How to have flexibility so it works for everyone?
Having established in my first blog that flexibility ‘should be standard, not special’ this blog takes a closer look at how to make it work for everyone.
Some managers believe the old adage that if you aren’t measuring it, it doesn’t count. So they measure lots of different aspects of their team’s performance, including how long they are in the office. Whether we agree or not many teams also have unspoken rules about their behaviour: what time they arrived, when they leave, how long they took for lunch. Some of the statistics are interesting as well. The UK has some of the longest working hours in Europe, particularly in professional organisations, but our productivity isn’t any better than many other countries that seem to work more flexibily.
As mentioned in my earlier blog, I firmly believe that flexibility brings increased morale, greater talent options for a business, and delivers greater value to an organisation. And since the 30 June 2014 it is now the law that all employees have a right to ask for flexible working to be considered. So how do you do it and make it work? Communicate openly and trust yourself and your team to find a way to make it work for the business, for the team and for the managers.
Sometimes people can be reluctant to embrace flexible working. In some cases it has earned a poor reputation meaning reduced pay, reduced responsibility and reduced career progression. But it doesn’t have to work that way. If both sides can really understand the other and communicate together, it really can mean a win for everyone.
Here are some ways that I’ve found you can make flexibility work for your teams:
Job –Sharing: Job shares can bring double the skills and experience to solve a problem, often with not much additional cost. With some innovative thought I’ve seen job shares work in a variety of creative ways – each person managing the role according to their skills and complementing each other. Most have been a 50/50 share but I’ve seen 60/40 as well as five day weeks with compressed hours for both job sharers. I’ve also experienced job-sharing work at even the most senior level and in roles that some people tell you can’t be shared, such as complex transaction work. With a supportive team and management it can be done. It can also save a business 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. Yes there is an employment cost to having two people on the payroll, but if you have two people who are engaged and motivated, because they want the job share to work, you usually you’ll get much more than what you pay for. You’ll get two people going the extra mile, instead of one.
Flexi-work or Compressed Hours: Another option that can work for both employers and employees is compressed hours, but without the strict rule of three or four days work equals that same reduction in your pay. If both sides can trust each other, and openly discuss concerns and requirements, it is possible to flex the hours as the client needs demands – four long days (or even five if a big deal is being managed) when you need it and shorter days when you don’t. Embrace solutions through discussions together, what are the key hours of stress for the employee; can you find ways to flex around it together? I’ve had key employees move down to four days a week, but retain near to 95% of their salary through this model. They flex when clients need the resources, starting early or finishing late when agreed, but getting that vital balance of a day a week free for other interests the majority of the time. Yes it takes practice on both sides, but it can give the business flexibility to increase resources when needed and can actually allow you to be more responsive to client demands as well.
Leading from the Top: Another key factor in getting flexibility to work across a team is for the senior management to lead by example. Open communication and open diaries about where all the team is working are essential, right to the top of the team. It is also helpful for the most senior manager to actively manage their own diary with at least one day a week where they don’t take meetings or calls in the afternoon and leave the office early. While it might initially cause comment, the team and their peers do manage without them. If the team sees a senior manager progressing and also actively embracing the flexibility offered it is easier for those with less confidence (or less seniority) to embrace flexible working as well. Additionally, with some space to think rather than do solutions to challenges come when people are not always at their desk.
Fairness: Flexibility can also cause tension if some team members think it is only for some. You need to discuss these issues openly. Flexibility shouldn’t only be for working parents and it certainly shouldn’t stigmatise those who embrace it. However the reality is that flexibility won’t be needed by some of your team. The point is that it should be there if they want to discuss it, and not just when there is a change in family circumstances occurs. You need strong leadership and open discussions as well as pointing out that just because a team member isn’t in the office doesn’t mean they aren’t contributing.
Practicalities: Sometimes flexible working is talked about, but managers can fail to give their teams the tools they need. A simple look at the technologies available can really improve the way your people can work. Embrace the options that technology gives people, make connections from home, conference bridges and remote working solutions available to everyone and not just managers. Sometimes it is hard for a manager to see how difficult these can be for more junior members of the team to access, but with the right support solutions can usually be found.
With a little creativity and a lot of communication almost any team can operate flexible work practices that work for everyone, particularly the business.