After the recent changes to the law, I wrote a piece that provided a guide in how you could achieve flexible working initiatives. This time, I want to go a bit deeper into the topic and show you how can successfully manage these workers and give yourself peace of mind..
The move to Flexible Working
As we all know, our businesses operate on a global economy with offices around the world, relying on our mobile devices to do our work and flexible working is starting to become a necessity.
You no longer have to be at the office to work which is presenting us with more flexibility and choice to workdays.
But this evolution brings challenges.
Key business drivers for this change include:
- Optimism returning to the economy
- Inversion of IT – employees get better tech at home
- Growth in business activities
These challenges, if not thought about thoroughly have the potential to:
- Limit collaboration
- Limit innovation
- Slow down the business
- Fragment business processes
- Generally grind things to a halt..
The great news though, is that when these changes are handled well, you can improve the performance of your organisation and staff.
Change in Employee’s Priority
In the past 10 – 15 years there has been a considerable shift in mentality towards work.
It used to be all about climbing the corporate ladder and advancing your career as far as you could. It was all about putting the hours and the effort in and succeeding at all costs.
Now with the developments in technology it is all about finding the right balance to work and life. This has been verified by a poll conducted by EY (formerly Ernst & Young) of 1,215 U.S. managers and employees that demonstrated people were choosing jobs based on flexible working.
We are seeing a notable increase in the projects we undertake to incorporate mobile and flexible working and BYOD initiatives – a clear sign of a cultural shift towards work.
Workers taking advantage of these flexible working arrangements reported:
- Improved productivity
- Improved work and life balance
- Improved job satisfaction
- Greater personal happiness
- Reduced stress
Despite the benefits of flexible working strategies many managers remain reluctant to implement these programmes.
This reluctance stems more commonly from a belief that the culture of the office and the organisation is not best suited, rather than anything to do with managing the technology itself.
Despite technology making it simpler to implement flexible working, we are encountering many dissenting voices from companies around visibility of their workforce. Managers seem to lack confidence and feel that if their employees are out of the office that they simply won’t get their work done.
There is a real fear that employees working from home will feel out of touch with the office and its culture, and that the levels of work from these staff will drop significantly.
However, with all the work we have completed with customers we have always found the opposite to be true.
Therefore the real barrier on implementation is the concern shown by managers in the effectiveness of managing and monitoring flexible working. We are not suggesting that they can’t do it, just that new strategies present new challenges for managers.
The issue is how to effectively manage and monitor.
Establishing a Foundation for Flexible Working
Communication is the most critical element to the success of your flexible working initiative. All employees should understand the elements of your policy, from the most appropriate jobs to compliance and anticipated performance.
- Create clear policy statements that define the program
- Define clear goals and objectives for you and your employees
- Demonstrate the process for flexible working and review what is acceptable and what is unacceptable
- Discuss benefits of the program with your staff and the company
- Review performance expectations regularly
- Create a checklist of the equipment you need
Build a Flexible Working Culture
A successful Flexible Working program will require a certain amount of cultural change and minor adjustments. For instance how are you planning to supervise employees working from home?
The key change is shifting the focus to managing employees on results, focusing on performance, how well they work and meeting deadlines.
One of the greatest benefits of working this way is that it will open up ways of working and give you and your employees more freedom to complete projects. Flexible Working will also highlight issues of trust and empowerment among the workforce and show you where they may be lacking.
Before implementing a flexible working program you should consider instigating some (or all) of these policies to help manage:
- Use technology to keep open communication channels – think UC!
- Reconsider how jobs are currently done and whether they could be completed off-site
- Plan regular on-site meetings in advance to keep staff engaged when needed
- Develop performance related goals – short, medium and long term – to keep your staff focused on the jobs they need to be focused on
- Figure out ways to appraise your staff remotely
Work to Develop Trust with your Employees
Developing trust is crucial for both sides of the relationship. Your staff need to trust you just as much as you need to trust them. You have to keep your staff feeling included and show that you value the work that they do.
Here are some suggestions to help you build trust:
- Devise projects for flexible workers to work with other members of the team
- Work a flexible working initiative for a while yourself to understand what is needed from both sides
- Request and include the perspective of your flexible workers in terms of resource needs and timeframes for assignments
- Delegate tasks as fairly as you can
- Include flexible workers in departmental activities and social events
- Encourage communication among the team of a non-work nature – think about internal social networks and UC tools with instant messaging features
- Keep communications with your flexible workers consistent – whether its telephone or email or web conferencing
- Remain flexible with policies and procedures and adjust them as appropriate
Create a Culture of Inclusion
To be honest this isn’t just a flexible working thing, this should be a constant goal. If you keep staff feeling valued and establish a great team spirit you will get the most out of your employees whether they are working from home or not.
Keeping communication channels open, and providing your staff with a broad range of options to stay connected is a great way to make staff feel included.
When you have to call meetings, consider conducting them online where possible and allow for your flexible workers to be present at all times. It keeps you in touch with them, and your employees in touch with each other.
To do this effectively you have to implement measures that give you a fair appraisal. For instance look at the quantity, quality and timelines of delivery of work from flexible workers and your employees in the office.
Be sure to keep your employees in the loop with expectations and review them consistently. And for flexible workers you should offer support and guidance through a collaboration of conferencing platform where possible.
Getting the right tools for Flexible Working
With any project undertaken in the workplace, you have to understand the needs of everyone. A flexible working initiative has to be considered from the point of view of the workers and management.
This is where it gets interesting, and can be confusing. With so many technology options out there to aid flexible working, what do you choose? How do you know what is best for you and what will work?
Well, there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer here, but these should be at the forefront of your decision:
- Social workspaces for instant messaging, desktop sharing and collaboration
- Secure file transfer and storage capacity
- Video and audio conferencing
These are some other key elements that should certainly be considered regarding your solution set up:
- Hot desking
- Single number reach
These tools can ensure that staff in the office, and outside, can stay in touch with each other simply, and in a way that suits them. Open channels of communication then make it far simpler to include staff in any manner of meeting and business process and maintain communications with customers and prospects more effectively.
Great collaboration tools also help you deliver some other great benefits:
- Video can break down the barriers of distance and make meetings feel more real and inclusive – this can be great with particularly remote workers and customers
- Managers feel more in control through improved visibility of availability and presence
- Regular online meeting participation helps build an inclusive team environment, regardless of your team’s location
- Secure file sharing platforms (such as an intranet, internal social network or FTP) mean that your employees can access important files from anywhere making flexible working and collaborating simpler
Deciding on the right tools for the Job
After defining your policies, you are now confronted with the technology.
The most common and secure method is to purchase a collaboration tool set, here are some key considerations to help you find what best suits your needs:
- Can you currently meet the needs of your flexible workers?
- Are you flexible enough to meet any future needs you can foresee?
- Are you secure and private across your communications?
- Do you use firewalls?
- What level of security do you have and will you get from new software/hardware?
- Have you considered the costs involved with education and training and the added technical support you may need?
- What are the contractual terms and the costs for licensing?
It is a difficult decision to make especially with so many options available. It is important to find the right blend that works for you and your needs while reducing operational costs where possible. Try and find a set of tools that integrate seamlessly as the potential bottlenecks in sending and transferring information between platforms can be debilitating.
Keeping Everything Secure
The risks involved with security can be huge, so making sure that you are secure and protected is vital. Therefore, whatever decisions you make regarding flexible working and the solution you put in place to achieve it, security must be forefront.
- Secure Email
With so many emails being sent back and forth with potentially sensitive data you simply have to keep things secure. Think about encryption and good virus detection.
- Secure Online Meetings
All elements of this must be kept secure – audio, video, data and files.
- Maintain Control
If you can ensure that access and restrictions are provisioned correctly, you can maintain control and prevent risk.
- Secure Networks & Applications
It is important to consider the network sending the information and the application that your mobile / flexible workers are using, and particularly important across wireless infrastructure as they can be more vulnerable.
Whatever your decisions on Flexible Working, there are some real benefits and rewards to be reaped by giving your employees the choice, freedom, trust and respect to work how they want to.