Effective Flexible Working – a good Manager’s dream and a nightmare for a bad Manager?
Flexibility can be a manager’s greatest tool
In an era when clients are looking for a better, faster, longer service delivery plan, how is it possible without a flexible working workforce? Flexibility should be on the agenda for all companies, not only as part of HR’s remit but driven by a desire to create more innovative, efficient and effective businesses. As of 30 June 2014 everyone has the right to request flexible working so the number of requests may increase, although it is yet to be seen how this works in practice.
Why flexibility often doesn’t work
The number of people who would like to work flexibly is rarely the issue but businesses are reluctant to create flexible working practices, usually because of perceived burden on management time and the belief that flexible working creates inefficiencies. But surely this is just a logistical issue?
To start with we need to consider a few reasons why flexibility becomes a burden for managers:
- You don’t know what your team are doing.
- It takes more effort to communicate when the team does not all work from the same office. Reliance on email as opposed to phone calls/face-to-face conversations.
- How do you manage a team that works on a shift pattern?
- How do you manage people operating from multiple locations?
- How do you manage team time and workflows?
But again surely this is mainly a logistical issue that can be managed by technology and other management tools, whether it is to keep in contact with the team, to see what they are doing or to work on scheduling.
Turning flexibility into a model that works for all
For us at Halebury running a team remotely and flexibly, we have found it incredibly useful to consider the flexible model from all angles to achieve what we as managers were looking for which was to make the model as streamline and transparent as possible. To create more involvement and better communication, you may for example need to give your team more control and more ownership and possibly tie their remuneration or incentive plan into that. For flexibility to work in the long-term it has to be sustainable and well thought out. This has to mean that although you start from how you make it work from a logistics point of view, you have to ensure that you create a model which considers all the areas of operation and the overall structure, growth strategy and long-term needs of the business.
All of these processes take time to consider and set up, but in the long-term, you need to consider the cost efficiencies and the potential increased productivity involved.
Now is the time for flexibility
Nowadays a 24/7 business environment operates and there is a need to be available to clients which has put greater operational strains on most companies. Plus employers are seeing greater issues with their supply of labour, whether those issues relate to cost, logistics or the demand for greater work/life balance. In addition, there is evidence that businesses that have good flexibility have lower rates of staff turnover, sickness and stress and higher levels of productivity. When people feel they have the time to give to all areas of their lives they feel more positive about their workplace. Better morale equals better output for the business.
Managers need to manage
Overall, once the process has been set up, the infrastructure to support that process has been implemented, whether that is through technology or changes in the corporate structure, the next step has to be to ensure that the managers manage that process effectively. That is not easy. You are asking the managers to work with a new operating system and to make sure their teams who are also operating under a new system have complete buy-in. Think how long it takes you to get settled into a new house. They need to be given time, training and support, and work through any teething issues. Once the system is set up, you should be able to see the employees who truly fit your new model and those who do not.
Flexibility in practice
People often assume flexibility equals reduced pay, reduced responsibility and reduced career progression but here are some ways to make flexibility work for all:
Job-sharing: can bring double the skills and experience to solve a problem, often with not much additional cost – often people sharing a job have complementary skills which can often provide benefits beyond one FTE. Other benefits are reduction in office space costs with sharing of desk space. It can also actually be more productive for a business with job sharers prepared to cover each other during periods of holiday or leave.
Flexi-work or Compressed Hours: gives flexibility without the rigidity of a three or four day work and the equated reduction in salary. If there is transparency from both manager and employee it can be possible to flex hours to manage the ebb and flow and differing volumes of work.
Lead from the top
For flexible working to succeed there needs to be a supportive culture. That requires buy-in from the top with a transparent, collaborative, results focussed culture centred on trust and respect. There need to be regular touch points and tools to support the team and provide more opportunity for them to structure their work schedule.
Overall, for flexibility to be successful, managers need to lead from the top – to organise effectively, to communicate clearly, be transparent and open minded, and to trust their team.
A version of this blog was posted on LexisNexis ‘Future of Law’ blog: http://blogs.lexisnexis.co.uk/futureoflaw/2014/11/how-to-have-it-all-secrets-to-flexible-working/
Contact Janvi: 020 7127 2500