Hope on the home front

Pauline Henderson, corporate personnel consultant at Nationwide Building Society,
explains how two levels of interactive training were key in preparing its
homeworking strategy

Working Smarter at Home and Managing Teams Which Work at Home
Designed by: Waterman’s Training, The Abbey Brewery, Market Cross,
Malmesbury, Wiltshire SN16 9AS
Phone: 01666 825123 Fax 01666 825233
Weblink: www.watermans.uk.com

Homeworking is one of many flexible working arrangements that Nationwide
Building Society has offered since the early 1990s. However, take up was
extremely limited until a combination of circumstances at the end of the decade
led to a interest from employees and the business.

Nationwide was finding it increasingly difficult to recruit, particularly
into technical areas and in our head office at Swindon, where there is a high
demand for good-quality people.

We also had space constraints. Our head office building is approaching
maximum capacity, so additional recruitment raised the issue of expensive
additional space, and the upheaval that would entail. We considered that
promoting homeworking as an option would be a way of extending the pool from
which we could attract staff without increasing office space or equipment. At
the same time our employees were increasingly looking for opportunities to
balance their lives between work and outside work activities. They were much
clearer about the possibilities and potential benefits of more flexibility and
were actively pursuing the idea of homeworking with us.

Converging forces

These two converging forces led us to put together a project team, to
include all stakeholders, and to undertake a pilot homeworking scheme. Training
and development was a milestone within the project plan.

We believed that it was high risk to implement a significantly different way
of working without the appropriate support and development for everyone involved.
In fact, when the project was in its earliest stages, our senior management
wanted to know about the specific type of support that was to be provided.

At the highest level, training, development and support was viewed as a high
priority. When we began to consider the issue in detail, we felt an external
provider would be better placed to help us develop the skills, behaviours and
mindset.

The emotional detachment of an external provider can be invaluable, without
the distraction of day-to-day operational issues that so often become a feature
of internal workshops.

We involved Waterman’s at quite an early stage in our thinking. In January,
Waterman’s interviewed a number of homeworkers, line managers, project managers
and non-homeworkers to gather information on their perceptions and experiences
of homeworking and managing homeworkers. I talked with them at length about our
Homeworking Framework and the relevant policies, practices and procedures.

The company then used this information to help shape the format and content
of the workshops.

We felt this consultation phase was vital and resulted in courses that were
genuinely designed to address all the issues emerging from such a significant
change in working practices.

Work smart

It quickly became clear that we needed two levels of training – one for the
homeworkers and one for the managers. We also felt the managers’ course should
address the issues faced by project managers as well as line managers, because
there were distinct differences in the two and, if anything, this would present
more challenges in the working relationships.

The key elements of the Working Smarter at Home course address all the
challenges of this method and strategies for dealing with them. This obviously
involves a lot of time management, advice on managing interruptions, how to
maintain motivation and how to address the many communications issues.

The courses are designed to be extremely interactive, which is particularly
beneficial as we have a mix of employees, some of whom have a range of
experience in working at home and some who are completely new to the
arrangement, so there are opportunities for cross-learning.

Whereas the course for homeworkers was quite focused on the individual, the
manager’s course, Managing Teams Which Work at Home, had a broader approach and
looked at the impact on the whole team or department.

The first workshop was a pilot from which emerging issues were used to
revise and update the following workshops. One element of the course is a video
featuring clips of interviews with homeworkers, managers and non-homeworkers
from which tips are distilled and compiled into a top 10 list. The video has
also become a library item for the Learning Resource Centre.

Powerful results

We believe the managers achieved some powerful results from their workshop.
They realised that homeworking was not only an innovative and highly suitable
way of working flexibly for some members of their team, but that it also had
enormous benefits for the business.

It also enabled managers to develop a different skill set, thereby
increasing their own knowledge and experience.

All the issues that needed to be considered with this new way of working
were identified and addressed as part of the workshop experience. We believe it
is essential for all managers to attend and we are delighted to know that this
target is well on the way to being achieved.

Waterman’s has been an excellent partner for Nationwide during this project.
And, now it has taken the courses developed and delivered for Nationwide,
packaged them as part of its scheduled training programme and made them
available to all its customers. This is advantageous to us, in that we can put
managers and homeworkers through training at the appropriate time for them. We
do not have to wait until we have sufficient delegates for an in-house course.

Participants’ views

Sharon Rothery became involved in the Nationwide homeworking pilot because
of her passion for netball. The ability to work flexibly, and at home, meant
that work could more easily be fitted around Sharon’s involvement in umpiring,
playing and coaching the sport.

Having worked for Nationwide for eight years, Sharon started working at home
in 2000 and even accompanied Dr Brian Davis, chief executive of the building
society, to 10 Downing Street as part of the Government’s work-life balance
initiative.

In April 2001, Sharon attended the Waterman’s Working Smarter at Home
course.

"The course was extremely interactive and sparked a lot of interesting
discussion. It was well structured, but presented informally so that between
the attendees and the tutor, Kevin Edwards, we developed a set of best
practices that we could really apply to our own working lives," she says

"At least 50 per cent of the course revolved around practical examples,
including the video showing clips of existing homeworkers and discussion or
brainstorming, which made it fun and interesting and really relevant. I thought
that both the content and delivery of the course were superb."

Alan Foley, a senior project manager at Nationwide, attended the Managing
Teams Which Work at Home course in March. "I found the course very
enjoyable. The content was extremely well designed and related very much to the
way Nationwide worked," he says.

"The management attending were asked to make a video production to
reinforce the learning. By actually having to consider, script and then act out
the various elements of homeworking, their importance was emphasised, and the
key content has been easy to retain. We had to select a theme for the video
from a choice of Hammer House of Horror, western or silent movie – ours was
entitled The Lone Ranger, the Home Ranger and Barry the Baddest Project Manager
in the West. We were given a £10 allowance for props, so raided the charity
shops of Malmesbury for their entire stock of cowboy outfits!

"The course was only one day, but it gave us a real insight into the
many and various issues involved in working at home. It gave the attendees an
opportunity to compare our own experiences and it provided a framework from
which we could develop effective strategies for managing home-based staff and
their office-based colleagues."

Developer’s view

Shan Williams, managing director of Waterman’s, says, "Nationwide’s
training is very advanced in its approach, therefore Waterman’s was keen to
design two programmes that would challenge the attitudes, preconceptions and
thinking of the attendees.

"Prior to carrying out the training, we wanted to find out as much as
possible about the issues to be addressed, hence, the interviews we carried out
and the close working relationship we developed with Pauline Henderson.

"During the actual design of the courses, our aim was to accommodate
all the attendees’ preferred learning styles, and to make the courses work for
theorists, activists, pragmatists and reflectors. This was reflected in the
make up of the courses, the materials used and the challenges set.

"Our overall aim was to deliver experiential learning, to pass responsibility
to the attendees for their learning, and so to support the overall success of
Nationwide’s homeworking policy."

Verdict
Taking a 360-degree perspective

We thought providing the type and quality of training we wanted for our
homeworkers might present something of a challenge. We didn’t expect to find
scheduled courses we could simply plug into that would really meet our needs. A
consultative approach was very much what we felt we needed.

In this, and in all respects, Waterman’s did an excellent job. The
representatives really listened to what we needed, our policies, aims and
experiences and translated them into very effective learning experiences. They
developed two training programmes for us that looked at homeworking from a
360-degree perspective, which was exactly what we were looking for.

A good measure of the success of the programme was the requests for training
from staff and managers who had missed the initial courses due to other
commitments. When they heard the positive reports from attendees they actually
requested another chance to attend.  

We now have 60 homeworkers, a number we expect to see steadily increasing
over time – the majority having attended the homeworking workshops.

The real value in the workshops is that they are directly transferable into
people’s working lives. The learning is immediately applicable and is therefore
used and not lost. Everyone who has been involved talks about the training very
positively and we regard it as a cornerstone of our homeworking project.

Overall rating * * * *

Key * = Disappointing    * * * *  = excellent 

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