By James Frampton
What time does the workday start at your office? If you said, “We’re expected to be at our desks by 8:30 a.m.,” your organisation might want to consider a move to flexible working schedules. Chances are, your competitors are already on board.
Today’s workers have already tweaked the typical 9-5 workday, and in many cases, they are doing away with it altogether. Flexible schedules are quickly becoming the rule – and much more likely to be a sought-after perk going forward.
In a recent survey of 4,000 UK workers, polling firm YouGov found that respondents would prefer to start work earlier and finish earlier. Indeed, flexible working arrangements such as earlier or later arrival times, working from home and job sharing are some of the top perks most appreciated by today’s employees.
Why the “sandwich generation” longs for flexible schedules
There are many reasons that workers today long for flexible schedules. Some 2.4 million Britons are in the “sandwich generation”: caring for children at home as well as aging parents.
Other workers juggling childcare for young children want to customise their work schedules to sync with a partner’s work duties. Still, other workers nurture a passion for hobbies or fitness and prefer an earlier or later start time, depending on their needs.
Preparing to be a more flexible workplace
If your organisation gets it right, a flexible working environment can help drive better employee engagement and improve productivity. Implementing flexible working practices can increase employee engagement and motivation, according to research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
Natalie Pancheri, HR Policy Adviser at the London School of Economics (LSE), told The Guardian last year, “The benefits of flexible working are well established, from increased employee engagement to better performance.”
There are additional business benefits as well. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says adopting more flexible work arrangements can lead to the following business benefits:
- Reduced turnover costs, property costs and absenteeism
- Improved recruitment and retention of top employees
- Increased productivity
- Improved customer service and employee health
- Improved business continuity during natural disasters and inclement weather
- Reducing its environmental footprint
- Improved employee health benefits
A new way of looking at work results
Old-school thinking says, “I can’t control my employees if I can’t see them!” The new way states with confidence: “If I focus on employee performance and results, it doesn’t matter where they work.”
The way to bridge the gap between the two scenarios is to focus more on supporting performance and developing your people and focus less on when and where the work gets done. A successful “flexible-friendly” workplace is one that provides an environment where employees are in the driver’s seat of their own development and growth whilst aligned to the goals of the business.
Here are five steps to create an environment where flexible workers thrive at your organisation:
1. Coach for growth
Today’s manager needs to be a coach, holding employees accountable while continuously and actively encouraging career development and growth. According to the LinkedIn 2018 Workplace Learning Report, a huge 94 percent of employees say that they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development.
In-the-moment coaching is critical in order to provide a proactive feedback and coaching experience that motivates your people, improves performance and connects to business goals.
If your organisation has been considering pivoting from the traditional yearly appraisal to ongoing growth coaching, this is a fantastic time to do it. As schedules become more flexible and remote workers increase in number, make room for employee growth supported by regular online and mobile interaction including feedback, goal setting, check-ins, career development, peer assessments and milestone tracking.
2. Consider flexible holiday periods
While you are preparing to have a more flexible workforce, give some thought to flexible holiday policies. Used by companies such as Visualsoft, HubSpot, Stitch Fix, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Netflix and Evernote, flexible vacation periods embrace the idea that companies trust the employee to use the option responsibly.
New parents, people in the midst of transition who might need time to deal with a family situation, millennials, avid travellers and many others types of employees will appreciate and enjoy flexible vacation options.
If flexible holiday policies sound like something your organisation might want to try, you could always run a pilot program and work out possible pitfalls. Interestingly, some companies who try this route have to tell workers to take a holiday to avoid burnout. Rather than abuse the policy, some workers don’t take enough time off.
3. Help remote workers thrive
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has revealed that the number of UK remote workers increased by nearly a quarter of a million over a decade. The ONS predicts that “changing attitudes and ever-improving network capabilities” will push this number up over the next three years, with half the UK workforce expected to be working remotely by 2020.
Want to help remote workers succeed? Here are three concrete steps:
Use video conferencing freely
Whether through Skype, Zoom, Google Video Chat or another platform, calling up a colleague via video chat has become commonplace. Since so much of human interaction relies on visual cues, face-to-face interactions are paramount.
Plan ahead for meetings
When planning meetings, remember that remote workers might struggle with network connections or time zone issues. Also, since they won’t be in the room, make sure to send agendas and materials for meetings well ahead of time. At the conclusion of the meeting, send a quick recap with confirmation of next steps.
Trust your workers
Most remote workers take pride in their independence and ability to get things done, so don’t micromanage them! Skip time diaries or other onerous updates. Trust your workers by focusing on results. Remote workers already have the mountain of self-motivation to climb each morning. Trust your employees to find the dynamic that works for them.
4. Create learning experiences that elevate performance
Learning has moved beyond instructor-led to mobile, on-demand and just-for-me learning that is tied to performance. Research shows that today’s learners are driven by learning and development (L&D) opportunities, and what they learn drives business performance.
Many of today’s employees aren’t waiting for learning opportunities to drop into their lap. Instead, they are searching the web, talking to peers and diving into their LMS to identify and engage in learning that aligns with their career goals.
In addition, smartphones and tablets have helped to make remote and flexible working more and more viable, allowing us to communicate, collaborate and share information instantly, from anywhere at any time. Today’s organisations must make sure that mobile learning is a key component of their L&D strategy.
5. Drive engagement through real-time feedback channels
Create feedback channels to engage and motivate your employees to bring their best every day and help your business reach its goals. Strive to better understand your workforce, connect everyone and recognise your people in all the ways that matter. The National Employee Survey 2018 revealed that 72 percent of UK employees would work harder if they felt more appreciated.
Employers should embrace recognition and reward technologies and techniques that are proven to make employees feel more valued. Helping your employees build their own networks within your organisation and connect to mentors is also highly valuable, particularly for remote workers. According to Gartner’s Top 3 HR Insights for 2018, the most successful managers act as “connectors” to pair up employees with the appropriate mentors to personalise and help their employees expand their networks within the organisation.
Create the right environment and your flexible workers will shine
From earlier or later arrival times to allowing employees to work from home on Fridays to supporting fully remote positions, each company has many options to choose from when it comes to preparing for a more flexible workforce.
When organisations focus on creating a rich and rewarding employee experience, which nurtures and develops their workforce, they naturally create more value for their people and business. And that’s what matters – not when and where our people work.