Susan Moylan, Associate Director, People & Change Consulting

Susan Moylan
Susan Moylan

Flexible and remote working existed in Northern Ireland by exception before COVID-19; today it is a normal way of working life. I think we have all been surprised by our adaptability in the most challenging of times and COVID-19 has enabled us to prove that flexible and remote working can work. So why then are so many leaders still keen to ‘get back to normal’? Why is there a belief that having your team in a common physical space between dictated hours allows for better measurement of performance?

I have worked with organisations where flexible and remote working is viewed as an accepted way of working, where it is embedded into the culture; to work where you want, when you want; as long as the expected output was met.

The differences between organisations is striking though. In one experience, I witnessed a senior team member ask if it was ok to leave 15 minutes early. One adult asking another adult permission for 15 minutes – this is the aha moment. Maturity and trust are key factors to enabling an agile workforce, and for this to happen we must challenge our thinking as leaders in three key areas: We’re all adults; Attendance versus output; and Trust, evidence versus fear.

As adults, why are we asking permission? Permission removes accountability and power, it is a safety mechanism to move responsibility from one person to another; but if we are not holding our teams responsible for managing their own time, or empowering them to do so, what else are we not enabling them to be responsible for?

Trusting our people to manage their own time and workload cultivates a mature and empowered culture; empowered people feel safe to be innovative and creative – without asking permission.

If I trust them to manage their own time, how will I know they are delivering their work? Is work measured on attendance or output? In this new reality, establishing a measurement of work will be a major indicator in what the future of flexible and remote working looks like.

If our approach as leaders is to look at output rather than attendance, we will need enhanced performance management frameworks, smarter objectives and measures; ones that are future-focussed in driving the performance of the workforce of tomorrow.

And to come to our third point of challenge; is our lack of trust in employees working in a flexible or remote way, based on evidence, or is it fear based? Take this example; two members of your team doing the same job with the same output, but one is in the office and the other is at home – who do you unconsciously trust more? If it is the former, it is might be fear based trust.

As leaders it has never been more important to take a look in a mirror ourselves and find our own resistance; What comfort do I get when my team are in the office? What will I lose if my team work remotely?

There are many layers to effectively enabling flexible and remote working but if we can, as a start, understand and shift the resistance in ourselves. By bringing maturity and trust into the culture and establishing a consistent focus on output, we will open the gate to a fluid and effective flexible and remote working environment – without permission!

For further information or advice, Susan Moylan can be contacted at

Grant Thornton (NI) LLP specialises in audit, tax and advisory services.