Flexible work arrangements are more than a trend—they’re a cost-efficient way of keeping a business running. Businesses across the nation implement them to improve working conditions and reduce operating costs associated with in-office employees. However, when flex work arrangements aren’t implemented well, organizations are faced with lower employee performance and lower overall business success.

There are many reasons organizations opt to offer flexible work arrangements, including:

  • Lower operating costs
  • Less employee turnover
  • Higher employee satisfaction
  • Greater hiring flexibility

Before you decide to make flexible work a part of your company culture, be sure you put programs and policies in place to ensure that your organization will enjoy the benefits while avoiding the most common pitfalls commonly associated with flexible workplaces.

Here are 6 ideas to help your HR department plan and get started building a flexible workplace culture.

#1 Plan your flexible arrangement

Before you execute any flexible arrangement, you should carefully plan it out. Simply stating that your company is offering flex work options without any prior planning is a recipe for disaster.

In the earlier days of flex work, managers and employees simply agreed to flex work plans on an individual basis. Not any longer. The number of employees working at home has grown exponentially in the last two years. The 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce reports that 3.9 million employees are now working from home.

It’s no longer reasonable for organizations to make flexible work a case-by-case decision. The rise of remote workers and people who don’t want to be confined to a 9-to-5 workday has created a shift in thinking and prompted the need for clearly defined policies for all employees.

To get started, carefully review your associated business systems and processes. Create a plan that the C-Suite can agree to and begin training for managers in telecommuting employee management. Program leaders should be heavily involved to aid those in flex work arrangements to maintain productivity.

#2 Establish good communication

Communication plays a huge role in flexible work arrangements. One of the main reasons flex work programs fail is because of lack of communication. There’s no excuse for miscommunication, especially with all the available online team collaboration programs. Slack, Yammer, and numerous instant messenger programs are just some examples of software tools that promote consistent and solid communication among telecommuting employees.

Additionally, a regularly scheduled ‘check-in’ via weekly or monthly group meetings can aid managers and leaders in monitoring telework. During the planning phase, institute both formal and informal systems for ensuring that flexible work arrangements are productive. Be sure to include fail safes that end the ability to work flexibly for employees who don’t meet productivity goals. It’s important to communicate to everyone involved that the flexible work schedule is predicated on meeting certain goals and completing assigned tasks.

#3 Allow for standard work schedules

Flex work arrangements are no longer a trend, but a reality on which companies often heavily rely. In fact, about 40% more companies in the U.S. now offer flex work options than five years ago. Moreover, some companies have converted to a completely digital model, eliminating the need for a physical location from which to conduct business.

With that said, it’s important to realize that not all employees will be successful in a flexible work arrangement. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Requiring an Office Environment to Be Productive: Employees that can’t work on a flex schedule are those that thrive in an office environment. They’re dedicated to the same daily schedule, eager to keep work and home separate. Plus, they feel more active around work colleagues instead of being at home. They require structure and set hours at the office.
  • Being Unable to Avoid At-Home Distractions: Those working remotely may find they become too easily distracted by neighbors or friends who don’t believe they’re actually working. Casual and business relationships can become strained due to this misconception. These types of employees are better suited for working at an employer’s office.
  • Being Wary of Employer Control: Another concern for some flex workers is feeling that their employer is now an intruder in their home. They may feel the employer requires them to be available for work at all times, no matter the time or day. This can make it difficult for employee to create a work/life balance and can cause added stress and dissatisfaction. Working at an office location away from home helps these employees who need clear boundaries between their private lives and their work lives to be at ease.

As you work through your flexible work plans, remember that the plan can only be successful if supervisors and team leaders are aware of how to manage flex workers. If your organization is strictly remote, you will want to design interview questions to address the challenges of working in isolation to determine who would be the best fit for your company.

#4 Train managers and team leaders

Managing your flex employees is very different than managing in-office employees. Managers are not there to see the employee every day, so it’s important to implement different rules and methods to manage flexible workers. In 2013, under the leadership of CEO Marissa Mayer, Yahoo! called back their entire flexible workforce when it was discovered that employees were not signing into the work platform for long periods of time.

The challenge for many companies is not the flexible work program as much as it is a management issue. When employees are not expected to report their progress, it’s easy for them to fall into poor work habits that continue to erode over time.

Since in-person meetings are often absent in flex work, it’s important to find alternative ways to communicate. Team collaboration programs and project management software programs help teams and managers to see who is contributing to the overall results and who may need to be managed a little closer. Remote workers and managers should have regularly scheduled check-ins and entire teams should have scheduled time to share updates and attend either in-person or online meetings.

Managing flex workers is crucial to the success of a company’s flexible work arrangements. Training managers and setting expectations for communication up front will increase your chances of implementing a productive and successful program.

#5 Start with a pilot

Before you implement a flexible workplace initiative for the entire organization, consider starting a pilot program with a few key departments. Set a date such as six months or even a year to run the trial and review the data. A pilot program not only gives you time to gather the necessary information for your trial’s success, but it’s also there to help work out the kinks and problems that will arise with newly implemented flex work arrangements. Once you discover the roadblocks and challenges, you can make adjustments and roll out the program to the rest of the organization.

To begin your pilot, consider which departments in your organization would benefit from a culture of work flexibility. Moreover, determine which managers would be a good fit for piloting a flexible work plan. Not all managers will be eager to participate and some may feel that their teams need to be in the same location to accomplish stated goals.

After you have successfully implemented a flexible work program in a few key departments or business units, skeptical managers may be easier to get on board for a larger initiative. Once you’re ready to roll out the program to the rest of the organization, enlist the help of the managers who have found success with the program to help you champion your plan.

#6 Evaluate overall successes

At the end of the trial period, gather enough data to evaluate the success of the flex arrangements. You’ll want to look at the results from two perspectives:

  1. How did the company benefit?
    1. Greater cost savings
    2. Higher productivity
    3. Improved recruiting efforts
    4. Less employee turnover
    5. Improved employee sentiment
    1. Greater satisfaction
    2. Less stress
    3. Improved health
    4. Improved work/life balance
    5. Increased individual productivity

    In addition, companies who offer flexible work schedules often find that they can increase departmental hours for customer service and other outside facing roles while giving employees a greater sense of control, and improving working conditions for disabled employees.

    There are companies who’ve said their flex arrangements didn’t work and individuals were not productive. The problem isn't inherent in  flexible workplace options; lower productivity among remote workers is the result of poor planning and lack of ongoing management of a flexible workforce strategy.

    Avoid the pitfalls and negative outcomes associated with flex workers by taking the time to plan your flexible work arrangement carefully and test it out with a trial run before offering the opportunity to your entire organization. A flexible workplace program can be a great complement to an overall culture of mobility and creative work options.

19 October 2017

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