In 2020, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) made the decision to embark on a journey to reimagine workplace flexibility: one that prioritises autonomy, agency and trust, and takes a team-based rather than individualised approach to make flex work for everyone, thus increasing individual, team and organisation productivity.

The outcome of this work is the recently launched Flex @ WEHI program which was designed and developed under the stewardship of WEHI’s Flex Reference Group. The reference group comprises staff members with diverse roles from across the institute.

The Flex @ WEHI program includes:

  • a new principles-based flex policy;
  • a ‘one stop shop’ Flex Hub on the intranet with practical advice, guidance and tools for staff, supervisors and teams to implement flex and hybrid working arrangements successfully; and
  • team-based training to set up protocols to bolster communication and collaboration in the hybrid working environment.
Screenshot of WEHI SharePoint site. The simple interface provides links for staff and students, managers, teams, online/hybrid meetings, and training.
The WEHI flex hub provides quick links and resources on working flexibly. Image: Supplied.

Responding to a new world of work

The development of the Flex @ WEHI program began amidst enforced work-at-home measures during COVID lockdowns in Victoria. The acceleration to a different way of working brought about by the pandemic has been a key driver for this initiative.

WEHI was keen to capitalise on the benefits people reported from having more control over how, when and where they work and conscious of avoiding a ‘snap back’ to outdated working models.

Enabling all at WEHI to thrive

WEHI wants to support staff and students to better integrate their work and personal commitments so that they can thrive both at work and home. The institute wants to see its people connected, empowered, supported and productive.

​​​​​​​WEHI recognises that working flexibly is not ‘one size fits all’. Different roles and functions will have access to different forms of flexibility.

In addition, flexible work isn’t new to WEHI. Many of staff and students already work flexibly. What’s new is the institute’s refreshed policy and approach to flexibility.

Shifting from individual to team-based approach

The key shift from WEHI’s previous flex model has been from an individual focus to a team-based approach.

With more staff and students wanting to work flexibly, there is a need to enable teams to identify ways to maintain team productivity, and continue to communicate and collaborate effectively.

It is important for staff, managers/supervisors and teams to focus on how, when and where tasks/ outputs/collaboration can best be achieved, and to use this approach when discussing working arrangements.

Whether only some people or everyone in the team work flexibly, all members need to share the responsibility for determining how the team can work effectively – with oversight and leadership from the manager/supervisor.

In an environment where working flexibly is becoming the norm, it is not feasible for a supervisor to speak individually with each team member to independently develop a complex plan for facilitating work schedules, communication and collaboration.

An effective solution, WEHI found, is to develop Team Protocols. Team Protocols are a record of the agreements made by a team regarding how, when and where they plan to connect, collaborate and work together. ​​​

To develop protocols, a team will need to consider these questions:

  • For what purposes should we connect and/or collaborate?
  • How, when and where can we most effectively do this? (e.g. onsite, virtual, face-to-face meetings, or MS Teams)
  • What are our expectations about communication turnaround times?
  • How will we let others know when we are contactable and/or are working flexibly?
  • Do we need to change the way we work to accommodate a team member’s flexible working arrangements?
  • What we do if our team protocols are not working effectively?
  • How will we maintain our cross-function relationships within the institute and with external stakeholders?

Team-based training

The institute is delivering training to support teams to work through these protocols and decide what will work best for their individual and group circumstances.

A successful session with WEHI’s Population Health and Immunity Scientific Division was held in May, which helped the Division to agree on some key principles under the protocol which will then be cascaded down to enable conversations at the individual Laboratory team level.

As part of a group activity, people are asked to consider what has worked well, what could be improved and how they can foster creativity, innovation and new skills. A list of prompts such as communication, technology, meetings and decision-making is displayed on a screen.
The WEHI Population Health and Immunity Scientific Division developing their Team Protocol at a flex training workshop. Photograph: Supplied.
People discuss the results of a group poll on the 9 tasks they would most like to do on a division core day.
Flex training participants reflect on their motivations for connecting and collaborating. Photograph: Supplied.