International construction company Multiplex has adopted a holistic approach to workplace flexibility, which has improved diversity and inclusion outcomes and delivered a range of business outcomes, according to its executive director of people, Caitriona Comerford.
Industry norms in the construction sector mean that some people are still working six-day weeks and long hours, and Comerford explained that this makes working in construction untenable for some employees because of a lack of workplace flexibility.
“Flexibility has been key for us in creating an inclusive workplace and changing industry norms,” she said.
“The most important element to successfully implementing a D&I change within Multiplex has been our focus on team engagement and ownership.
“Our approach is based on the belief that individuals, teams and organisations have the capacity to change and to create better and more productive workplaces.”
The implementation of Multiplex’s workplace flexibility program has been consultative and team-based, with the involvement of every project team member – taking into account the needs of each individual, the team as well as the business.
This approach has provided project teams with ownership of their respective flexibility plan and has also provided an opportunity to talk through and challenge any misconceptions they might have about flexibility.
Comerford said this also helps to promote inclusion: “By putting the power in hands of the team and encouraging managers to lead by example, we’ve ensured that every team member feels comfortable and included in the program,” she said.
This consultative approach has also been important in “being flexible with flex”, Comerford added.
“We know a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work – workplace flexibility means different things for different people,” she said.
“This has given us the proof points we need to support and further develop the program”
“We also know that sometimes needs will change along the way, so we aim to create evolving and flexible solutions based on the active involvement and collaboration of the team in redesigning jobs and work.”
An ability to monitor and track the progress has also been critical to the success of Multiplex’s workplace flexibility program.
Outcomes for each implementation have been tracked and monitored through both pre-and post-implementation surveys and face-to-face interviews, Comerford explained.
“This has given us the proof points we need to support and further develop the program,” she said.
“It also means we’ve been able to hear the stories of workplace flexibility from our people directly, which has provided an even stronger support base for the program than data alone could ever do.”
Getting leaders on board with flexibility and D&I
Multiplex’s leadership team is always open to diversity and inclusion initiatives that support the wellbeing of team members, according to Comerford.
“That said, with larger initiatives like workplace flexibility, there is always a fear of the unknown that needs to be conquered,” she said.
“We knew it was an industry norm that we needed to challenge, but of course there were concerns about whether it would impact our ability to deliver a project on time or require more staff.
“Running a pilot program initially was a great approach for us – it provided an evidence base to prove that we could implement flexibility while still outperforming on the job.”
The pilot at Multiplex’s Wetherill Park project saw the project team redesign their work to achieve a five-day workweek on a six-day roster.
Despite this, the project was ultimately delivered early, on budget, and with 84 per cent of the project team indicating that the flexibility program had a positive impact on their personal and home lives.
“With larger initiatives like workplace flexibility, there is always a fear of the unknown that needs to be conquered”
“Alongside the data, the personal stories that our people shared from the pilot are what really got our leadership team on board with the workplace flexibility program, quickly committing to extend it to our projects nationally,” she said.
Benefits and results
Flexibility has been rolled out across 48 Multiplex sites nationally, and Comerford said both the data and anecdotal feedback has shown a significant perception change in how flexibility is viewed and practised across the business.
The company’s employee opinion survey has seen the response to ‘I work in a team where flexibility is encouraged’ jump from 50 per cent in 2013 to 79 per cent in 2019, and the response to ‘I have a good understanding of what flexibility is available to me at Multiplex’ increased from 42 per cent in 2013 to 81 per cent in 2019.
“There’s still room for improvement and we are continuing to make workplace flexibility a focus, but it shows the significant leap that has been made in a few short years,” said Comerford.
“More importantly for us though, has been hearing the stories our people tell about flexibility and how it has impacted their lives.”
Comerford recalled a particular story from a site supervisor who participated in the very first pilot program: “He told us, ‘My daughter is young and I am just ‘that random guy who comes home every night’. She sometimes doesn’t want to go to me.
“’On the weekend where I had Saturday off she woke up and I was there both mornings – my daughter walks into room and says ‘Daddy’; she never did that before.’
“The data is important but hearing a story like that really brings it home,” said Comerford, who explained that this is what drives her and the whole Multiplex business to keep pushing workplace flexibility and making this change for its people.