Flexible work is already happening in most businesses, whether it be through formal policies, or not. Many of us have “deals” with our managers to work from home once a week or even to leave early for personal reasons.
These exceptions make the case for companies to formalize their flexible work arrangement programs. If you keep these arrangements under the table, this can lead to feelings of inequality and cause tension among employees who aren’t granted the same privileges.
This blog will guide you through the basics of implementing a flexible work policy. What should you consider at the very beginning of this process?
WHAT IS IT THAT YOU ARE SOLVING FOR?
Remote work can help you cut down on real estate costs by downsizing office space, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for an organization which mainly works face-to-face with customers. Not all flexible work arrangements are suitable for all companies, so before weighing any options, you need to think about what you are looking to optimize by implementing a flexible work policy. Then pick an arrangement accordingly:
1. REMOTE WORK
If you want your employees to save commuting time and costs, offer them remote work. There will be less parking spots needed and you will lower your carbon footprint. You can even cut down on real estate costs, if you downsize office space. Employees gain greater autonomy and experience fewer interruptions, which tends to lead to increased productivity and a better work-life balance.
2. JOB SHARING
With job sharing you can get more diverse skills and experience in the same position. Having two people work on the same task enhances problem solving and makes managing high peak workloads easier. Job sharing is also useful in terms of continuity and coverage of work during absences. Employees get more free time, while still keeping their careers on track.
3. PART-TIME WORK
By offering part-time you can attract applicants from a wider employment pool and retain valued employees who may not be able to, or want to, work full-time. Employing part-time workers can help you cover busy periods efficiently. This is also a good way to reduce costs without reducing staff.
4. COMPRESSED SCHEDULE
A compressed work week is perfect for balancing high peak workloads, because it lets you increase total staff hours during the peaks. It extends operational hours of the workplace. Compressed schedule also helps reduce commuting time and costs and affords employees with an additional day off and a better work-life balance.
Flexitime offers a better fit of working hours with school hours, college hours or care arrangements. Commuting to work becomes faster and easier, because employees can avoid rush hours. With flexitime, you can also extend office hours and allow clients to contact your business later or earlier than usual.
THINK ABOUT IMPORTANT ISSUES FIRST
Implementing a new policy is always multidimensional. Make sure to consider every aspect of your business that will be affected by the new arrangements. You need to consider how it will affect your employees as well as your clients, your HR department and your management structure:
- What impact will flexible work policy have on your service and your clients?
- What are the benefits for your employees and the organization?
- Are there any potential pitfalls? How can you deal with them?
- What time, effort and money will it take to make the new arrangement successful?
- Is training required to be sure managers and employees have the knowledge and skills to make the arrangement work?
- What other HR functions will the flexible schedule affect? Are there other departments that may be indirectly affected?
- What can your management team support? Streamline your options into an easy to follow rule set instead of having 30 case-by-case deals personalized for 30 different people.
ASK EMPLOYEES WHAT THEY WANT
Firstly, you will need to identify possible options and try to figure out what it is your staff needs. Consulting at an early stage will help to uncover individual needs and interests and help anticipate difficulties.
Ask your employees what they want. Conduct surveys and/or focus groups and encourage informal discussions. If your colleagues know that their opinions matter, they may suggest innovative options that are not in general use but may be just right for your organization or a particular work unit. Involving your team also helps to get them on board with the program.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for advice and comments from other organizations, clients and board members. People love to expose what worked particularly well for them, be it a progressive and complex remote work arrangement or just a simple trick. For instance, in our company, we moved all of our longer meetings after 2 PM in the afternoon as they used to take a lot of time in the mornings. We later found this is actually a common problem with IT companies especially since there is a tendency to introduce daily morning stand up meetings that can quickly get out of hand and last till noon. Our colleagues from different companies loved our simple rule of moving every meeting after 2 PM.
RUN A PILOT FOR A TRIAL PERIOD
After you did your research and decided on which flexible options to offer, make sure to run a pilot for a trial period and evaluate it, with each employee individually. It may be best to run the pilot program in a particular team or department, before including your entire company. In case of smaller businesses with less than 20 people, you will have to include everyone from the get-go though. Have employees report on the pilot and provide their feedback. Make modifications or changes to the program accordingly. Just make sure you always inform your staff of any new processes or guidelines.
PROVIDE A UNIFIED PROPOSAL PROCEDURE
The best way to handle employee requests for changed work schedules is a unified written proposal. The employee’s proposal should make it easier to decide whether to grant the proposal or not, by explaining:
- Reasons for proposing a different arrangement;
- A description of the arrangement and proposed schedule;
- A description of how they intent to accomplish the major goals of their job;
- Means of maintaining frequent communication with customers and coworkers;
- Means of evaluating performance and effectiveness of the arrangement
- The business case for this change: what benefits it offers to their team, office, and organization (e.g., greater efficiency, increased productivity, expanded hours of service).
KEEP RECORDS OF THE AGREEMENT
Make sure you gather all the necessary documentation (e.g. health and safety details for telecommuting…) prior to the start of the. Keep record of any conditions of the agreement, including start and finish dates.
Check whether there are any specific record keeping requirements in the Work Time Regulations act of your state legislation that you should be aware of.
CLEARLY ESTABLISH GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
Goals are general guidelines that explain what you want your employees to achieve. They are usually long-term and represent broader visions. Objectives define strategies or implementation steps to attain the identified goals. Unlike goals, objectives are specific, measurable, and have a defined completion date. They are more specific and outline the “who, what, when, where, and how” of reaching the goals.
It is absolutely vital that both goals and objectives are clearly established in flexible arrangements. Based on these goals and objectives you will need to agree on measurable performance evaluation markers and periodically revise them.
As much as possible, focus on the quality of your employees’ work results rather than the number of hours worked.
CONSTANTLY REVIEW AND MODIFY
You should always agree on a trial period whenever you grant a flexible arrangement to one of your employees. This way you can easily modify the arrangement if needed or even call it off all together. The trial should last at least 2 or 3 weeks or even an entire quarter. You don’t want your new found flexibility to increase pressure so give yourself and your employee some time to work out the kinks.
After the trial is over and you decide to make the new schedule official, you should still evaluate your employees’ performance and satisfaction every 6 to 12 months.
The terms and conditions of the arrangement should be clear up front. Since a flexible work arrangement is a business decision, your employees should be aware that it can be modified or terminated if necessary.
A flexible work arrangement could get terminated in the following cases:
- Business needs are not being met.
- Job or job requirements change.
- Performance ratings fall below an acceptable level.
- Current coverage or staffing needs change.
- An unexpected staff shortage develops.
- Valid negative client or co-worker feedback is received.
Keep in mind, that the process used in revising or ending a flexible work arrangement should be just as clear and thorough as when initiating one.
PROVIDE GUIDELINES AND PROCEDURES
You should provide clear general guidelines on how these arrangements work. Write down the guidelines and procedures in a flexible work policy. Think about availability of the employee for frequent communication, required attendance at meetings, the length of time required to respond to a communication…
One important thing to consider here are alternative childcare arrangements. Employees who propose a telecommuting arrangement should ensure a safe and suitable workspace that is appropriately confidential and free of distractions and interruptions that may interfere with work. Where applicable, telecommuters should be responsible to find ways to maintain a distinct separation between work activities and personal activities.
PROVIDE THE NECESSARY TOOLS
For flexible arrangements to work without disruptions it’s vital to provide all the necessary tools. The most important thing is to establish great communication channels (an internal corporate instant messenger, screen sharing, advanced remote conference tools, etc.), so your team can work together efficiently. There are numerous services available that your team can use to communicate online: Slack, Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, …
If company files are not accessible remotely, you will probably need to upgrade your file system. If you haven’t yet moved your data to the cloud, now’s the right time. Consult with your team about which system they prefer. Could be Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, Onedrive, just pick one together. Your employees shouldn’t have trouble reaching data at any time and from anywhere in the world in this day and age.
Since this is a web site about clocking and tracking your time, we have to mention this as well: How are your employees registering their work hours now? If they are clocking in and out at the company entrance and you are implementing remote work, bare in mind to find an online tool for tracking employee attendance or a mobile time clock, so they can register their hours offsite. There are a dozen such tools available but All Hours has been developed with flexible work in mind from the get go.
COMMUNICATE THE CHANGE
Once you’ve implemented a flexible work policy, communicate the change and promote it. Take time to explain it carefully to your employees. Such measures should improve your employee retention rate, employee satisfaction, engagement and productivity.
Include this information to your future job postings. It will certainly attract a higher number of talented prospective candidates. Use it in your public relations and present your company as family friendly, flexible and oriented towards employee well being.
You should also communicate such changes to management and clients, just so everybody is on the same page and knows what to expect and why. They might even point out an issue that slipped your mind.
ONGOING SUPPORT AND FEEDBACK
Every policy needs an ongoing evaluation of success. Form a strong feedback loop between manager and employee and continue to evaluate the program on a regular basis.
Maintain a two-way flow of communication between management and employees and between employees in flexible arrangements and their other colleagues. Solicit feedback from all participants, make changes and adapt the plan as required.
Flexible arrangements need to work for the entire team, not just for some people. Colleague feedback can provide useful input to refining the arrangements after a trial period. Confidentiality in this process is of course vital.
NURTURE GOOD EMPLOYEE RELATIONSHIPS
Try hard to make your employees feel that company procedures and policies are fair to everyone. Achieving fairness for all employees could be your biggest challenge in introducing flexible work schedules. Not all arrangements are suitable for all jobs. Find something to offer to each of your employees, engage them in finding suitable options and always explain your decisions.
When employing remote workers, ensure appropriate orientation for staff that work only in office. They need to be assured that all employees – regardless of their work location – are pulling their weight equally.
Good employee relationships take conscious effort, even more so with flexible work arrangements. Promote team building between on-site and off-site employees by inviting employees who work at home to come in for a lunch or training. Organize after work activities, such as sporting events or celebrations that allow your employees to spend some quality time together.
Make sure that you are creating a policy that suits your organization and offering options and guidelines that both employees and managers feel comfortable with. You should gain a much better perspective on this matter after a pilot run. A pilot is a great way to test your options and see if your policy needs any tweaking.
Once you implement a possibility of flexible work in your organization, promote it and use it as an advantage that it is! Make sure that you include this information on the careers section of your website, and communicate it widely to your current employees. This could assist them a lot with decision whether to stay with you or think of changing their employer in the future.
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