As social distancing orders are lifted, and businesses reopen, employee requests for flexible hours and remote-work arrangements will be part of the new normal. Now that many employers have experienced how successful telecommuting can be for their organisation or how work hours that differ from the normal 9-to-5 can be adopted without causing dents into productivity, offering flexible work arrangements have become more commonplace.
Even in the absence of a pandemic, flexible work arrangements can improve recruitment and retention efforts, increase organisational diversity efforts, encourage ethical behaviour and help the organisation’s efforts to be socially responsible. Employers can experience cost savings, improved attendance and productivity, and an increase in employee engagement which almost always translates into more productivity.
Many U.S. workers now consider work/life balance and flexibility to be the most important factors in considering job offers. In fact, 81% of employees said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options, according to a 2020 survey by FlexJobs. However, offering flexible work arrangements can involve a paradigm shift for organisations, especially smaller ones that may not have the critical mass of technology, budget, management and competitive flexibility necessary to make extensive use of flexible work arrangements.
It’s tough to satisfy everyone. The following practical, real-world approaches will help you treat your people as the individuals they are without creating a chaotic mess of confusing, arbitrary exceptions.
Start one-on-one to understand real employee needs
We might assume, a full 18 months into the pandemic experience, that we’re familiar with what our team members want and how they function best. But people change their minds, or want different things as their circumstances change. So before structuring schedules or work formats, take steps to learn about employees’ current situations in terms of physical work locations and scheduling and gauge their satisfaction with work assignments and career trajectory. Questions to ask include:
- How well has your team been working together?
- Do you have access to the decision-makers you need?
- How well have you been able to arrange cross-functional collaborations?
- Are there tools, information, or other kinds of support that would help you perform better?
- How comfortable do you feel about your current work situation?
You won’t be able to satisfy every preference, but when employees trust that you have their best interests in mind, the likelihood of improved retention, productivity, and innovation increases.
Ensure alignment with your own employer branding
If you have a history and culture that treats employees as crucial stakeholders, they’ll expect you to give significant consideration to their preferences and needs. If you’ve always talked about “being like a family,” now’s the time to make that promise real and take care of all your “family members” by accommodating individual needs for schedule adjustments and even modifications to responsibilities when people are under particular duress. If you’ve emphasised that your employees are your most important asset, be sure that you’ve provided resources and communicated about how people can use them to ensure theirs and their families’ wellbeing. This might include providing access to or references or financial support for childcare, eldercare, or mental health services during what continues to be a difficult period.
Don’t mistake physical presence for loyalty
Many leaders once believed that employees speaking openly about wanting to protect or support themselves or their families was a sign that they might not be fully committed to their leaders, teams, organisations, or missions. Employees’ extraordinary dedication during the pandemic should have put that belief to rest. Today, leaders who are unwilling to accept employees’ commitments to the rest of their lives will have a significantly harder time holding on to staff. Whether they work on-premises or remotely, employees who feel supported in doing what’s right for their own lives are likely to feel even more strongly about their commitment to their organisation, rather than suffering from ongoing ambivalence, fear, or resentment — all of which are likely to have a negative impact on their work relationships and output.
This tailored approach will be challenging and time-consuming in the beginning, but it’s significantly less costly than watching your investment in critical staff walk out the door, or not being able to attract the specific talent you need. In the long-term, most employees will observe how well the organisation adapts to theirs and their colleagues’ needs and will end up gravitating to the most popular and effective programmes and solutions.
Advantages of Flexible Work Programmes
Defenders of flexible work initiatives point to the competitive advantages that such programs bring to companies that offer these sorts of programmes. Perhaps the single most cited reason for introducing a flexible work environment is employee retention. Indeed, many businesses stated that the recent trend toward flexible time and other programmes has made it necessary for them to introduce their own programmes or risk losing valued employees. “Another business argument for flexible work arrangements is that they allow companies to match the peaks and valleys of activity,” wrote Elizabeth Sheley in HRMagazine. “More organisations have shifted their focus to how potential changes in schedule will affect the product. Reduced absenteeism, though often overlooked, is also a legitimate business rationale; flexible options not only strengthen commitment, but also give employees more time to handle the very situations that sometimes lead to absenteeism.”
Flexible work programmes provide a way for businesses to increase employee loyalty without resorting to making fundamental changes in their operations. Indeed, Sheley observed that “the most popular flexible work options are those that involve the least change. Flexible time and compressed work weeks, for example, call for the same number of hours, at the same workplace, as in traditional work arrangements.”
Disadvantages of Flexible Work Programmes
Flexible work programs have many apparent advantages, but critics point out that ill-conceived programs can have a negative impact on businesses, and they add that even good programmes often present challenges that a business has to address. First of all, business owners and managers need to recognize that flexible work arrangements are not always appropriate for all people, jobs, or industries. Telecommuting and other “flexplace” arrangements, for example, can be disastrous (or at the very least a productivity drain) if used by employees who are unwilling or unable to put in a full day of work amid the non-work temptations (television, pleasure reading, housecleaning, etc.) of a home setting.
Critics also contend that flex programs often leave managers in exceedingly difficult situations. “Far too often, flex is embraced for its ‘family-friendly’ aspects long before the corporate support needed to manage it takes root,” wrote Martha H. Peak in Management Review. “In these companies, flexible policies are outlined in the employee manual but implementation is left up to individual managers. Then, when managers try to implement these programmes, they discover that to be fair, flex requires them to treat different employees differently.”
In today’s business world, flexible employment staples such as flextime and telecommuting continue to grow, in large measure because businesses that introduce them continue to prosper while simultaneously improving the quality of life of their employees. Looking ahead, it seems clear that flexible work programmes will continue to be used more and more frequently. With the rise of the Internet and rapid spread of high-speed connections to the Internet in homes and offices alike, the tools necessary to make flexible work programmes successful are multiplying. Creating a flexible work programme suitable for a particular business and company will continue to be an individual endeavour but one that is made ever easier with new technologies and communication tools.
Given our current situation knowing that your colleagues or employees are best suited for this new scenario we find ourselves in. Finding the right talent, the best fit for the job and your organisation can be a very challenging task. It is now important to find out whether your managers or your team is well-equipped of working together from various locations. It requires deep knowledge of their personalities, strengths, weaknesses, interests, work style and other characteristics. Our technology and solutions will do the work for you, helping you discover if your people are resilient during times of hardship, if they are autonomous, if they are team players, without actual human contact. Given that our platform is cloud-based, everyone can use it from home as well. Humanity finds itself at a crossroad for various reasons now, why not help people discover and develop themselves from the comfort of their own homes?
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