Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, flexible work arrangements were making the shift from trend to norm. Businesses of all types implement them to improve working conditions, increase employee satisfaction and retention, increase hiring flexibility, reduce operating costs, and more. But when flex work arrangements aren’t implemented well, organizations are faced with lower employee performance and lower business success.
Before you decide to make flexible work a part of your company culture, make sure you put programs and policies in place to ensure that your organization will enjoy the benefits—and avoid the most common pitfalls along the way.
Here are six ideas to help your HR department effectively build and implement a flexible workplace culture.
plan your flexible arrangement
Before you execute any flexible arrangement, it’s essential to 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 early days of flex work, managers and employees simply agreed to flex plans on an individual basis. But with an estimated 45% of employees overall either working completely remotely or on a hybrid schedule following the pandemic (among white collar employees, these percentages are 41% and 26%, respectively), a fully defined and scaled process is needed.
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.
establish good communication
Communication plays a huge role in flexible work arrangements. One of the main reasons flex work programs fail is lack of communication. There’s no excuse for miscommunication, especially with all the available online team collaboration programs. With numerous messaging and collaboration tools now available – from Slack and Zoom, to Teams and Trello – it’s easy to promote consistent and solid communication among telecommuting employees.
Additionally, regularly scheduled check-ins can aid managers and leaders in both monitoring telework and ensuring employee satisfaction. During the planning phase, institute formal and informal systems for ensuring that flexible work arrangements are productive.
allow for standard work schedules
While many employees thrive in a flexible work culture, it’s important to remember – especially if your business went remote during the pandemic and plans to stay that way – that some employees may struggle. A set, standard work schedule (even if it’s customized by the employee) and clearly defined expectations can help them succeed. The focus should be on outcomes, not on how often the employee is in the office.
Here are some of the main barriers to success remote employees face, and what to consider when building plans for them:
Barrier 1: Requiring an office environment to be productive
Some employees perform better in an office environment. They’re dedicated to the same daily schedule, eager to keep work and home separate and often feel more active around work colleagues instead of being at home. They require structure and set hours at the office.
How to help:
Whether they want a 9-to-5 or an 11-to-7 routine, give them the set schedule they need, and ensure they’re setting up regular touchpoints with coworkers. You can always help this along by scheduling virtual team get-togethers, such as happy hours, team lunches and coffee breaks.
Being unable to avoid at-home distractions: Those working remotely may find they become too easily distracted by family members, neighbors or friends. Casual and business relationships can become strained due to the misconception around the individual's availability.
How to help:
The reality of a flexible or fully remote environment is that distractions happen. Whether it’s guest appearances by children and spouses, noises from rambunctious pets or chores simply getting in the way, finding the right work-life balance can be difficult. If you find an employee works better at certain hours (say around school drop-off or when their roommates are out of the house), allow them to work staggered schedules to help. If you know they need help focusing and staying on task, set up those essential check-ins to help them stay aligned and successful.
Barrier 3: 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 employees to create a work-life balance and can cause added stress and dissatisfaction.
How to help:
It’s essential that managers and leaders understand the stresses and realities of remote work in a post-pandemic world. Help your employees manage their work-life balance by ensuring that you also stick to their schedules. If their day ends at 6 p.m., then you need to follow those same boundaries as much as possible. While emergencies happen, working with the guidelines you’ve set for your employees helps you both and helps the organization by increasing employee retention and satisfaction rates.
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 flexible schedules. If your organization is strictly remote, you’ll want to design interview questions for job candidates to address the challenges of working from home to determine who would be the best fit for your company.
train managers and team leaders
Managing your remote employees is very different than managing in-office employees. Managers aren’t there to see the employee every day, so it’s important to implement different rules and methods to manage people who are working remotely and have flexible schedules.
The challenge for many companies isn’t the flexible work program as much as it’s a management issue. It all comes back to communication and expectation setting. When employees aren’t expected to report their progress or stay in touch with team members and management, it may be easy for them to fall into poor work habits that continue to erode over time.
Since in-person meetings are often absent in remote 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’s contributing to the overall results and who may need more guidance. Remote employees should have regularly scheduled check-ins with their managers and entire teams should have scheduled time to share updates and attend either in-person or online meetings.
Managing workers with flexible schedules is crucial to the success of a company’s remote work arrangements. Training managers and setting expectations for communication up front will increase your chances of implementing a productive and successful program.
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 if you have that luxury. Set a date such as three or six months 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 is also there to enable you to 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, and 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.
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 several key results:
- Cost savings: Did your organization save costs and cut expenses?
- Productivity: Did productivity levels increase or decrease?
- Recruiting: Have you improved and strengthened recruiting efforts?
- Employee turnover: Did you see less employee turnover?
- Employee sentiment: Did you receive improved employee sentiment and feedback?
- Employee satisfaction: Are your employees reporting higher satisfaction levels?
- Employee stress: Do your employees feel that they are less stressed?
- Employee health: Are your employees reporting better health and less anxiety?
- Work-life balance: Do your employees feel they have a better and more manageable work-life balance?
- Employee productivity: Are your employees feeling (and being) more productive?
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.