Visit our COVID-19 page for help and information on flexible working, workforce mobility, and employing people for COVID-19-related roles.

Tools to help you work flexibly

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The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) situation has resulted many employees working from home and this is likely to increase.

Our tools and resources can help you maintain critical services, protect productivity and support team cohesion.

  • Zoom fatigue’ is one of the most reported issues to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us are now noticing how much of our day is spent in meetings. We are feeling over-tired, and our time to concentrate or think deeply is crunched. So what can we learn from this feeling, and what changes can we make as we gradually return to our offices?

    Read the tip sheet to learn more.

  • In response to COVID-19, your agency’s flexible working options could include:

    • working from home or another location
    • flexible start and finish times
    • compressed hours or compressed working week (not available at all agencies)
    • flexible rostering or bid rostering
    • flex time and banked time in compensation for extra hours worked
    • job share

    We recommend taking a team-based approach to align the service delivery requirements you have with the flexibility needed to minimise risks to employee health and wellbeing.

  • Talk as a team regarding the flexibility you may need now and in the coming months:

    • design your coverage plan
    • agree how you’ll stay in touch and communicate important work (within and across teams)
    • work as a team with your manager to own and maintain outcomes

    Remember, what works for you could look entirely different for someone else. Agree the outcomes you need to maintain, then think what type of flexibility might be possible in that context.

    These resources will help you prepare and have the conversation as a team.

    Employees

    Managers

    Frontline and operational staff

    The team based flexible work toolkit provides a framework for managers and teams to identify and implement a flexibility plan that works. It was developed with a diverse range of teams and roles, including road maintenance crews, traffic emergency patrol teams, child protection workers and tow truck drivers.

    Flexible work for all teams needs to consider what is possible in for operational context. Frontline workers may need more predictable shifts for a short period to manage caring requirements. Others may need to alter start and finish times or take breaks during core hours to care for family members yet maintain connection with their team and stakeholders.

  • In this session, the Public Service Commission’s Flexible Working experts take you through the basics for office-based managers working with virtual and dispersed teams including what structures, routines and habits your team can adopt to protect continuity and maintain wellbeing. You will learn how to maintain connection, communication and collaboration as a team and with your customers.

    After you have viewed the session join our LinkedIn group for NSW Government employees to get access to our flexible working experts, resources, and answers for some of your flexible working problems. Joining this group will also connect with you colleagues across the sector to share the creative solutions we’re all developing as we go.

    Training packages managers and employees COVID-19

    A toolkit containing a facilitator guide, lesson plan, PowerPoint slides and handout templates for rapidly upskilling managers about how dispersed teams can work is available in our training packages section.

  • Due to COVID-19 there will be a need for employees to scale back their roles. You or people in your team, for whatever reason, may not be able to work full-time during this period.

    We have developed toolkits for employees and managers which provides a process on how to make role adjustments and effectively balance any increase in work and life responsibilities.

    While some team members will be able to continue with full time work, with or without varied start/finish times, others may need to switch to part-time or job share in the short-term. The latter is the focus of this guidance.

    Employees

    The purpose of this toolkit is to help you find an equilibrium between the outcomes that the team needs to achieve, and the work that you are able to effectively undertake during this time.

    Read more about role adjustments for Employees

    Request ‘Role Adjustment Template’ (step 2 of the toolkit)

    Managers

    The purpose of the toolkit is to support people leaders to think through how to best find an equilibrium between the outcomes the team needs to achieve, and the work their team members are able to effectively undertake during this time

    Read more about role adjustments for Managers

    Request ‘Role Adjustment Template’ (step 4 of the toolkit)

  • Here are some of the top tips from our Flexible Working team and from practitioners across the sector. If you have any tips you would like to share, head over to our LinkedIn group to connect with your sector colleagues.

    Staying connected when working virtually

    Suggestions from the sector include:

    • Get together as a team once or twice a week and celebrate the fact that we can successfully work while still caring for sick pets, small children and elderly parents/relatives. This can open our horizons and makes us richer. Success can be celebrated with words. Talk about how great the ideas are, post something on Yammer, or share with everyone. Also talk about the future, that helps people with picturing brighter times. And plan, this will help to provide a sense of security.  
    • Have a daily virtual stand meeting/virtual huddle (15-20 minutes) in the mornings with video turned on - the visual check in can help as much as the call. The team can talk about what they are working on and what their blockers are.    
    • Have a daily 10am ‘coffee’ chat that is open to anybody who wants a social chat.  
    • Arrange a themed catch up for the end of each week to create a bit of fun and engage in a non -work focussed way. (i.e. Easter hat parade where everyone must make a hat from things at home).  
    • Randomly call a team member to have a chat, just to see how they are. 
    • Use the buddy system.
    • Have a free chat before daily team meetings.  This promotes conversation between team members and sets the mood of the meeting.  
    • Have a virtual lunch, with different themes i.e. formal Thursday. 
    • On Friday have virtual drinks and a chat up.
    • Arrange a 20 minute daily social chat/check in via video call. Talk generally about how the day has been, how everyone is feeling and have a laugh. It can help to replace the lunchroom chat. 
    • Ask your team (in weekly check-in) to hold up a red, yellow or green object at the start. Could be a toy or pen, whatever is nearby. No need to explain how they are feeling, but just a way of showing how everyone is going.  

    Guidance on workplace health and safety and working from home

    Suggestions from the sector include:

    • Invite your safety expert into weekly check in meetings to share health safety tips. Then everyone can join in with their own tips, i.e.: sitting outside, searching for online courses, helping someone less advantaged than you, limiting time spent watching the news.
    • Put cords out of your way and repeat basic safety tips with team regularly. Ask team members to lead the safety meetings. 
    • Schedule breaks such as lunch and five minute stand-up every two hours. One of the challenges is the back to back meetings with no break which would be available in the workplace such as walking to the meeting room or getting a coffee in the kitchen. This could lead to burn out due to always being on. 
    • End team meetings five mins before the hour, so that everyone can have a five-minute break/stand-up/walk around the house. 
    • Have a wellbeing chat each week as part of your team meeting. Talk about how each person is feeling, especially reflecting on the week.   
    • A manager could video call individual team members to check in. 
    • Have a stand-up meeting, while listening do simple exercises such as squats, standing on one leg, stretching etc. This is easy to do, and it forces you to move while still being able to participate.  
    • Have daily Skype catch ups where wellbeing questions are asked each day and discuss together. You could also ask your team to come up with daily mantras. 
    • Use Survey Monkey to do an anonymous 'Pulse Check' on staff who might generally be a little quiet. You could check on stress levels, engagement levels, what is working well and what isn't working well.  This can provide insight for managers.  (note: the Commission recommends being incredibly careful with data privacy and integrity – make sure no one can be identified from their responses). 

    SafeWork NSW has some great guides we recommend consulting:

    Working and caring/home schooling children during COVID-19 restrictions

    The PSC flexible working team has received many questions about the difficulties of working while also looking after/home schooling children.

    It is difficult to work a full day while also looking after/home schooling children. It is important be pragmatic, to identify and openly discuss that these are two jobs that many people are struggling to complete each day.

    It is important to find an equilibrium between the outcomes that need to be achieved, and the work an employee can effectively undertake during this time. While some employees will be able to continue with full time work, with or without varied start/finish times, others may need to switch to part-time or job share in the short-term or utilise leave to reduce the hours worked each day i.e. work 3.5 hours and take ½ day rec leave.

    Below are some steps which could be used to identify challenges and come up with solutions together: (note the PSC is finalising a ‘Role Design Toolkit’ for managers and employees which will assist this process. It should be available within the next two weeks).

    • Individual to Identify needs and responsibilities outside of work during the COVID-19 restrictions.
    • Meet as a team and have an open discussion about the challenges and the work that needs to be completed. (Use this time for each team member to communicate their needs and responsibilities outside of work during the COVID-19 restrictions).
    • Manager meet one on one with each employee to discuss their concerns and have an open conversation about how they are going to make it work.
      • Challenge the way work needs to be completed and what work is a priority.
      • Talk about managing for outcomes. Discuss and set clear expectations about what work can be completed and how.
    • Make role adjustments to help employees manage work and responsibilities outside of work during the COVID-19 restrictions

    Managing for outcomes

    Where possible, being outcome focused (with a timeline) helps give flexibility to the team to manage their work time. You can view our manager resources on this page, in our guides section.

    Technology options

    Always refer to your internal ICT team to check what tech tools you can use. It's good to be mindful of any local constraints participants in your meetings may have around what platforms can be used. Our webinars refer to specific tools that the Public Service Commission has used to collaborate, but not all agencies have access to the same tools or features within these tools. Please consult your ICT team in the first instance for the most appropriate tools to use for the different types of information your agency handles.

    There are great videos and documents already available online for many of these tools.

    • Microsoft Teams is great for internal collaboration. If using the meeting feature, you may need to disable the recording function because of privacy considerations.
    • Skype for Business for calling, chats or meetings.
    • Miro for online whiteboard collaboration.
    • Zoom for large scale webinars, however some restrictions may be in place in you agency - be sure to check in with your internal ICT team
    • Microsoft Planner is great for collaborating on projects and planning tasks

    Suggestions for people without internet access

    It’s amazing how quickly we’ve adapted to having Internet access regularly. Consider your back-up plans for accessing documents, collaborating on these documents and sharing information in case your internet access is disrupted.

    For example, you may be able to use mobile app versions of some of your tools or potentially tether from mobile phones if home WiFi is faulty. Your agency ICT team can suggest the safest and most reliable way to do this, according to your network and the information you’re handling.

  • The following information has been developed based on questions received during the ‘COVID-19 and flexible business continuity’ webinars.

    Can staff access the special COVID-19 leave option if they have carers responsibilities, if the schools aren’t officially shut? For example, can they use an hour or two hours a day from the special leave, to help when they are trying to home school their kids and work from home.

    We understand that it is difficult to work with children at home, and most flexible working policies appear to prohibit it, as they did not anticipate this at the time of development. The Premier and Cabinet Circular states that the special leave is only if schools close, and we do not have alternative advice to that.

    Agencies will provide their own guidance on how leave or other provisions can be accessed, and you should always refer to that in the first instance. When it comes to applying that guidance, we suggest that within your teams, take a flexible approach to flexibility itself. That means having open (and regular) conversations with your team about how they are going to manage work outputs and caring/home schooling children during this time, what leave arrangements may be possible, and if their industrial arrangements allow flexibility in the way work is planned and arranged. Some options include altering core hours, working shorter days using temporary part-time arrangements or leave provisions, and working in a job share arrangement (review ‘Top Tip’s’ for further advice on working and caring/home schooling children during COVID-19 restrictions).

    As we need to be flexible about flexibility, can an employee swap work days to manage home schooling and working from home? For example, if care assistance is available on a weekend, could an employee work a Saturday and take a weekday off in its place?

    The days an employee can work are set out in their agency’s award and flexible working agreement, and this may not always be possible. In most instances, working on a weekend is classified as overtime and under the award must be paid or taken as time in lieu (by mutual agreement). Other awards do not specify set days, therefore working on a weekend may be feasible if discussed with manager and approval via mutual agreement.

    We suggest that each employee talk with their manager and obtain advice from their department or agency’s Human Resources team or Industrial Relations team about their award, working conditions and flexible working agreement, and what flexible working options are available to help manage caring responsibilities and workload. There is also further information about types of flexible working on our website. These could provide additional options for discussion.

    How do I manage people when I can’t see them?

    It is vital that managers build trust amongst team members, be good communicators and able to listen, able to help their team connect and collaborate, and to help team members manage their time effectively – these skills are also important for flexible working.
    Managing people is about:

    • Building trust among team members
    • Being a good communicator and listener
    • Helping your team to connect and collaborate
    • Helping team members to manage their time effectively.

    These skills are just as important, if not more important, when working flexibly.

    To begin a conversation about working remotely, you can initiate a team discussion where everyone is encouraged to consider the business outcomes you wish to maintain or improve, and what the essential outputs will be, while also considering what kinds of flexible work options there are and how they may be incorporated into the team’s working lives. Agree on quantifiable measures of performance, e.g., projects completed, client satisfaction, team engagement, support for team goals, and monitor these as you would as a manager.

    Together the team can plan for the changes and how to overcome any challenges. You may need to share your preferred overall approach, parameters and guidelines for flexible working with the team before engaging in more detailed one-on-one discussions. Have clear and agreed performance goals in place at the beginning: include both standard job-related tasks, as well as communication with other staff and participating in training and development activities.

    It is also important to agree on your communication protocols when working remotely. What is the process for team meetings? Can these be scheduled on a day that everyone is available to meet virtually, i.e. a time with no/minimal interruptions due to caring responsibilities? How will the team use email, Skype, phone conferencing etc. How might the structure of meetings change to get the most out of the ‘connected’ time?

    We already work long hours in our agency. Does this mean that we have to be ‘on’ 24/7?

    There is no general expectation for people to be working out of normal hours, unless this is agreed within the team. The best way to address this is to have an open discussion with your team about the work that needs to be done and your own expectations as a manager, with respect to best practice workplace health and safety principles.

    If you are working out of business hours, you can minimise impact on recipients by using an email signature tag line such as ‘I am sending you this message now as I work flexibly and I do not expect you to read, respond or action it outside your regular hours.’ Otherwise – use the “Delayed Delivery” feature in Microsoft Outlook to delay sending emails until agreed office hours. 

    Can the special leave provisions be used during the school holidays for people needing to care for children with no alternative activities available? 

    The Premier and Cabinet Circular states that the special leave is only if schools close, so it cannot be used for school holidays.  

    We understand that it is difficult to work with children at home. In fact, most flexible working policies appear to prohibit it, because they did not anticipate this situation when developed. 

    Agencies will provide their own guidance on how leave or other provisions can be accessed, and you should always refer to that in the first instance. When it comes to applying that guidance, we suggest that within your teams, take a flexible approach to flexibility itself. That means having open (and regular) conversations in your team about how everyone can realistically manage work outputs and any caring/home-based schooling children during this time, what leave arrangements may be needed, if projects need re-prioritising, and if the relevant industrial arrangements allow for flexibility in the way their work is planned and arranged. Some options could include altering core hours, working shorter days using temporary part-time arrangements or leave provisions, or sharing the job short-term if enough work has been paused that two people with similar skill sets and needs can share a role to cover the remainder. Once plans are settled (and checkpoints agree), then discuss the road rules around communicating and connecting with each other (letting each other know when they’re available, which communication platform, and how you’ll all check how you’re all going). The key is to maintain an equilibrium between business, team and individual outcomes during a time that’s unlike anything most of us have experienced. 

    Further advice on working and caring/home schooling children during COVID-19 restrictions is available in ‘Top Tips’ 

    What if not everyone in the team is volunteering to help deliver team outcomes? (e.g. younger staff being loaded with more work). There is a tension between flexible work from home and still getting team outcomes to function across the team. Are there any suggestions to help navigate this space? 

    This is where a team-based approach and encouraging a shared sense of responsibility for team outcomes is important - but younger workers should not feel pressured to take on extra work. If overall work is too much compared to availability, then have that discussion with your leader - you will need their guidance on pragmatic approaches to what can be delivered, and what may need pausing or re-prioritising.

    How to make flexibility work as a team is important both pre COVID-19 as well as during COVID-19 restrictions. The ‘flexible working toolkit’ provides useful tips and additional supporting resources about helping one another identify and agree business, team and individual outcomes, how to manage for outcomes (work allocations and workloads) and managing team cohesion.

    It is vital that managers build trust amongst team members, be good communicators and able to listen, able to help their team connect and collaborate, and to help team members manage their time effectively. We want to get out the other side having maintained an equilibrium between our business, team and individual objectives. 

    How can we encourage all team members to switch on video? It makes it more engaging for participants, but many team members don't feel "camera ready" so we are looking at blank screens which can be unmotivating. 

    Ask your team if they're happy to have at least one meeting each week that everyone attends and is a 'camera on' meeting, then note its camera on in the invite. 

    We also recommend you gently explore (in a 1:1) with anyone in your team who hasn’t been using the camera. There could be a real range of reasons, and they may not even be comfortable explaining them. Some people have real boundaries between work and home, and they may not want to let their teammates ‘in’, or there’s been a bad experience in the past, or their bandwidth could be dodgy. Cameras are great, but be prepared to be flexible about it.  

    How would you deal with a staff member who absolutely will not engage over video face to face? 

    We recommend a confidential discussion to explore why they do not want to engage in any meetings via video/camera. It is important to allow the employee to feel comfortable and possibly provide further advice as to why they would prefer to not connect via video/camera.

    Respect any misgivings, look at other options to virtually communicate and agree on what platform could be used instead – or if they have a picture at least!

Flexible Working

Government sector agency heads and Secretaries are responsible for implementing this policy commitment in their agencies. The following webpage contains information, advice, guidance on best practice and other tools to support leaders and People and Culture teams in this implementation, and resources for managers and employees to negotiate what working flexibly means at a local level.

Find out more