Making flexibility work: Flick Electric Co.

The determination to do things differently has seen new power retailer Flick Electric Co. challenge the way New Zealanders buy their electricity. But they’re also committed to challenging the norms for their staff.

The 34-person Wellington-based company is open to flexible work arrangements across the business, regardless of reason or seniority. About a quarter of staff currently work with some degree of flexibility, including two in the six-person senior leadership team.

Jessica Venning-Bryan, GM of brand, says the benefits of offering flexible work are “endless”.

“We want to make flexibility work for people who need it,” she says. “We want people to be happy at work.”

Jessica says Flick’s commitment to flexibility is “almost unconscious”.

“It’s just something that has been a philosophical part of our business from the start. We’re young, we’re nimble, we’re not like an established business where you have a set of policies in place and almost have to reverse engineer flexibility. It’s just part of how we operate.”

Jessica says Flick has a culture of flexibility and diversity rather than a set of prescriptive policies and procedures.

“To make that work, you need to have a high trust culture. If mutual trust and respect is inherent in the relationship between employer and employee, then you start from a place of good faith, and you can be more responsive and more flexible. That opens the door to having honest, robust conversations about how people manage their lives around work.”

At Flick, flexible work takes various forms. Jessica herself works full-time hours, but starts early and finishes early for ease of commuting and childcare purposes. Her senior leadership colleague, general counsel Nikki Bloomfield, works three days a week.

Milly Gaualofa, who works in operations, works flexibly around her church and family commitments.

“Milly's role is really specialised, and she’s great at it. In the month leading up to White Sunday, she starts early and finishes early so she can do what she needs to do for the church in the afternoons, then picks up any work she needs to finish off in the evenings.

“She’s happy, we’re happy, and the job gets done.”

When they needed to find another member for Flick’s development team, Jessica says they were happy to hire Merrin Macleod, who wanted to work part-time while she completed a degree in design.

“There’s lots of upside for us in being open-minded about the shape of roles. Merrin’s very dedicated to her craft, and we get the benefit of the upskilling she’s getting while she’s studying.

“Some small-to-medium businesses say they can’t afford to offer flexible work, but ‘work’ doesn’t have to be divided up into perfect full-time roles. Thinking laterally about how the job you need can be done, will give you more options in the available talent pool."

Jessica says businesses need to be aware there’s no one cookie-cutter approach to flexibility – what works for one person may not work for another, and what someone needs often changes with time. Business owners and employees should also be mindful that working flexibly shouldn’t mean that staff miss out on learning and development, opportunities for advancement or salary increases.

“People can get locked into the rigidity of ‘flexibility’ when it’s not done right, which is ironic. I know tonnes of women whose version of flexibility is working four days a week, but in reality they do five days’ work and only get paid for four. Or, they feel they can’t change their hours because they’re ‘lucky’ to have negotiated their current arrangement."

She says making flexibility work requires buy-in and a deep understanding of what the business needs.

“Everyone in an organisation needs to be onboard with the idea, or it won’t work. It only takes one person to not believe in it to make it harder for everyone else.

“I have three people in my team who rely on me to be able to do their jobs, so I need to structure into my alternative hours time that I am available to them. Merrin needs to push website releases live on very specific timelines, so she flags to everyone else when she needs their inputs to ensure she can meet the demands of the job within her flexible arrangement. It’s all about good communication.

“If you’ve got a team member who is really good at their job and you don’t want to lose them, then you’ll make it work.”

Read more about how New Zealand businesses are making flexibility work: 

- Making flexibility work: Abley Transportation

- Making flexibility work: Go Finance

The benefits of a flexible and diverse workforce