It is alarming to still hear the challenges that many individuals have once recruited into an organization that describes themselves as providing “flexibility”. In working with professionals of all ages and all organizational levels, it is still evident that many organizations spruik this right during the attraction phase, but once reality hits, clearly do not have an environment that supports flexible work arrangements.
Cambridge English Dictionary defines flexible as: “able to change or be changed easily according to a situation” and “able to bend or be bent easily without breaking”. This is exactly what a flexible work arrangement is meant to achieve.
When talking with all individuals, including those with and without carer responsibilities, flexible work arrangements are the opportunity to undertake their role in a way that makes them most productive. For some, this may mean sitting in an office from 8:30 am to 5 pm and taking a 1-hour lunch break at 12 pm every day. For others however, flexibility may mean leaving work a couple of hours early to do the school run a few days during the week, working from home on a set day each week, having time to attend the gym at lunchtime, or working a split day where they can respond to emails in the evening to make up time where they may leave work a little earlier.
The reality is, flexible work arrangements are just that. They are an opportunity to work outside of a traditional work agreement to work in a style that improves productivity, does not break the work environment and can change according to a situation.
Why should a business offer flexible work arrangements?
In a nutshell, research clearly demonstrates that by allowing individuals to work in a way that is best suited to their own style makes them better employees.
Life is complicated, and it is becoming more and more complicated on a daily basis. Demands and expectations on life, in general, is making the traditional work arrangement not as attractive for many individuals. This is not just because life is getting in the way of work but the world of work itself is changing. Individuals are more aware of the work environment they need to make themselves more productive, and when they are given the opportunity to work in this way, they are more engaged and satisfied in their work environment.
How do I establish a flexible work environment that people do not take for granted?
Build a culture of trust.
Trust is one of the fundamental issues that can impact being able to create a flexible work environment. For many managers, business owners and workers, they still struggle with the concept that an individual can still perform their work tasks when they are out of sight. It is not that we don’t trust our staff to not do their job when they are not physically in the office; it is about knowing that we can trust them to not take advantage of a flexible work environment. To achieve this it is about building a culture of trust, building across all levels within the business an understanding and appreciation that they are accountable for the work that they do and responsible for the delivery of that work. Talking openly about having faith in the commitment of the staff to the business and to their roles and ensuring that they in return commit to the business.
Establish measures that can support all team members to understand their responsibilities
To support a flexible culture, having clear deliverables that have agreed measures will ensure that team members are aware of their responsibilities, can deliver to these responsibilities and understand how they will be assessed for their performance. Through establishing these in place, regardless of how the individual seeks to work (flexible or otherwise), they are then able to perform their role with confidence and commitment; building their comfort in their roles and comfort with those around them in knowing that they are committed to delivering these tasks and responsibilities.
How can I build a collaborative work environment if I run a remote office?
Admittedly, there are challenges in building collaboration when individuals are not regularly collaborating. But there are options to achieve this.
- Set 1 day a week where all team members are present and at this time arrange a team toolbox meeting, a lunch or something where each team member is present.
- Build in remote catch up meetings with individual teams to review progress and report on any updates. This can be a 10 minute morning review each day if the work environment requires that, or it can be a 10 minutes catch up once a week. Make this meeting quick, to the point and purely a review and progress update meeting where each team member just identifies what their priority is for that day/week.
- Still celebrate birthdays and special events as a team. If it is someone’s birthday, offer cake in the office and allow those that are not in attendance to dial in with their own piece of cake if possible. If this is not something that occurs in your work culture, at least send a communication out to the team to acknowledge these special events.
- Schedule in regular planning days that are not only reviewing progress but undertaking a team development activity. This could be something formal such as an MBTI or PRISM training session, or it could be a day where work is covered off and the afternoon is spent on the golf course. Whatever the most suitable for your team, doing this once to twice a year can create a culture of development, learning, and collaboration.
The transition to flexible work arrangements continues to be a challenge for the business environment, but are more important when wanting to create a successful and productive business environment. Younger generations are aware of the way they operate best and value the opportunity to be trusted to work in this way. Individuals with carer responsibilities need this to allow them to still succeed in their career whilst meeting their primary priorities. Experienced professionals want to continue to succeed and know their delivery style well enough to appreciate what makes them deliver on results whilst also knowing that they are trusted enough to be able to work in this style.
Talking flexibility just to attract talent and then not delivering on this is detrimental to an employer brand. If you are a business that can offer flexibility, build the culture to support this at all organizational levels and promote the success of this. If you are a culture that cannot sustain this, discuss with potential employees why this is not something that is within your business culture. By doing this you will always ensure that you attract the type of individuals suited to your work environment, and in turn, you build a highly engaged, productive and successful business.