BIU trial featured in the Harvard Business Review

17 November 2017Cindy Wiryakusuma and Hui Chai

Categorybehaviour change

Tagsbehaviour change, case study, harvard, news

A BIU trial about flexible work was recently featured in the Harvard Business Review.

flexible work

Intervention 1: changing default settings in Microsoft Outlook calendars

Screenshot of a Microsoft Outlook calendar, showing how active hours were reduced to reflect only compulsory hours that staff have to be in the office.

Outlook defaults to highlighting 9am-5pm as the time people are available for meetings. To subtly nudge people to avoid early and late meetings, and so enable flexible start and finish times, we condensed the default available time shown in Outlook. 

Intervention 2: prompting managers to discuss and model flexible working

Secondly, we used building entry card data to show managers that their teams were mimicking their starting and leaving behaviour. We encouraged them to both model flexible working and have an open conversation with their teams about how it could work for them.

Intervention 3: using a competition to disrupt habits

Many workplaces have a healthy degree of inter-team rivalry, so we ran a team-based competition. Teams could win points for arriving or leaving out of peak times as well as for often-devalued forms of flexible working, such as part-time work or working from home. Regular leaderboards and a prize for the most flexible team encouraged participation.

We tested these interventions as part of a quasi-experimental trial to see if the interventions genuinely had an effect.

Column graphs showing percentages of off-peak entry times, before (38.9 per cent) and after (42.2 per cent) interventions 1 & 2
Figure 2:  Percentages of off-peak entry times, before and after interventions 1 and 2.

Following the calendar change and manager prompting (interventions 1 and 2), there was a 3.3 percentage point increase in the number of off-peak arrivals.  The interventions had no impact on off-peak departures.

Following this, we ran the competition (intervention 3) for nine weeks: hopefully, enough time for people to disrupt old habits and form new ones. Figure 3 shows that the competition resulted in a 6.4% increase in the number of off-peak arrivals, and a 4.9 % increase in the number of off-peak departures.

Percentages of off-peak entry and exit times before and after the competition

Figure 3. Percentages of off-peak entry and exit times before and after the competition (intervention 3).

Even two months after all interventions had finished, there was still a 7.1 percentage point increase in off-peak arrivals and a 3.8 percentage point increase in off-peak departures as compared to the time when none of these interventions were in place (baseline). , This shows that not only did behaviour shift during the competition, but those new behaviours were sustained.  This result reinforces the role that promoting flexible work policies can play to help manage transport demand and provides additional tools to be rolled out through the Travel Choices network of Sydney CBD organisations.

Distribution of entry and exit times before and two months after the trial ended (follow up)

Figure 4: Distribution of entry and exit times before and two months after the trial ended (follow up) 

This trial has shown that even low-cost behavioural interventions can result in real shifts in workplace norms and culture. Using behavioural insights, and methodologies borrowed from behavioural sciences, organisations can test out simple behavioural tools to find what works for you.

We are looking to replicate these interventions with private sector and public sector organisations, so if you are interested in testing to see what works in your own organisation, please let us know.

Read the Business Harvard Review article

We wish to acknowledge the efforts of past team members who contributed at various stages to this trial: Sean, Edwina and Shabnam; as well as support from Karen and Alex of the Behavioural Insights Team. We also wish to acknowledge the support of the DPC Senior Leadership including Secretary Blair Comley, and the broader project team: Brooke, Nicki and Teresa from People & Culture; Romell, Zihni and Micah from Security; Davi, James and Anthony from IT; and Marg, Susie, Ayushe, Helen, and Graham from TfNSW.