Facilitating Flexibility in your Workplace

How Managers can Facilitate Flexible Working

The business case for flexibility is growing and workplaces which offer a more employee friendly way of working enjoy:

  • improved reputation
  • greater employee retention
  • the ability to attract the best talent
  • boosted productivity
  • lower overheads due to decreased need for office space
  • reduced absenteeism

The key to achieving these benefits is to introduce policies which facilitate opportunities for flexible work along with a company-wide commitment to training managers on how to effectively manage employees who choose to work flexibly.

According to the AIM green paper managers seeking to implement flexible work practices will face a variety of challenges depending on the type of work being conducted, the types of flexible work being offered, the number of employees and so on.

There are a variety of different flexible work options available and companies may choose to implement some of them, mainstream flexibility for everyone or tailor flexibility to individual employee needs. According to the AIM, in Australia flexible work includes:

  • Working part time
  • Working compressed hours, for example, working the equivalent of a full week but over four days
  • Working from home, either some or part of the time (also referred to as teleworking or telecommuting)
  • Working from an alternative site again, either some or part of the time such as a regional office
  • Work arrangements which include flexi-time, formal or informal time off in lieu (TOIL) practices, or formal rostered days off (RDOs)
  • Work arrangements which involve overtime
  • Contract work or consulting
  • Casual work of various kinds, including working either regular or irregular casual hours, or working base hours which may be increased by the employer to meet peak demand
  • Job sharing for example, two part time workers filling one full time job
  • Working non-traditional hours for example, starting at midday and working into the evening to respond to clients in other time zones, or working a split shift to cover before and after hours peak demand
  • Working different hours at different times for example, working term time hours with longer work days during school terms and fewer hours or work days during school holidays
  • Working on secondment
  • Extended leave periods for example, graduates taking a year off before starting work
  • Purchased leave for example, taking eight weeks leave a year for a commensurate reduction in full time pay
  • Tailoring the use of leave for example, allowing staff to use half days of annual leave to meet personal commitments, or phased return from parental leave
  • Phased retirement for example, reducing hours progressively over a certain time period rather than ceasing work completely.

The key for managers of flexible employees is to ensure the job is being done and in a flexible workplace this may mean managers need to do a more complicated juggling act than they would in a traditional workplace.

According to the AIM managers may need to conduct more planning in the areas of rostering and forecasting work volumes to ensure staff are on hand to manage increases in workload. Managers may also need to educate clients on how their needs will be meet, possibly through adopting a team based approach to customer care rather than a specific staff member being assigned to a specific client.

Managers may also need to adopt new approach to meetings, in terms of scheduling and content and how they are conducted to ensure that the objectives are achieved. Flexible work opportunities mean employees may be out of the office more which may also necessitate the use of technology to conduct meetings.

Another key adjustment managers may have to make is trusting employees are doing their job even though they are out of view. For managers familiar with day-to-day supervision of staff it may be heard to adjust to a new style of management. The AIM suggests that not all roles will be suitable for work from home opportunities and suggests that managers assess the suitability and likely effectiveness of the arrangement by looking at:

  • The type of tasks to be performed
  • The resources necessary to support those tasks
  • The employee’s style of work
  • The availability of technology to facilitate the work
  • Health and safety issues associated with working out of the office

Managers will also need to grow used to measuring staff on their output rather than their process. This may require an objective based approach to task setting and negotiation on time frames.

According to the AIM, managing staff dynamics in a flexible environment can be complicated due to fewer opportunities for face time and potentially negative attitude some full-time office-based staff may take towards flexible workers. These attitudes can be particularly damaging in small teams working on specific projects. In these instances the AIM recommends direct and regular communication with staff to remind them that performance will be measured on output and to talk through any issues which arise.

The AIM says that these issues are easier to deal with when flexibility has been mainstreamed across the whole organisation and in workplaces where flexible work practices have the explicit support of senior managers and executive board members.

Communication is key to the success of flexible work arrangements, managers have a responsibility to ensure employees have the technology they need to stay in touch with the workplace when off site and employees have an opportunity to be available when and if they are needed.

Managing flexibility

According to the AIM’s green paper, regardless of whether managers are responsible for an individual staff member working flexibly, or for managing an entire workplace characterised by flexible work, managers will need skills in negotiating and monitoring work arrangements.

Formal policies regarding the available flexible work arrangements and the processes for accessing these, may assist managers in their role. The use of formal policies and procedures does not, however, reduce the need for informal flexibility from managers, for example, in responding to ad hoc or urgent requests for time off. Nor does it reduce the need for a culture of encouraging the take up of flexible work arrangements.

When negotiating flexible work arrangements with an employee, it is worth keeping in mind that the staff member may simultaneously be negotiating with their family or trying to balance the arrangement with other commitments in their life.

Implementing an effective flexible work arrangement requires an organisational commitment to driving change and improvement from the top down. Ensuring managers have the training, tools and support they need to introduce and manage employees who opt to work flexibly increases your chances of making the transition successful.

1. WorldatWork Survey on Workplace Flexibility 2011

This Better Workplace Bulletin was First Published in October 2012