics, not just parents; it's about making sure that work works for everyone, and I'm... That's probably the biggest privilege of the work that I do really.


Toby Mildon: So there's been lots of talk recently about flexible working. Because of the coronavirus, lots of people are working from home. So what are some of the changes that you're seeing about flexible working, currently? 


Ursula Tavender: So I think the main thing is clearly that more people see the possibilities and it has... Because we've had this kind of forced, en masse, remote working experiment, it has proved the case to a lot of skeptics that it actually... We can continue in, albeit in a different way, but we can continue to collaborate; businesses can continue to perform and thrive in a very, very difficult and challenging circumstance. So I think mindsets are beginning to shift and more people are starting to become a bit braver in respect of what they might test out in terms of different ways of working and the democratization of the way that we work. So offering different options to participate for different people, I think, is a really, really positive step in the right direction.


Ursula Tavender: And I think going hand in hand with that is the kind of humanisation of work as well, which is, at the heart of flexible working, is about people and about helping people combine their lives with their work. And so for people that don't fit the conventional mould or can't commit to a nine to five, Monday to Friday in a fixed location, I think offering different ways of working, remote working being one of those flexible working options, hours flexing, that kind of thing is... There's so many different possibilities for what flexible working means, and it will mean something different to everybody. But the way we've all started to talk about that in a very human way, from leadership level right to the front line, I think is a really, really positive thing, because we are just people, aren't we? Trying to make our lives work in the best way that we can. So that's quite exciting to me.


Toby Mildon: Yeah. I mean, there's a lot of talk about the new normal, us moving into a new normal, post-coronavirus, and I suppose... The way that I interpret that is that it takes about 30 days to change a habit, and if we've been in lockdown for more than 30 days then that's enough to change the way that we work. And I've talked to some of my clients who have said that they've realized that there's almost been a two or three-tiered approach to flexible working for them in the past. So there were individuals in the organization that could be trusted and could work flexibly and they have the freedom to do so. There were some individuals that felt they couldn't be trusted. And then there were some people where they thought the role just could not be done flexibly or remotely.


Toby Mildon: And, actually, some of my clients have said that they've realized that some of those perceptions have just been blown out of the water, that people that they thought couldn't be trusted, it's quite sad to say that really, but, thought that they couldn't be trusted could indeed be trusted to do their job, and the roles that they thought couldn't be done flexibly or remotely can actually be done flexibly or remotely. So... And as we kind of progress forward, what do you see some of the opportunities to businesses in being able to provide more flexible ways of working? And also, what do you think the opportunities are on individuals to be able to work more flexibly? 


Ursula Tavender: So I think, to businesses, it opens up a whole new realm of possibilities in terms of the types of people that can be recruited, the geographical location of the people that can be recruited. In terms of a talent pool, opens up infinite possibilities really, because what you're effectively saying is, if we're able to make some roles more flexible and look at locations... Flexibility for some roles, obviously it won't be possible for everyone, as you rightly say. But I think if that's the case, then we can look at offering opportunities, and this is, I guess, speaks to the individual piece, expanding opportunities to access work for people that previously weren't able to commit to a Monday to five... Monday to Friday, nine to five working person in a fixed location. And that the opportunities are there to close our gender and disability gaps.


Ursula Tavender: I think from a societal perspective, increasing choice about how we work, when we work, where we work is a very positive move. And I think, from a well-being point of view, it is just coming out of a very traumatic time for us as a nation, and as a work... As a global community. Flexible working has the potential to really not only transform but contribute very positively to people's lives in respect of how they juggle their time and when they work to manage their energy and their kind of mental periods of peak strength and of times when you're not, perhaps most productive.


Ursula Tavender: So going back then to the business benefit and the opportunity is to leverage the best of your people because they'll be working when and where it works best for them, which in turn enables them to deliver their best work, which means you get better outcomes as a business. And then, you can enjoy more success and productivity benefits, etcetera. And that then impacts the bottom line. So there's a link of... As kind of domino effect of the opportunities and of the benefits that I believe are there. And I have seen many, many times in companies that I've been lucky enough to work with as they go on this journey. And I think, more widely as a society, we have the opportunity to use flexible working to increase inclusion and to make our working opportunities and our working culture in this country more inclusive, generally. And I think that that is just... It's just the right thing to do.


Ursula Tavender: We have the technology available to make some roles flexible, and now we've done this massive experiment because we were forced to do it. And as you say, people, when they're given the right motivation and the right reason to do that, then they have the right purpose, and then they can be trusted, because they've got the mechanisms in place to be able to understand what is expected of them and how they should deliver that. Which is what COVID forced upon us. And I think the culture of trust is one of the fundamentals. I'll come back to that in a little while, because it's a very important point. But I think the "why"... The reason why we're doing this, COVID gave us that, and that's why it's been easier for some people to translate their working practices more easily than it would have been previously or has been previously. Yeah, it's a fascinating time that generally, I think... From a kind of workforce perspective, isn't it? 


Toby Mildon: Yeah. That definitely does seem to be more appetite for flexible working on both sides, the employer and the employee. But I think having taught some organizations, there are still some challenges that businesses face in trying to implement it. So in the work that you do, what are some of the challenges that you come up against with organizations when they're trying to be more flexible and implement more flexible ways of working? 


Ursula Tavender: So trust is the main one, I would say. And I think because, like you say, there's... That tiered approach that you spoke to about earlier on, is very common. And I think because we think about trust and... Neurologically, it's impossible to trust somebody instantly. We build trust as a result of positive social interactions that then stimulate the release of the hormone, Oxytocin, which reduces our fear in trusting other human beings. It's a chemical process. So, when we talk about building a culture of trust by default, and we can recruit people into that culture. But there is also a very strong challenge when it comes to that piece of trust around the manager-employee relationship.


Ursula Tavender: I think also, it's resistant mindsets around what can and can't be done and what is and what isn't impossible. And I think the point you made earlier about that we can kind of... Not every job can be done remotely. So, therefore, we can't offer that to anybody is another common barrier, because it's very difficult, I think, to achieve equity in a business when you can't offer the same options to everybody. But I think we need to be brave as organizations and think differently about what equity is, because flexible working means something different to every person, as much as every job. So I speak a lot about flexible working being possible in every single role there is. And then you sort of see people like, "What? This isn't... It could... That's not possible." And then I sort of expand by saying that the options for flexible working will look different for every person because they have different expectations of what that looks like... Different desires. Some people won't want to change anything. That's fine. But they know... If they know that they've got the option to work flexibly when the time is right for them, then that is there in their mind, and they know that they can combine their life successfully with their work.


Ursula Tavender: So that kind of perceptions and assumptions piece is a real challenge as well. As is overwork, as is guilt, agile working guilt. We hear so much about people leaving early, and feeling terribly like they need to skulk off because of it. But they might have worked early in the morning. So everybody works differently, and I think that when you have that undercurrent of, "We need to keep this a secret, because this isn't the conventional way of working," it falls down. And if you have this open culture of communication around, "Everybody is, within the promises that we've decided as a team and as a business, everybody's working within that to deliver their outcomes and their goals, and that's what we focus on rather than how many hours your bum has been sat at your desk, tapped into your laptop, or in a normal working world in an office."


Toby Mildon: Yeah, 'cause I worked for an organization who I think did a really good job in implementing agile working. And it was based on some really simple principles, three principles. And one of those principles was that you're measured on your output, not on how much time you spend sat at your desk. And I'm glad that you touched on the guilt because I think that does link into sort of microaggressions that I've seen happening in the workplace. So when I was working for an organization before, I was talking to a father, or an expectant father, should I say, and he would go off, I think it was once a week or so, he would go off to the antenatal appointments with his partner. And colleagues would kind of roll their eyes and go, "Oh, so you're taking another half day off." In fact, he was leaving the office at 4 o'clock. And he was saying that those microaggressions had a real impact on him and his level of guilt. And in fact, he was still getting the job done because he would go the appointment with his partner, and then he would log on in the evening to finish working. So yeah, it's just all those kind of really strange behaviors going on in the workplace.


Ursula Tavender: And I think it's inevitable, isn't it, when change happens? That some people really, really embrace it. We're all different personality types, aren't we? And others find it harder to embrace. And I think that if you give people the opportunity to have those conversations about, in a safe way, about their bias, or about the way that they feel about... So here's a scenario, somebody leaves the office early, "What do you think? What do you think about that?" And in some of the workshops that I run with clients, that's the most important part of this conversation, is allowing those things to come out into the open.


Ursula Tavender: So I remember running one earlier in the year, and it was back when we could do things in person, and this woman said, "Do you know what, I've just had a real lightbulb moment, that I say that. When somebody leaves, I say, "Oh, part-timer." I don't mean it in a bad way, but I see how it could come across in that way." And she made a commitment that she wasn't going to make those comments anymore. And I think that it's all part of the process, isn't it, of moving towards this more agile culture that... We are on the way. And for many companies, they're much further ahead down the line in terms of the culture and behavioral shift that is needed to support that infrastructure change in terms of the way we work. So yeah, it's very much those mindsets.


Toby Mildon: Yeah. What do you say to organizations that just turn around and say that some jobs just cannot be done flexibly? And I'm thinking of if an organization, say, has got a distribution center where people go in, they work in shifts. They have to be in the distribution center, because they're moving items around and dispatching items on the back of trucks, and things like that. What do you say to businesses that say those kinds of roles just can't be done flexibly, or that kind of thing? 


Ursula Tavender: Well, they can't be done remotely, but that's not to say they can't be done flexibly. So as I said earlier, flexibility means something different to everybody. So for someone it might be that just being able to come in 15 or 20 minutes later, or earlier, and flex their hours by a very tiny amount of time, might mean that they get to go and walk their dog in the morning, or they might get to read when they wake up, or they might get to... For some people, it's about getting home to watch a certain program. It's very small things like that that actually have a massive impact on somebody's sense of well-being, and sense of healthy integration of all the various different aspects of their lives. So every job can be done flexibly, it could be something like a shift-swapping option for those kind of environments. So the flexible working options, the menu that you have available to your employees will be different in every team, because every team has a different function.


Ursula Tavender: And I think that we need to let go of this notion that we have to offer the same options for everybody for it to work. There is an element of choice, isn't there? If you want to work remotely, and that's really important to you, then jobs in a distribution center probably aren't the best choice for you. And hopefully now what will happen is that more jobs will become available so there is an increase choice, and range of options available for people that want to kind of work in that way. So yeah, I just think it's about being really creative, and I think, above all, ask your people. Your people will come up with the best options, because they know what will work. And overall, people want to do a good job, don't they? So if you help them to do that, then they'll be on board.


Toby Mildon: Absolutely. So what are three things that organizations could do to start putting in place more flexible working? And I think you've come up with a really useful model or framework, which is aptly known as the FLEXIBLE Model, which is really cool. But yeah, so what are the three things that organizations can do to start to put flexible working in place? 


Ursula Tavender: So I shoehorned eight elements that really have to be there for cultural change to happen, and behavioral change to happen, into the acronym FLEXIBLE, which I'm quite proud of, actually. So thanks for that compliment there. So if I really had to pick three things 'cause all of those eight things in the flexible model, and I'm very, very happy to share that with anyone who wants to know more about it, but if I had to pick three... And I deliberated over this and I've written down what they were 'cause I knew that I would deliberate over this. So I think the things that you have to have are a culture of trust and open communication. I think people need to be allowed to make mistakes. I think we need to have a really... A growth mindset culture, and that, to me, is really, really fundamental element of flexible working and making it work. Secondly, I think it's vital to have support for managers and teams to make it work. And that goes back to what I was saying earlier about it being different for everyone. And I'll talk in a moment about some sort of practical tool to give that support to managers and teams.


Ursula Tavender: But I think if we create a microculture for flexible working, in my experience, that's the way it really ignites. When you have a company-wide approach, there are teams, inevitably, that will say, "Well, that wouldn't work us," so they distance themselves from it and they disengage. If you empower and give teams the autonomy to make the decisions about the options for flexible working, that will work best for them, given the nature of what they have to deliver for the business, then they're able to shape that flexible working microculture for themselves, and therefore, they're more engaged right from the outset. So that support for managers in terms of extends to: How do you manage people working in different ways? And what does that look like? And giving managers the tools to be able to confidently move ahead with... I don't wanna use the word "approving flexible working request" because flexible working is flexible in its nature and is ad hoc rather than the permanent change to a contract where it might be that you know you reduce your hours and condense your hours or work remotely permanently that kinda thing. But on an ad hoc basis, can you give your managers guiding principles that will help them to make decisions about what is and what isn't okay in consultation with the team, I think that's really vital and works brilliantly.


Ursula Tavender: And then finally, I think people need to see what's possible. So for me, role modeling and that leadership, the tone from a senior-level as possible that, "This is the way we work, and it's okay." So it gives that virtual permission slip to people who see what's possible they... Even though with, through that role modeling and through seeing leaders at all levels working flexibly and being vocal about it, they're able to apply that to themselves and think, "Well, you know, if it's alright for them, it's alright for us." And I think what I've seen a lot of recently is internal social media channels being used brilliantly so that companies can... The CEO's around the kitchen table with their family life going on in the background, and they're just... They're real and they're showing you what's possible. And they're really vocal about the fact that they're knocking off early because they've given a lot to their work this week, and they're taking some time back to themselves. And I think that yeah, that role modeling is another vital piece. So those are the three, the top three, I guess, but it's really hard to choose.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, well, there's eight to pick from. So this is, of course, The Inclusive Growth Show. And what does inclusive growth mean to you and the clients that you work with? In particular, around growth that we can get from flexible and agile working? 


Ursula Tavender: So for me, as soon as you say that, what jumps to mind is that inclusive growth is about giving everybody a voice and realizing that everyone's voice contributes to our growth and our success as an organization. So I believe that. And the organizations that I work with, and I'm lucky enough to work with, believe that everybody's voice matters, and that together, we're much stronger and we can achieve more. So I think when you provide opportunities for people to contribute to that idea of growth and to what inclusive growth means, and give them the platforms to be part of those decisions, I think that's when things really take off. So for me, it's about making sure that everybody's voice matters.


Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Well, Ursula, thank you ever so much for joining me on this episode of the show. How can somebody get in touch with you if they want to learn more about the work that you do, follow your thought leadership on this subject? And/or in fact, learn more about the flexible model that you've created? 


Ursula Tavender: Yeah, thanks Toby. I'm so happy to share the flexible model. I've got a framework for team charters, which taps into the team culture, the team microculture for flexible working I described. So I'm happy to share that process, any research that I've got access to, any sort of case studies I've got, I'm happy to share it all because I'm in this to change the world of work. So I'd love to connect with people on LinkedIn. I'm Ursula Tavender on LinkedIn. So come and find me and send me a message, and we'll arrange a time to chat. I've always got time to chat with the people in this space who are on the same mission to change the world of work, and I just... Yeah, it'll be great to meet as many of you as possible.


Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Ursula, thank you ever so much for joining me today, and thank you for listening to this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. If you know anybody who's interested in the topic of diversity and inclusion, who's interested in flexible or agile working, please do forward this podcast to them so that they can listen to it as well. Until next time, we've got an upcoming episode very shortly so hopefully, I'll see you on the next episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. Until then, I hope you take care and stay well. Thanks very much.


Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to The Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.