Boosting productivity with flexibility at Unisys

Liz Hargreaves, HR manager at Unisys outlines the importance of a flexible work model.

A blended flexible work model has played a key role in optimising workforce productivity, boosting collaboration and improving employee engagement at Unisys, according to its HR manager, Liz Hargreaves.

In the past, Unisys allowed staff to choose the days and hours spent in the office, and for some, this meant working from home up to five days a week. However, 12 months ago an employee engagement survey revealed that staff were missing a sense of community and collaboration.

After identifying the optimal work arrangements for flexibility and productivity, Unisys moved to a blended flexible work model that enabled collaboration, innovation and a sense of community across the organisation.

In the process, Hargreaves said Unisys adjusted its work from home policy to bring employees back into the office at least three days a week (a push approach) during the core hours of 10am and 3pm, where work roles and responsibilities allow.

“Those core hours are quite different to other organisations, but we wanted to take into account that as we’re a global company a lot of our people do work odd hours, so we wanted them to still have that flexibility,” said Hargreaves.

“Hours outside of these times remain flexible, and team members can of course negotiate further flexible work hours in special circumstances.”

Unisys also made the office a more desirable environment to come into in terms of both physical design and activities (a pull approach).

It did so through a refreshed and more modern office design that now features bright colours, roundtables and couches for impromptu discussions, as well as a revamped kitchen including café-style seating and coffee machine; and improved employee seating so that teams were seated closer together to encourage greater mixing and collaboration.

To help improve a sense of community, staff also celebrate cultural diversity in a lunch where employees brought in and shared foods that represented their background – an initiative which was “very popular”, according to Hargreaves.

For other organisations looking to strike the right balance for a flexible organisation, Hargreaves recommended listening to employees “like we did in our engagement survey”, then carefully considering the business needs.

“The business really needs to be prepared to change, and as we did last year, we really set clear expectations for the employee and employer,” she said.

Attracting and retaining talent
A flexible approach to work has also been important in attracting and retaining the right talent for a range of business and client needs, according to Hargreaves.

“We really need to be very flexible and quick to adjust to our clients’ changing requirements,” she said.

“Certainly from a HR perspective, this means we need to have the right people at the right time with the right skills available.

“Because there can be changes and each client may have changes that we don’t foresee, we really need to manage, we need to staff up quickly for new projects – but we don’t want people just sitting around. I think this is an ongoing challenge for Unisys.”

A key focus for HR in the business is talent acquisition and putting strategies in place for Unisys’ internal recruitment team to ensure it is hiring the right people with the right skills for clients.

Similarly, Hargreaves said development and retention of staff is another important focus.

“We really want to keep our good people, and what we’re going to focus on in the next two years is our high potentials and developing them through internal and external courses, succession planning and putting a structure in place for them so they have a motivation to stay with us and grow and develop through our organisation,” she said.

“We’re a services company and people are our product, so it’s really important for us to attract and retain as well as motivate the right people.

We need the right people with the right knowledge.”

For the full interview with Hargreaves, see the current issue of Inside HR magazine.