Tamaryn Bliss, Head of Talent Acquisition, shares her story and lessons learnt on how to effectively embrace a flexible workforce

Citi Australia

I am the Head of Talent Acquisition for Australia and New Zealand and have been with Citi for almost 8 years. During my tenure, I have worked full-time and part-time, and I now work from our Perth office and lead a team based in Sydney. My role has required me to work locally, regionally and globally. To get my job done, I flex across time zones, states, and geographies, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

After realising not everyone at Citi has access to the same level of flexibility as I do, I started a conversation with FlexCareers to help us drive consistency across the organization. I was also attracted to FlexCareer’s mission because from personal experience, it is not just important for Citi to offer flexible work options, it is important that every organisation does.

Flexibility is a given in the minds of the best and most diverse talent. Every day we interview candidates who have only ever worked flexibly and are accustomed to having remote managers and working in teams with varying schedules. These candidates are empowered and adaptable and will never move back into a stagnant environment. The trend has already been set, and the best talent will increasingly be able to choose employers who offer them the best working conditions and practices. Organizations expect flexibility from their employees, so it is important that they give the same flexibility in return.

My team and I are dedicated to finding the best people in order to achieve the best outcomes for our clients, and we believe that offering the smartest working environment is vital for the continued attraction of the best people. Across Citi, we’re asking ourselves what barriers exist to flexibility in each of our teams and coaching hiring managers on how to have open conversations around flexible working with both their teams and candidates.

Here are some of the lessons we have learned through working with our managers and more importantly, from our own experiences working flexibly.

  • For teams that are not used to working flexibly, managers can start simply by asking each team member to identify a small change that would make a big difference to them (e.g. starting later on Tuesday to do an early morning yoga class, leaving early to avoid the traffic, picking up their child from school once a week). These minor adjustments can have a big impact on the level of control we have over our lives and allow us to adapt as we go through different life experiences.
  • Flexibility can be a great way for managers to learn critical leadership skills, particularly how to set clear direction, and then give their team the trust and freedom necessary to achieve their goals. Taking the time to set clear goals and investing in creating an environment of open dialogue are necessary skills for every leader, and creating a flexible environment forces not just managers, but the whole team to develop these skills.
  • Managers should talk openly and proudly about their employee’s flexible work structure, particularly to other managers who may lag in their acceptance of flexibility. It takes time for any organization to change and adapt, and it’s important our leaders meet disparaging comments and disapproval head on.
  • Managers have a duty to lead by example. If you have employees who work from home, ensure you do it from time to time. If you are leaving to avoid the traffic, announce it on the way out so your team feels comfortable doing the same. Have meetings using video conference to normalize the practice.
  • Managers should encourage impromptu conversations with people working in other offices. When I first started working in Perth, people would put time in my diary to speak with me rather than just trying to call. An impromptu call can replace wandering past someone’s desk and helps maintain efficiency and open communication. It is easy to rely on email or scheduled calls, which can be less efficient and effective.
  • Managing teams that work in different locations can mean managers miss physical cues about someone’s welfare and mental health. Managers should spend longer on personal conversations (sometimes I use recurring 1-1 catch-ups to simply chat) to ensure they maintain trust, and to give their team the confidence to raise issues when they arise.
  • It is important to trust remote employees to get back to you in a timely manner, as you would if they were in the office. Employees working in the office are not always contactable – people socialize and go to the gym or out to lunch – but we don’t question their productivity.

My career at Citi has been longer than any of my previous employers because of the flexibility afforded to me during each phase of my professional and personal life. Flexibility has allowed my husband and I to raise our children together while both progressing in our careers, which has been invaluable to me. I’m proud to work with FlexCareers to champion flexibility both at Citi and more broadly.