Running out of office space? Heather Foley explains how you can manage flexible working.
With unemployment lower than before the recession, and companies growing and hiring aggressively, today’s employees can demand terms that better suit them. And, typically, one of their requests is for greater flexibility.
It’s easy to see why people want this. If they can work from home at least some of the time, then they can save themselves from an often long and costly commute. If they can work at hours that suit them, they can fit in elements of family life that they might otherwise miss.
It can also be of great benefit to the employer. By offering flexibility, you are more likely to recruit and retain the best people. You’ll also be giving your people a vote of confidence, which is often repaid with great performance and diligence.
It can also reduce costs by allowing hot-desking. Employers can save large amounts on office space.
So why doesn’t everyone do it?
Well, as with most things, if done badly it can cause more problems than it solves. If you’re considering offering it, there are a few key considerations you could explore before embracing flexible working with confidence.
1. Establish the rules
Every company is different and has different needs. It’s not always possible (let alone sensible) to offer everyone flexibility. So, you need to look at your business and consider:
- Which roles can be done just as well from home?
- How should you manage the process so that it’s efficient (for example, should a person who wants to work from home clear it first with a manager to make sure there isn’t a specific reason for being in the office on that day?)
- How should you communicate what is and what isn’t permitted?
For practical reasons, it’s worth establishing these guidelines early on so that potential frustrations with this new way of working are diminished.
2. Provide the technology
In many cases, for people to be able to work from home effectively, they will need a PC, a phone line/mobile phone, a headset and broadband with access to the systems and network drives in the office.
This requires an investment of both time and money. But, without it, you will suffer from high levels of frustration and plummeting productivity.
3. Check in frequently
If you’re not sitting with your people every day, it’s more important than ever to arrange for regular check-ins.
Your team needs to continue to feel supported by you and you need to know that they’re progressing well and are in good spirits. Regular, planned check-ins will ensure that everything’s progressing smoothly in terms of work and morale.
4. Don’t lose the sense of team
One of the biggest risks of flexible working is a loss of the sense of a team. When everyone sits together, strong bonds are built. This doesn’t happen when some team members are working remotely or at different times.
So, as their manager, you need to put in place enough formal work-time sessions for people to build those bonds. You’ll also do well to arrange for frequent social events together to maintain those essential team bonds.
Flexible working is more popular than ever. It’s just possible that, in the future, there’ll be no other way of working. It’s up to you to decide whether it’s right for your business, but whatever you decide, be aware that flexible working is here to stay.
If you’ve been resistant up to now, it may be time to start considering flexible working more seriously. After all, times are changing.
As recognised by Anne M. Mulcahy, former chairperson and CEO of Xerox Corporation, “We’re living in a different world now in terms of employee needs, and companies have to offer alternative methods for getting the work done. Even under the most difficult circumstances you can have creative flexibility.”
It’s hard to ignore a comment like that!
Heather Foley is a consultant at etsplc.com, an HR consultancy, specialising in employee surveys and 360-degree feedback