Successfully juggling a flexible workforce

A key driver in creating productive workforce is providing an environment and vibe that encourages creativity. As our workforce diversifies and our work becomes more digitalised and global in nature, the discussion around flexibility has increased. According to Jessica Howington from Flex Jobs, 70 per cent of professionals think employers should offer flexible workforce schedules.*

It’s important that we define “flexibility” though. In this instance, it is associated with an arrangement of allowing staff to work-from-home more readily or variations in working hours and/or days.

A number of studies has described the benefits of introducing more organisational flexibility.** Recent Australian research has demonstrated that when managed adequately, flexibility and other work-life support practices can increase staff retention and also improve customer service venue.*** In addition, incorporating flexibility into workplace culture can be a lever to attract talent to the workplace.

Addressing workplace wellness is also increasingly seen as a co-responsibility of employers. A study by Judy Rose identified that “employed mothers collectively were among the most time-pressured groups in society.”**** It makes business sense thus to foster a productivity friendly environment for a talented workforce (both male and female).

There are challenges in implementing workplace flexibility. It requires greater effort and ingenuity from employers. The answer lies in understanding your employee’s needs and implementing the right systems and processes so that your needs as an employer are met as well.*****

Belief

Your own commitment to achieving a successful flexible workplace arrangement must be born out of belief as an employer. Ask colleagues in your industry who have adopted this practice about their experience and tips on how to make it work.

Employee involvement

Take time to determine from your employee how they believe this arrangement will best work. Their own suggestions and opinion will enhance their own buy in and focus on making it successful.

Communication, Communication, Communication

Provide clear expectations and reporting systems. Communicating regularly will enable you to check how the arrangement is working for both parties. Give feedback immediately where you identify that the arrangement could be done better, or differently.

Tools

The internet provides us with wonderful tools to enable remote communication and collaboration. Ensure your employee has the right tools to do their job properly when off-site. Utilise skype and, or video calls where necessary (in the case of very remote employees) but don’t shy from still meeting regularly face to face with employees when you can. This type of communication should always be the first “go to” where possible.

Avoid a one-size-fits-all policy

All parties should approach the flexible arrangement with a flexible mindset as well, individualised to the particular role and personal circumstances. If there is any uncertainty that the arrangement will work, timelines for review and KPI’s for success must be crystal clear.

Develop innovation in workplace culture

Flexibility is an employee engagement tool that can enhance workplace culture. Conversely though, allowing flexibility can potentially detract from a collaborative workplace environment. Consideration of how to create and maintain a workplace “vibe” is important.

Creating an online “water cooler” meeting place for all employees to talk work (with some rules in place) can foster an inclusive atmosphere.

Regular teleconferences, timed appropriately, while not my favourite mode of meeting, are a way of uniting team members. Creating opportunities for team building in a face-to-face fashion should be a priority though.

Physical reminders of workplace culture can be provided to the remote worker, too. Values posters, company coffee cups and all the other existing workplace wares will link staff to the organisation.

The evidence supports that giving priority to offering flexibility in the workplace will benefit you from a business sense. You may find the time you invest in getting it right will save you time on recruitment and engagement in the long term.

* Howington, J: 2015 “ How to build a successful, flexible workforce.” flexjobs.com

** Forbes Jan 2016: Gaskill Adi: Why a flexible worker is a happy and productive worker

*** https://www.businessthink.unsw.edu.au/Pages/Flexibility-dividend-Why-supported-employees-increase-customer-satisfaction.aspx

**** Rose, J: 2017. Never enough hours in the day: employed mothers” perceptions of time and pressure. Australian Journal of Social Issues

***** Hays: The pros and cons of flexible working

Lexie Wilkins, Culture and Employee-Engagement Expert and Director, Lexie Wilkins Consulting

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