Tips for Managing in the Flexible Workplace

by Aaron Green

Flexible workplace options can be great perks to offer workers. Polls have shown that they are the most desired work benefits among employees and they are also a good way for employers to attract or retain talent. However, if flexible work options are not managed well they can be ineffective or even counterproductive.

Flexible work options range from flextime to flexplace and include: varying starting and finishing times to the workday; part-time work schedules, working from home or telecommuting; job sharing, workers selecting their own shifts, and flexible leave or time-off provisions.

Following are some tips for managing employees with flexible work arrangements:

Understand that flexibility is a mindset – offering flexible work options means acknowledging that there is more than one way to do things. It’s also recognition that workers have a life outside their jobs and that each employee has different life/work needs and desires and that those can change over time.

Communicate, communicate, communicate – to work well in a non-traditional setting, the flexible working employee must have strong communication with their manager, their team and anyone else they work with. Communication should be frequent, easy to do and take various forms (in-person, phone, email). Communication will help everyone understand the work being done but can also help managers gauge when the flexible work situation is working effectively.

Use technology to facilitate flexible work situations and good communication – a flexible-working employee won’t be able to succeed if their technology is inferior to traditional workers. Incorporating new technologies or devices – such as video conferencing, instant messaging or web-based file sharing – can improve the experience as well.

Remember that a flexible work arrangement is a benefit – employees and employers should treat it accordingly. Set clear expectations that there has to be effort from both sides in order for the situation to work. The benefit may be one that is “earned” or that is offered when an employee proves they can handle the option or agrees to meet certain expectations. Managers should maintain benchmarks for checking on employees’ progress and success.

Set clear expectations – in order to gauge success, you’ll need to establish clear ground rules and make sure appropriate evaluations are in place. In the case of remote workers, managers can’t rely on an employee’s presence and activity to gauge his or her efforts; they’ll need to measure deliverables and results (which should be the gauge for all workers anyway). While providing clear instructions, guidelines and deadlines is important with all employees, .these activities take or an even greater importance with employees working remotely or who are not in the office when their boss is.

Don’t give up water cooler exchanges -flexible work arrangement can make it more difficult to gauge important employee attributes, like effort and attitude. In traditional work situations managers rely on casual and unscheduled ways to check-in with employees and ensure workers are engaged and on track. Don’t overlook the importance of providing remote employees with motivation and confirmation of their work’s value.

Consider career growth– as employers, we arrange flexible work situations because we value our employees so it’s important to allow for and encourage career growth within the flexible work arrangement. In other words, don’t let the fact that a valued employee has a flexible schedule stifle their career and the value they can bring to your organization.

Change the culture – Certain employees with traditional work arrangements may feel resentful of colleagues with flexible arrangements. Take the time to explain why your company has the flexible arrangement. Try to win skeptics over by explaining the advantages of the flexible approach to the employee as well as how it benefits the organization. Yesterday’s detractor could find their personal situation has changed and they now value a flexible arrangement of their own.

Know the law – Flexible work arrangements can sometimes add a layer of complexity to the workplace. You will want to make sure you know what your rights and responsibilities are under employment law. When necessary, get advice from experts.

Measure results not time served – The driving idea behind many flexible work arrangements is that results matter more than the amount of time an employee spends working in the office.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

This article was originally posted on the On Staffing HR Column on Boston.com.

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