Merge Gupta-Sunderji is a leadership speaker and consultant, and founder of Turning Managers Into Leaders.
The proliferation of flexible work continues. Whether the flexibility is related to hours (flex-time, compressed weeks, part-time work), or workstyles (telecommuting, flexible workspaces, job sharing), it is something that more employees want.
Flexible working arrangements are viewed as attractive because they represent freedom – to be productive, stay motivated and save time.
All of which also benefits employers, but not every organization has come around to appreciating the advantages. If an organization isn’t open to the idea of flexible work, it is putting itself at a competitive disadvantage for recruiting, hiring and keeping the best and the brightest – which means it’s worth your while to at least explore the possibility.
So what can you do to make flexible working a reasonable alternative in your organization? Here are five must-dos.
Plan your strategy
Flexible working is so widespread and mainstream now that it should not (and cannot) be managed on a case-by-case basis. So establish a flex-work strategy. Determine what options (in terms of hours or work styles) your business can reasonably support, who will be allowed to take advantage of flex-work opportunities, and who will make the final yea-or-nay decisions. Seek feedback from your employees in terms of their level of interest, their needs and what jobs are best suited to flexible work alternatives. Ask them for their input on what the work guidelines should be and how productivity will be measured.
Recognize that not every job or every person will be a good fit
It is important to acknowledge that not all roles nor all employees will be successful in flexible working arrangements. Ultimately, you still have to ensure that your customers are serviced and that your work gets done.
Some jobs simply require more rigid hours or work styles. Some employees just need the structure of a workplace environment to thrive. And there will also be staff who feel that flexible work options will actually cause them more stress and dissatisfaction because work responsibilities will encroach on personal time.
Make communication your priority
Unless you thoughtfully seek to offset it, communication and collaboration usually decline as flexible work expands. So make it a priority.
Do not rely solely on e-mail to keep in touch. Conduct regular information-sharing staff meetings to keep everyone in the loop, either in person or at least over the telephone. Make it a point to reach out and connect with each of your staff members on a recurring and frequent “check-in.” Use one of the many online tools available to keep your employees connected. Slack and Yammer are just two of myriad possibilities.
As you roll out your flexible work initiative, communicate repeatedly to everyone involved that this can only work if identified goals are met and deliverables completed.
Change your leadership approach
Managing a flexible work force isn’t the same as managing a traditional one. If you believe that time at the office proves a strong work ethic, then your foray into the world of flexible work is destined to fail.
It is critical to focus on results rather than on process. Seek to monitor and assess outputs rather than tasks. Make sure that your employees understand that they will be evaluated and measured on what is produced or delivered.
Launch a preliminary pilot
Start small. Run a pilot program with a few key departments. Set a deadline, perhaps in six months, at which time you will evaluate successes, roadblocks and failures. A trial run will help you identify problems and work out the difficulties. Once you discover the obstacles and issues, you can make adjustments and roll out the program to the rest of your organization.
Don’t immediately nix the possibility of flexible working arrangements because of past experiences and biases. Flex-work opportunities have been proven to increase staff productivity, enhance employee engagement, offer scheduling and coverage advantages, and reduce facility costs.
It’s certainly worth your effort to determine how you can make it a solid reality in your organization.
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