Though the challenges posed by flexible working may dissuade some business leaders from adopting the practice, there are countless proven methods to deliver the benefits of greater flexibility to an organisation.
Human capital is the most valuable resource that a business has. Candidates hold more sway than ever before in some markets, so attracting and retaining talent is becoming increasingly difficult. In order to win at the talent game, businesses need to prove their commitment to a flexible working environment that enables people to thrive on their own terms.
Flexible working may once have been seen as a perk, but most people today consider it the baseline for how work could and should be done. In this blog, we outline ten actionable ways for managers to introduce flexible working across a business.
1) Deal with outliers
Despite more businesses adopting flexible work arrangements — indeed, 2018 analysis commissioned by Regus predicted that flexible working could contribute £148 billion to the UK economy by 2030 — there is still a stigma that equates flexible working with working less.
While not true for most people, a minority of people may take advantage of a flexible working arrangement. But flexibility itself is not the problem. Regardless of whether these ‘outliers’ work from home or in the office, managers would still be faced with the same problems of substandard productivity. Management, therefore, should deal with these team members individually.
2) Clarify expectations
To take advantage of the creativity and fairness that stems from flexible working, line managers need to set the right expectations and develop a working practice built on trust. The key is to focus on the results that matter most for the business. To do this, managers need to clearly understand what these KPIs are — and most will already have a good idea.
Managers need to communicate expectations clearly and define results accordingly. They need to be specific and outline measurable goals and outcomes.
Through clarification, managers can build trust with their people and promote flexible working as a more integral part of business practices. If people consistently deliver on these expectations, their location is irrelevant — no matter if they are at home, in the coffee shop, or in the office.
3) Give people the resources to succeed
For all people — flexible or not — having the resources to accomplish goals is key. From using equipment to accessing important information, ensuring people have the know-how to do their job productively is vital for business success.
4) Train people
As with all tools, managers need to train people to use them. Flexible working is no different. According to research that Flex+Strategy Group conducted in partnership with ORC International, 70% of people who receive training feel their flexibility makes them more engaged, as opposed to 53% of those who receive no training.
5) Create a strong support network
Remote work can leave people feeling isolated. One report from the Brazilian work-from-home contact centre Home Agent, for example, found that as many as 63% of its remote workforce felt isolation from their colleagues.
To combat this, managers should focus on building a strong support system. Rather than leaving those with flexible working to do their own thing, increasing manager contact can provide people with the social interaction necessary for strong mental health. It can also remind them that they are having a positive impact on the business.
When asked by a TINYpulse survey how often they wanted to have contact with their supervisor, 34% of people who work remotely said once a week, while 31% said once a day. To make these regular check-ins more meaningful for everyone, managers should focus on giving constructive, measurable feedback, along with the setting of clear goals.
6) Recognise people who work flexibly and deliver results
Giving appropriate recognition is one of the most important aspects of retaining the best people. But people who work remotely have less face-to-face interaction, so immediate recognition is not as easy to give.
With the latest workplace communications — such as Slack or Workplace — this becomes easier. Even if companies do not use such tools within their business, a simple email or message can have a similar effect. Whatever channel is used, it is important to give praise whenever a person’s performance warrants it.
7) Be a role model
Support and buy-in from senior people within the business are vital towards making flexible working hours acceptable across an organisation, as well as eliminating the stigma that surrounds it. Research shows that when managers work flexibly themselves, 82% believe these arrangements benefit the company as a whole. By setting a tangible example at a higher level, people are more likely to encourage and support flexible working.
8) Ask people for their opinion
As people who are not fully entrenched in the daily office culture, flexible people can offer a unique perspective on things such as company culture and workflows. Businesses should, therefore, take advantage of the environment in which remote people work and ask them for recommendations on how to tackle challenges within the business. Often, surprising solutions can arise in surprising places.
We all work in different ways. Some of us like to blend work and family while others prefer to maintain a rigid work-life balance. Likewise, many are happy to answer emails on holiday, while others see it as an intrusion. As a manager, it is important to mesh people’s idiosyncratic styles with the day-to-day working reality of the business.
10) Take a flexible approach to flexible working
In Gallup’s ‘State of the American Workplace’ survey, researchers found that people who were the happiest with their jobs were not people who spent most of the week in the office collaborating with their colleagues, nor were they people who spent the entire week working from home. Instead, from those surveyed, the most engaged were those who spent 60-80% of their week working from home (and a minority of time in the office collaborating with colleagues).
Clearly, people are most engaged in their jobs when they have genuine balance, indicating that a one-size-fits-all arrangement to flexible working will not suit every person. Line managers should, therefore, consult with their teams to ascertain which form of flexible work suits each individual.
As the world of work continues to change rapidly, it’s almost impossible to imagine a future in which workplace flexibility does not become an integral part of business. Offering flexible working demonstrates that a business is willing to adapt and is committed to making people’s lives better. By prioritising outcomes over outputs and trusting people to do their job, businesses can engender a more progressive workplace.
At Impellam, we trust our Virtuoso managers to deliver on their promises, and it is their choice to work flexibly or not. Click here to read more about our Virtuoso culture.