Dispelling the misconceptions of flexible work

It takes some work to create a successful flexible work model and there are often huge misconceptions about this way of working. Many people and organisations still struggle to understand its benefits and how it entails so much more than just choosing random days of the week to come into the office.

I’ve seen how these misconceptions can create critical organisational issues. The most important things to keep in mind when implementing a flexible working strategy are how it is driving workplace diversity.

My tips to achieving successful flexible workplace are as follows:

1. Leadership

Flexible working needs to be acknowledged as a business imperative. The CEO and senior leadership need to actively support and champion workplace flexibility; this includes being authentic by implementing flexibility into their own roles.

There are many misconceptions about flexibility, one of which is that leaders and managers can’t work flexibly, that they need to be present at the workplace during business hours to manage their people. Work design and technology has allowed us to move beyond such limitations, and leaders need to embrace flexibility and model the behaviours they want to see within the business.

2. Trust

During consulting assignments, one of the biggest barriers to workplace flexibility that FlexCareers is tasked to overcome, is a lack of trust. It’s a big cultural change for some organisations, particularly those that have previously managed staff on very set rosters, or in a direct and control type environment.

If flexibility is to work, we need to trust our people. We need workplaces to be more human, and to approach each person as an individual, bit simply human capital.

3. Clarity

Another huge barrier to workplace flexibility is a lack of clarity about what flexibility actually means. We recently carried out a survey of 1000 people across Australia and found that most employees and managers are still stuck viewing flexibility as meaning working part-time, or starting and finishing a bit early. There are so many more options to give people flexibility in their role, and giving your employees and managers that clarity will enable organisations to make better progress.

4. Storytelling

As with any change program, it’s essential that organisations share successes, and acknowledge where improvements are yet to be made. Through effective storytelling, organisations can show how flexibility is working in practice in different areas of the business, and for a diverse range of people. It will encourage people to be more open to trying working flexibly, or allowing others to. Focus on areas where you’ve had resistance, and try to bust the myth that flexible work is only for working mums.

5. Front-line management

In all of our consulting assignments and conversations with employers across Australia and New Zealand, there is one common theme – managers are the lynchpin to success. They are at the front line and the absolute heart of implementing flexible work.

It’s important to involve them in the process from day one, and support them to be successful. It’s also critically important to train and upskill managers on not only how to implement workplace flexibility, but how to lead a flexible team.

6. Establish your starting point

Before embarking on any change program, it’s critical that you clearly establish your starting point. Where exactly are you on your flexibility journey? Are there pockets of the organisation doing flexibility well? If so, what can you learn from that? Identify your supporters and potential detractors and formulate a robust plan.

Natalie Goldman, CEO, FlexCareers

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