Flexible working in onsite roles boosts worker wellbeing with no impact on programme deadlines or budgets, an 18-month study involving BAM Construct, BAM Nuttall, Skanska UK and Willmott Dixon has found.
The Build UK-led pilot, designed by flexible working consultancy Timewise, assessed whether it was 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.
Pilots ran between June 2020 and February 2021, with the goal of identifying if flexible working could be put in place without budgets or deadlines being affected.
The pilots took place in a range of locations, from an HS2 site in London through to a substation build near Weston Super Mare, among teams employing between 14 and 120 workers.
Timewise used a system it has developed for location-based roles that need to cover a long working day, which it calls the ‘shift-life balance’ model. It tested different types of flexible working across the different sites:
- BAM Construct tested a team-based approach to flexible working, with a consultative method of setting shifts that takes workers’ personal preferences into account.
- 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.
- Skanska UK trialled two different approaches to earlier starts and finishes with two different teams within the Skanska Costain STRABAG (SCS) Joint Venture.
- 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).
The study found that there was a “broad positive shift in wellbeing”, with many workers speaking of improvements to their family life and sense of wellbeing. The proportion of participants who said they regularly worked beyond their contracted hours decreased from more than half to just over a third (51% to 34%). The level of guilt that workers felt about starting later or finishing earlier than colleagues also decreased as the pilot went on.
Some stated that they would consider the ability to work flexibly as a key criteria when applying for future jobs. Managers reported a greater sense of trust, ownership and a better team dynamic.
All of the firms involved reported no negative impact on budgets or timeframes, while some data suggested adjustments to working patterns could drive savings on labour costs due to enhanced productivity.
The full results can be read in Timewise’s report: “Making Construction a great place to work – can flexible working help?’.
Timewise has also produced a 10-point toolkit for other employers that wish to follow suit.
Suzannah Nichol, chief executive of Build UK, said: “Flexible working has enabled me to continue my career in construction for over 30 years, and this report will help others to do the same. Our industry offers a fantastic range of opportunities, and Timewise and our pioneers have proved that flexible working is possible, even for site-based teams. By sharing what works, we can help companies across the sector create the working environment that will attract and retain a diverse workforce, making construction a positive career choice for everyone. It’s a win-win, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.”
Andrea Singh, executive and HR director for BAM Construct UK, said: “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. We now ask, ‘how can we make flexibility work?’ and not, ‘can we make it work?’. Managers are finding flexible approaches that work for their team and clients.”
Harvey Francis, executive vice president at Skanska UK, added: “We’re delighted to have partnered with Build UK and others to successfully deliver this important piece of work. Skanska UK is committed to improving access to flexible working for our site-based workers, and outcomes from Timewise have assisted in the development of our own flexible working programme, Flex-it.”
Rick Lee, chief people officer at Willmott Dixon, said: “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.”