Major study proves ‘beyond doubt’ that flexible working is possible in construction


AN 18-month study into the feasibility of flexible working in the construction industry has revealed a series of positive results.

BAM Construct, BAM Nuttall, Skanska UK and Willmott Dixon took part in the programme which ran from June 2020 until February 2021 – with none reporting negative impacts on budgets or timeframes.

Headed by flexible working consultants, Timewise, the study tested whether it is possible to improve the wellbeing of those working on site through changed hours and times of work, whilst also ensuring that no budgets or deadlines were impacted as a result.

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

Timewise utilised 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 across the different sites:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:
  4. 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.
  5. Staggered : The foreperson 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.
  6. 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).

The results revealed that there was a ‘broad’ positive shift in wellbeing, with many workers detailing improvements to their family life and sense of wellbeing. Some stated that they would consider the ability to work flexibility as a ‘key’ criteria when applying for future jobs. Managers also reported a greater sense of trust, ownership and a better team dynamic.

All of the firms reported no negative impact on budgets or timeframes. Some also data suggests adjustments to working patterns could drive savings on labour costs due to enhanced productivity.

Furthermore, the project achieved the following:

  • 75% increase in a sense of wellbeing – participants who felt their working hours gave them enough time to look after their own health and wellbeing rose from 48% to 84%.
  • Overwork decreased – participants agreeing that they regularly work beyond their contracted hours decreased from more than half, to just over a third (51% to 34%).
  • Guilt decreased – at the start of the project, nearly half of all participants felt guilty of they started later or finished earlier than others onsite. This portion decreased to a third (47% to 33%).
  • Trust in colleagues working remotely increasedrespondents agreeing with the following phrase: “if someone works from home, I am not sure they are working as hard as they would be on site” decreased from 48% to 33%.

Emma Stewart MBE, director of development at Timewise, said, “This programme has proved, beyond doubt, that flexible working can work even in complex site-based industries such as construction. In a sector that is all about overcoming challenge with innovation, perhaps that should be no surprise. 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. Our thanks also go to Build UK for its vision and foresight in catalysing this unique project.”

Suzannah Nichol MBE, chief executive of Build UK, added, “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.”

Harvey Francis, executive vice president at Skanska UK, commented,“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.”

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.”

Adrian Savory, CEO for BAM Nuttall, commented,“Our involvement in the Timewise flexible working trial aligns with our focus to support our people to be at their best, and create inclusive environments which attract a wider diversity of people into the industry. The results of the pilots have demonstrated flexibility for operational roles is possible, and has been a win, win, win – for the business, teams and improving individual’s wellbeing. We have started implementing the approach across the whole of our business. And it’s encouraging to see people having conversations that wouldn’t have been possible without these results and the clear guidance for a successful approach.

“Over the past 18 months our industry adapted the way we work to continue keeping key workers moving, essential products on shelves and supply renewable power and clean water to homes and businesses, and this year has proved to us all that, together, we can do things so differently when we collaborate cross-industry – and do them more safely, sustainably, healthily and inclusively for all.”

Rick Lee, chief people officer at Willmott Dixon, said, “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.”

Timewise has produced a 10-point toolkit for other employers that wish to follow suit.