New flexible working principles will be applicable to both office and site teams and all new jobs will be advertised as flexible.
The intention is that all roles will be flexible by 2025.
Wates is giving staff freedom to fit their working week against other demands they may have outside of their work life.
Flexible working is gaining traction across the previously rigid construction industry. It was a movement that began before anyone had heard of Covid-19 but has gained credence and momentum as national lockdowns have proven that the industry can work just as well – perhaps better – with remote working and flexible shift patterns with staggered start/finish times.
Construction teams at Wates have been piloting the approach, with individuals changing their shift start or end times to accommodate caring responsibilities or other family needs, as well as to allow time for activities such as studying or sporting activities. Some colleagues have asked to take longer lunch breaks or to work from home more often.
Wates’ Flexible Working Principles state that that flexible working should be for everyone, regardless of where they work, but it must not jeopardise service delivery for customers, and must be sensitive to the needs and preferences of the wider team.
Chief executive David Allen said:“As a family business, we are committed to doing everything we can to help colleagues achieve a better work-life balance. The pandemic challenged us to work in different ways and to adapt.We learned a lot about how to work flexibly, and about how doing so can improve productivity, performance, health and happiness.
“We have listened to feedback from colleagues from across the group and, as part of launching our Flexible Working Principles, are encouraging them to use the next few months to experiment with their working patterns: to find what works for them; to show us what they want their working life to be like in the future; and to use these new flexibilities to support our goal of becoming the most trusted, sustainable and progressive business in the sector.”
Wates’ initiative mirrors development among competitors. BAM, Willmott Dixon and Skanska have been working with flexible working consultancy Timewise in a Build UK-sponsored cross-industry study. [See our report here.]
An intrinsically related development saw BAM announce in March that it had introduced new flexible working policies across the company.
Wates has developed its new policies working with a work-life balance charity called Working Families, whose chief executive Jane van Zyl said: “Wates’ Flexible Working Principles, and the culture change they are ushering in, is an extremely positive and inspiring thing to see. We know that for too long flexible working has been seen as the preserve of office workers, but this shows that flex is possible in roles whether you’re sat at a desk or working on site.”
Mark Tant, managing director of Wates Construction, acknowledged that the idea of flexible working could take some getting used to for some colleagues. “The pandemic has shown that we are able to work more flexibly, and more intelligently, to accommodate our colleagues’ needs and to encourage better results for our customers,” he said. “However, if our industry is to become more inclusive, it is fundamental that we continue to break down ingrained cultures and adopt new approaches that allow us to appeal to a more diverse workforce. As one of the first companies in the sector to open up flexible working to our whole business, we hope to lead the change to ensure that everybody has the opportunity to thrive, by adopting the working patterns that best suit them.”
Wates’ Flexible Working Principles were introduced in response to feedback from staff, which highlighted that almost 90% of colleagues would prefer a mix of home working and office working in the future.
As well as launching flexible working, all of Wates non-site offices will operate on a flexible basis, with employees able to book workstations online.
To promote these new ways of working, the company’s fit-out business, Wates Smartspace, has redesigned the main working area within Wates’ Leatherhead headquarters, creating a set of configurable spaces that have been designed specifically to encourage collaboration – a template for post-pandemic offices, Wates says. See the video below.