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AFP commitment to flexible work more than just words

As the AFP rapidly approaches the two year anniversary of its landmark report – Cultural Change: Gender and Diversity in the Australian Federal Police – its leadership group is moving ahead with a commitment to address the many challenges raised in the paper.

Embracing flexible workplace arrangements is a major part of that, with several of the Report's 24 recommendations calling for significant change in this area.

The AFP is now leading the way in demonstrating how flexible arrangements can make for a happier and more productive workplace – something it has been active in promoting, with members now working remotely from locations including Hong Kong, Bangkok and Washington DC – and a little closer to AFP HQ on the NSW South Coast.  

In 2016 AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin said that the AFP should adopt a "Flex by Default approach across the organisation" with safeguards to ensure that these requests were reviewed by a member of the AFP Senior Leadership Group.

Further, the AFP recommended a "stay in touch" and return to work plan for members on extended leave – including maternity and parental leave – that included access to training and other opportunities while on leave.

Liz Grant, the AFP's Senior Graphic Designer, has been working remotely since 2017 when her husband was offered a unique work opportunity in Hong Kong.

A female sitting in a home office in front of a computer
AFP Senior Graphic Designer Liz Grant has been working remotely from Hong Kong since 2017 when her husband was offered a work opportunity there.

"I love my job, and wasn't ready to 'retire' yet," she said.

"There were lots of good things happening in the AFP Communications team, so I decided to challenge our Coordinator and Manager to see just how 'flexible' the AFP workplace could be!"

Several months on and Liz says the arrangement both parties came to is working well.

"Hong Kong is only two hours behind Canberra time, so while it means a relatively early start for me, I get to work concurrently with my team members in Canberra and enjoy the ongoing connection with colleagues and management each day," she said.

Armed with an iPad and Skype, the team back in Canberra have daily, face-to-face meetings – even 'carrying' Liz throughout AFP HQ to present ideas to AFP management and business areas. 

And there are other advantages.

"For a creative professional, working remotely also gives you quality 'thinking and creating' space, rather than having to find this space outside the standard working hours or offsite.

"Naturally, too, I love the fact that when I sign off at around 2:30pm, I have time to go and explore my new city, indulge in some of my other creative pursuits, and the opportunity to spend quality time with my husband and the increasing numbers of family and friends popping over to visit us. I've got the best of both worlds, definitely."

"But this transition to working remotely would not have been possible without the support, and more importantly, trust shown in me by my Team Leaders, Coordinator and Manager."

Also within the AFP family, its International Operations (IO) section is also showing how flexible arrangements can – and do – work.

Coordinator International Strategy David Quayle says the key lies in balancing the needs of the workplace with the personal circumstances of members.

"We have now created an environment where people feel comfortable asking for, and accessing, flexible and remote work arrangements – and it's working well," David said.

"To communicate, we all rely on the AFP's current IT tools for instant messaging and screen sharing, and the good old fashioned telephone and email, of course."

And there's always a 'WhatsApp' group for birthdays and awards, and the occasional joke.

Mardi Grundy has been working remotely for AFP IO since 2015 when she decided it was time to return home to the NSW South Coast.

A female sitting at an office desk decorated with balloons and streamers
AFP member Mardi Grundy had been with the AFP for 7 years before applying to work remotely from the NSW South Coast in 2015.

"I loved the AFP but I'd spent seven years living away from my family and travelled back and forth between the coast and Canberra and I decided to approach my boss and tell her I was going to start applying for jobs closer to home. I certainly didn't expect what happened next."

"My boss suggested flexible working arrangements. A lot of our team's work can be done autonomously, so remote and flexible work seemed like a possibility. She submitted a proposal to our managers, who approved for me to work from the AFP managed Jervis Bay Territory police station."

"Everyone involved, particularly my boss and the Jervis Bay team, have been so supportive and accommodating. I love being able to see my family every day while also having a rewarding and very satisfying job – something I didn't think was possible living in a small coastal town."

Irene Farr, from International Operations Design and Strategy, has also discovered the benefits of working flexibly.

A female sitting at a desk in a home office with a dog by her side
AFP member Irene Farr was in a classic conundrum of choosing between career and her family when her partner was posted to Washington DC.

"When my partner was posted to Washington DC, I was faced with the classic conundrum of choosing between career and family. Thankfully, the AFP didn't force me to make that choice," she said.

"Unlike many organisations, the AFP saw my circumstances as an opportunity rather than a drawback."

"My team is very inclusive, and we have all been adaptable and creative in ensuring continued engagement and effectiveness. Generally I start work a bit later in the day and work into the evening so that I have daily cross over with the team in Canberra.

Patrick Hagan, an AFP IO Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, is also enjoying the benefits flexible work arrangements.

A male sitting at a home office desk
When his wife was transferred to Bangkok for work eight months ago, AFP member Patrick Hagan was able to continue working remotely with his Canberra-based team.

"When my wife won a role in the UN three years ago, the AFP was very supportive and allowed me to put my career on hold through a long-term leave arrangement," he said.

"Eight months ago my wife's position was transferred to Bangkok, and I contacted my team to inform them where I was located. To my delight my Coordinator thought that a flexible work arrangement was possible and I have been able to start working again as part of the team."

"It also helps my wife and I balance the needs of our careers without one of us having to sacrifice work opportunities."

"That the AFP has enabled this is something for which we are both very grateful."