Flexible working improves construction workers wellbeing

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Timewise, the flexible working consultants today (23 June) publish the results of their Timewise Construction Pioneers programme – an 18-month project that has redesigned shift patterns in onsite roles to enable flexible working and enhance employee wellbeing

Timewise tested whether it is possible to improve the wellbeing of those working on-site through changing the hours and times of working, as well as considering home-based working, where possible.

The goal was to identify if this was possible to achieve without budgets or deadlines being affected, across a range of sites and projects.

The pilots ran between June 2020 and February 2021, through the pandemic.

Four of the UK’s largest construction companies took part: BAM Construct, BAM Nuttall, Skanska UK and Willmott Dixon. Collectively they employ around 11,000 people.

The pilot took place in a range of locations, from a HS2 site in London through to a substation build near Weston Super Mare, amongst teams employing between 14 and 120 workers.

Build UK partnered with Timewise on the programme, and The Construction Industry Training Board and Barclays Life Skills supported its rollout.

Timewise used a system it has developed for location-based roles which need to cover a long working day – which it calls the ‘shift-life balance’ model.

It tested different types of flexible working:

  • BAM Construct: tested a team-based approach to flexible working. Tested a consultative method of setting shifts that takes workers’ personal preferences into account. This is similar to work Timewise has conducted with nurses in the NHS.
  • BAM Nuttall: tested a flexi-day approach in which workers could accumulate additional hours in exchange for one day off each month. A large portion of workers were living away and preferred to tag a flexi-day onto a weekend, to enjoy extended time at home.
  • Willmott Dixon: Willmott Dixon used the expertise of Timewise to support commitments they had already made to staff (to limit hours worked to 45 per week inclusive of breaks and to ensure that an agile working plan is in place for all teams and on all new projects).
  • Skanska UK: earlier starts and finishes– Skanska UK trialled TWO different approaches with two different teams within the Skanska Costain STRABAG (SCS) joint venture, both revolving around earlier start and finish times:
  • Output-based: The foreperson works with a planner to develop a more detailed version of the schedule of work, broken down into weekly and daily objectives. Working hours are set, based on the outputs to be achieved each day.
  • Staggered: The foreman alternates start times between the teams each week,  so that all workers get the pattern they want every other week. In addition to this, workers are given a choice of break times.

A broad positive shift in wellbeing

Some stated that they would consider the ability to work flexibly as key criteria when applying for future jobs. Managers reported a greater sense of trust, ownership and a better team dynamic.

Emma Stewart MBE, director of development at Timewise, said: “Our trailblazing Pioneers: BAM Construct, BAM Nuttall, Skanska UK and Willmott Dixon have shown that wellbeing and balance should be possible to achieve for the whole workforce – not just those in-office roles.

“And in doing so have provided a blueprint that we hope will drive wider industry change. Working practices no longer need to be a block to attracting the best and most diverse possible talent.”

Andrea Singh, executive and HR director for BAM Construct UK, added; “Our new approach to flexible working is giving people a better work-life balance and is making construction an attractive career choice.

“Thanks to this pioneering work, our managers are thinking differently and that’s making a real improvement to people’s lives.”

Rick Lee, chief people officer at Willmott Dixon, added: “We are delighted to have participated in the flexible working pilot led by Timewise.

“The scheme has allowed us to progress our pre-existing agile working programme and has helped us develop our knowledge and skills to enable our people, whether they have a site or office-based role, to achieve a greater work/life balance.

“Across our business, we have a deep-rooted philosophy that our people make the difference and that our culture is critical to providing an environment where all our people can thrive and enjoy the career of a lifetime.

“Being able to embed a successful approach to agile working at our sites is critical for achieving a diverse business and realising our aim to achieve gender parity across our workforce by 2030.”

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