My employer actively promotes a flexible approach to work, and I’m proud to work for a company that embracing flexible working. Whilst some roles have traditionally been considered to have more flexibility (shift workers, those required to work at multiple sites, those working client-side), many have been tied to their desk in stuffy offices – the good news is that the world has moved on!
So what is a flexible approach to work? Rather than every employee fitting around the employer, in order to attract and retain great people, businesses need to flex – the number of hours we work, the start and end times of our day, the location(s) or the share of responsibilities. It’s not just about part-time working, or being able to change your hours to pick up the kids from school, or to fit around complicated commuter journeys, but more about how complicated modern life has become, and how our working life can better fit into our lives (and not vice versa!)
I’ve long advocated being flexible with your people, and expect the same from my boss. I need to work in different cities (or countries), sometimes it’s early start or late finish, and often I need a comfortable space to think (which may well not be a traditional office space.) So how have I made it work for me and my teams?
- Structure: It all starts with a conversation – “my annual travel ticket just went up 20%”, “My elderly parent needs more care these days”, “my child minder quit”, “I’m struggling with these long hours” – however it starts, most managers have discussed the challenges of a rigid working regime. As we become more receptive to flexible working, you as the manager should start by defining a structure – how are you going to make this work? Can this person deliver their objectives without sitting in the office? How do you, as a manager help them to feel supported and to stay focused? Defining the structure increase your chance of making it work first time.
- Environment: Many of us become accustomed to our work environment. It may be quiet, noisy, bright, dingy, vibey or sterile. But one type of environment doesn’t suit everyone. As we move away from offices to open plan, it can be hard for some to concentrate. Likewise, for some, working from home can feel lonely, or isolated. For me, a typical office with blinds at every window feels like a prison, so I flourish in environments that are open and airy with narutal light. Don’t underestimate the power of this. I know people who work from a local library rather than their house, because their young children distract them.
- Tools: Often, inefficient or poor quality tools are the root cause of most work frustration, and for a flexible workforce, this is amplified. Robust laptops, video conferencing services, chat applications and fast broadband connections are basic tools for an office colleague to work remotely. Even when a team is working in different locations, or varied working patterns and shifts, the right technology can still keep a team connected and united.
- Working patterns: 9-5 is dead and gone, long live flexibility! This is much more important for parents and carers, who may be tied to certain activities (medical appointments, meal times, etc.) For them, the ability to start, stop and then resume working later on becomes a skill – time matters less than the ability to deliver the task.
- Trust: I saved the most important one for last. Trust is the key to flexibility. Trust is earned and trust goes both ways. I don’t mind if someone isn’t logged on at 9am, I know they will deliver what is required. I trust them. They know that and that mutual respect goes a long way. Don’t start from a place of suspicion, unless you have just reason, trust your people, treat them like adults and embrace flexible working!
Whilst adjusting to the changes may require a little effort on both sides, the net result is a happier workforce, greater trust and respect and ultimately increased productivity. If you doubt it, ask any member of my team!