Four tips to ensure effective flexible working Four tips to ensure effective flexible working

Four tips to ensure effective flexible working
04 Apr 2018

Although flexible working is pretty pervasive globally, some managers are still reluctant to bite the bullet due to concerns over how to get it right.

Just under two thirds of the global working population are now taking advantage of flexible working practices in some form. These practices include job-sharing, home-working and part-time options as well as compressed hours, flexi-time and phased retirement. 

Introducing simple changes to working life can have a phenomenal impact on everyone. Providing the space to meet family needs, reduce commuting time and work hours that suit them can be hugely positive for individual employees.

For employers, increased staff engagement, reduced turnover and absence levels and, in some cases, the opportunity to even extend opening hours are just some of the outcomes that can lead to increases in turnover and profitability.

But despite the widely-acknowledged benefits, some organisations are still reticent to adopt flexible working practices due to the challenges they fear they will face as a result.

One of the biggest barriers to going down this route is often a lack of trust stemming from the idea that managers can no longer always physically see what team members are up to. Unfortunately, this kind of mistrust tends to lead to micromanagement, which can have a negative impact on team morale.

Another fear is that, if your team in rarely in one place together at the same time, how do you make what is effectively a remote workforce into a cohesive unit, thereby ensuring teamwork is effective? Moreover, how can you manage performance consistently and on an equitable basis, while also ensuring that individuals receive the training and development they need?

These are very real concerns for many managers, as are the notion that remote workers will inevitably be somewhat disconnected and detached from the rest of the workforce and may not work as hard. But the good news is that there are effective ways to address such fears. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Enable effective communication

While effective communication is important in all areas of life, it is vital when implementing flexible working practices. The whole process should start (and continue) with an open discussion between everyone involved to capture their ideas and opinions.

The next step is to clearly document your flexible working proposal, which may include any number of initiatives and individual requests. A key component, however, will be technology, which is key to making remote working a reality. For example, hosting regular meetings via a webcam or using conference call facilities will enhance team communication and reduce the need for everyone to be in a single location.

  1. Align individual aims with the goals of the wider team

Flexible working is all about teamwork. It will simply not be effective if little or no reference is made to the wider team or organisational goals. Although conversations may initially take place on a one-to-one basis, they should be followed up by open discussions about how individual needs can best be met while hitting overall team (and business) goals at the same time.

Once such parameters have been agreed, the team should be given creative licence to design its own timetable - as long as it fits in with the overall requirements of the business. This means that even customer-facing environments can benefit from flexible working, leading to the possibility of extended opening hours as a result.

  1. Training

For line managers to confidently lead their teams when they work in flexible ways, it is necessary to understand the fundamentals of people management in a traditional sense. Communication mechanisms, recruitment, performance management as well training and development approaches all need to be firmly in place before embarking on a remote working strategy.

But it is also vital that line managers receive appropriate training and support on how to deal with a ‘flexible’ team. Employees will likewise need to be helped through the process of assessing their own suitability for this approach, becoming familiar with the options available and understanding how it all fits in with the wider team and organisation.

  1. Trust your team

When faced with having to manage multiple different requests for flexible working options, managers can start to feel overwhelmed. But it is important to trust your team, listen to their input regarding the organisation’s goals, and always keep an open mind.

 Kevin Rogers

Kevin Rogers is chief executive of Paycare, a UK-based not-for-profit health cover provider that has been operating for more than 140 years. A qualified accountant and Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, he has worked for more than 25 years as a senior manager within the manufacturing, automotive and construction sectors.

Although flexible working is pretty pervasive globally, some managers are still reluctant to bite the bullet due to concerns over how to get it right.

Just under two thirds of the global working population are now taking advantage of flexible working practices in some form. These practices include job-sharing, home-working and part-time options as well as compressed hours, flexi-time and phased retirement. 

Introducing simple changes to working life can have a phenomenal impact on everyone. Providing the space to meet family needs, reduce commuting time and work hours that suit them can be hugely positive for individual employees.

For employers, increased staff engagement, reduced turnover and absence levels and, in some cases, the opportunity to even extend opening hours are just some of the outcomes that can lead to increases in turnover and profitability.

But despite the widely-acknowledged benefits, some organisations are still reticent to adopt flexible working practices due to the challenges they fear they will face as a result.

One of the biggest barriers to going down this route is often a lack of trust stemming from the idea that managers can no longer always physically see what team members are up to. Unfortunately, this kind of mistrust tends to lead to micromanagement, which can have a negative impact on team morale.

Another fear is that, if your team in rarely in one place together at the same time, how do you make what is effectively a remote workforce into a cohesive unit, thereby ensuring teamwork is effective? Moreover, how can you manage performance consistently and on an equitable basis, while also ensuring that individuals receive the training and development they need?

These are very real concerns for many managers, as are the notion that remote workers will inevitably be somewhat disconnected and detached from the rest of the workforce and may not work as hard. But the good news is that there are effective ways to address such fears. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Enable effective communication

While effective communication is important in all areas of life, it is vital when implementing flexible working practices. The whole process should start (and continue) with an open discussion between everyone involved to capture their ideas and opinions.

The next step is to clearly document your flexible working proposal, which may include any number of initiatives and individual requests. A key component, however, will be technology, which is key to making remote working a reality. For example, hosting regular meetings via a webcam or using conference call facilities will enhance team communication and reduce the need for everyone to be in a single location.

  1. Align individual aims with the goals of the wider team

Flexible working is all about teamwork. It will simply not be effective if little or no reference is made to the wider team or organisational goals. Although conversations may initially take place on a one-to-one basis, they should be followed up by open discussions about how individual needs can best be met while hitting overall team (and business) goals at the same time.

Once such parameters have been agreed, the team should be given creative licence to design its own timetable - as long as it fits in with the overall requirements of the business. This means that even customer-facing environments can benefit from flexible working, leading to the possibility of extended opening hours as a result.

  1. Training

For line managers to confidently lead their teams when they work in flexible ways, it is necessary to understand the fundamentals of people management in a traditional sense. Communication mechanisms, recruitment, performance management as well training and development approaches all need to be firmly in place before embarking on a remote working strategy.

But it is also vital that line managers receive appropriate training and support on how to deal with a ‘flexible’ team. Employees will likewise need to be helped through the process of assessing their own suitability for this approach, becoming familiar with the options available and understanding how it all fits in with the wider team and organisation.

  1. Trust your team

When faced with having to manage multiple different requests for flexible working options, managers can start to feel overwhelmed. But it is important to trust your team, listen to their input regarding the organisation’s goals, and always keep an open mind.

 Kevin Rogers

Kevin Rogers is chief executive of Paycare, a UK-based not-for-profit health cover provider that has been operating for more than 140 years. A qualified accountant and Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, he has worked for more than 25 years as a senior manager within the manufacturing, automotive and construction sectors.