The way that we work is changing. Over recent years, there has been a growing appreciation that organisations must respond to the dynamic shifts that are occurring within our society. Traditional patterns of working that involve ‘fixed place, fixed time’ work no longer serve the needs of the workforce or our society more generally. As such, a more flexible approach to working is required.
Although many organisations are now embracing greater flexibility, there remain a number of challenges. Moving from traditional ways of working to approaches that are more flexible requires a conscious and significant shift for both managers and employees. Through our research and work in this area, we have found a number of key areas that organisations must consider to ensure the successful implementation of flexible working.
The right tools
Individuals need to have the right tools and training before embarking upon flexible work. Access to technology and IT support is vital in enabling individuals to work effectively from home and at other locations away from the office.
Flexible working requires a dramatic shift in the way that individuals approach work and as such, adequate training is necessary to prepare employees and managers for this new world of work. In particular, training on topics such as time management, stress management and meeting facilitation are valuable.
Communication is key
Throughout the implementation process, communication and the skills and behaviours of management become a focus point.
Organisations should ensure that the availability of flexible working practices is communicated clearly to employees. In addition, once flexible working arrangements have been put in place, managers and employees need to make sure that extra effort and resources are deployed so that open lines of communication are maintained. While this is likely to occur through a mixture of traditional and virtual methods, the importance of face-to-face contact should not be underestimated.
The importance of management buy-in is also an area of key importance. The success (or failure) of flexible working initiatives often rests on support from the organisation’s leadership at all levels. As such, it is vital to ensure that these initiatives are led from the top. Managers need to be consistent in the way that they review requests for flexible working arrangements and in the way they manage those on flexible working arrangements.
The 3 P’s
Finally, successful flexible working practices need to be supported by appropriate Policies, Processes and Performance management.
Flexible working requires a move from an input focus (e.g. desk time) to an output or performance focus. As such, individuals must have clearly defined goals and targets that they are expected to work towards. The HR and operational policies and procedures that exist within the organisation must be up to date, consistent with and supportive of flexible working practices.
If you’re considering formally implementing flexible working practices within your organisation, ensure you give consideration to these key issues. Although flexible working arrangements can offer many benefits to employers and employees alike, to ensure success organisations need to take a thoughtful and considered approach to their implementation.