One thing we have learned over the past six months in pandemic times is that the old book on how work works should 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 that truly flexible point where both business owner and employees can bend enough to create a successful business blueprint for the future and turn a draft document into a global best-seller?
- 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 pandemic has shown that humans can be trusted to do great work when not physically supervised. The old adage of “to be seen is to be productive” is so yesterday and has no place in a more flexible work agreement. So change your story about trust by trusting implicitly.
- Every human is unique – one size does not fit all when it comes to flexible work. The truly flexible small-business manager will sit down with each employee and create an individual flexible work arrangement. Why would Joan 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 single and loves nothing more than being with friends hiking in the outdoors three days a week?
- Get radically creative with performance goals – The Fair Work Commissions recently released award flexibility scheme may not apply to your business but heed these words, “The schedule’s working from home provisions aim for agreements that balance the personal and work responsibility of the employee with the business needs of the employer”. 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.
- It’s not all about Working from Home (WFH) – don’t put all your eggs in one basket here as a business owner. Working from home is only one potential element of flexible work. 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.
- Don’t “guilt trip” your employees – when we eventually return in some format 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”, 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 the way on flexible working arrangements and turn their current draft into a global best-seller. The only thing stopping them from ending up in the two-dollar book bin is inflexibility.
How flexible are you prepared to be?
Mark LeBusque, Founder and Director, The Human Manager