Want to make workplace flexibility a bestseller? Try this…

One thing we have learned over the past six months in a pandemic is that the old book on how work operates needs to be replaced by a draft copy of what could be.

That’s right…it’s in draft format right now as small-business owners and employees continue to experiment and explore the best way to exist in a future state. Some experiments have proven to be an incredible success, whereas others have resulted in an increase in disputes for unfair treatment of employees. This is where flexibility and rigidity are at odds.

So, where is the truly flexible point where both business owners and employees can bend enough to create a successful business blueprint for the future and turn a draft document into a global best-seller, not an overengineered story destined for the two-buck book bin?

I have advocated and experimented with some radical and very successful approaches to flexible work (called “Life Design”). Here are my five tips to make flexible work truly flexible.

  1. Trust is the foundation – the biggest mistake business owners can make is that they don’t trust their employees to be working if they’re not in sight. The old adage of ‘to be seen is to be productive’ is extremely outdated and has no place in a more flexible work agreement. The most important tip is to change your story about trust by saying ‘trust implicitly’. Anything else just won’t work.
  2. Uniqueness is key – one size does not fit all when it comes to flexible work, and we’ve seen how trying to put all employees into one box has negative impacts on motivation, engagement and discretionary effort. The truly flexible small-business manager will sit down with each employee and create an individual flexible work arrangement. Why would Jenny who is a middle-aged single mum with primary school-aged children wanting to spend quality time with them after school pick up have the same flexible arrangements as John who is an adventurer and loves nothing more than being with friends hiking in the outdoors three days a week?
  3. Change up performance goals – Take a creative approach and why not build non-work-related goals into the employee performance plan and acknowledge the human and not just the ‘worker’? It might only be one non-work-related goal, but it will have a positive impact on the relationship and the formation of trust. Leadership takes courage and breaking the mould so why not start here?
  4. Take off the working from home blinkers – Working from home (WFH) is only one potential element of flexible work. Take off the WFH blinkers and get the creative juices flowing and involve your staff in a brainstorming session to truly explore and experiment with what flexible work could be. Changes to span of hours, days worked, locations both temporary and permanent are all on the table right now. Leave no stone unturned and remember great ideas can come from anyone in your business.
  5. Don’t ‘”guilt trip” your employees – as we are now returning to the office, business owners must be 100 per cent conscious of the throwaway lines that create a level of guilt for the employees. Looking at your watch and rolling out one-liners like “good afternoon”, “it’s alright for some” and “I was here until midnight last night” are not useful and will soon erode any feeling of trust and psychological safety for your employees.

Small-business owners have an amazing opportunity right now to lead courageously future flexible working arrangements and turn their current draft into a global bestseller. The only thing stopping them from ending up in the two-buck book bin is inflexibility.