Encouraging workplace flexibility

The demand for workplace flexibility are the result of the ever-changing demographics, environment and society we are living in.

Whilst I understand that there are a number of organisations that cannot provide such opportunities due to the nature of their work, other organisations who can provide these flexible work arrangements need to consider this, not as a burden but, as an opportunity from which the organisation will stand to benefit mostly of. Flexible working arrangements may also support the organisation’s overall strategy.

Technological advancements provides the tools through which flexible working arrangements are more possible than ever before.  Employees can communicate with the company at any hour. With an ever increasing demand for talent, and a tight labour market, we should use these tools and flexible hours to entice the baby boomers to stay in the job market beyond their retirement age. Also, we need to understand and accept that the Gen Z and Y have different perceptions to the work/life balance concept, and thus offering flexible working arrangements may appeal to them to stay on.

The benefits

Improved retention, motivation and productivity are just three benefits employers will gain by offering workplace flexibility. Employers may also benefit from better management of own resources.

Providing parents with flexible working arrangements will provide the space and means for parents to better interact and be more present and available for their children.  It also helps parents be more involved in household and family chores and events, such as being involved in schools’ extra-curricular or volunteering activities. It also provides quality time for parents to interact and be there with and for them.  Indirectly, all this may also improve the employer’s social responsibility.

Introducing flexible hours requires departing from the 8 to 5 concept.  This change is not easy and may take some time for certain employers to comprehend its benefits.  Rather than focusing on the hours, the focus should shift to performance and results.  In other words, punching in and out within set hours does not make an employee any more productive. Actually, to the contrary, it is now recognised that flexibility increases productivity, efficiency and commitment to the company. Therefore, the focus needs to be on allowing employees to work in the manner that is most suited for their needs.

Our focus is ensuring the work is done timely and efficiently.  However, for this approach to be successful, the organisation must be clear on what it expects in terms of performance and must hold employees accountable for them to achieve (or better; exceed) such expectations.

The different options

There are different flexible options that employers may decide to introduce:

  • Reduced hours
  • Job sharing
  • Part-time work
  • Teleworking on a full-time, partial or on an occasion basis.

An employer can use one or all or a mix of the various workplace flexibility options, depending on the company’s requirements and its workforce. A careful study of the company’s structure and culture should be the basis of choice. Employers need to be understand what challenges their employees face. Conducting a survey or focus groups or even gathering information from exit interviews will help provide this insight.

The implementation

Implementing an effective flexible working approach requires attention and planning. Sometimes employers implement approaches without taking into consideration the current organisation culture and structure. Employers must also look at and revise existing policies as they might conflict with a flexible working approach. Managers must be retrained to understand what is required of them and their subordinates. This is especially that what really matters is the performance (the results and outcomes) rather than attendance, punctuality, or number of working hours. Change management training may also be needed for managers and all employees.

It is strongly recommended that one starts implementing this approach by keeping it simple. Possibly policies may need to be tweaked or created, to give it a proper structure within which to function.  But it is equally important that not too many procedures are put in place. This will lead to a flexible approach becoming an inflexible one!

And, like anything else, internal communication plays a central role, as the initiative must be clearly communicated to all and understood by all for it to be successful. As mentioned earlier, training for managers on how to measure performance and results would need to be organised. Training on other soft skills such as time management might need to be organised for all employees.

The evaluation

Evaluation is as important as the planning and implementation stages. Evaluating the initiative will provide the employer with an overall assessment of how the system is working. As well as, if it is beneficial to the organisation or not. One must comprehend that such a system requires time to settle in and be effective, so its fine tuning and monitoring is essential. The failings of individuals who slack or abuse the system should not mean a suspension or removal of it. It is HR who should identify and approach these situations.

About the author

Maria Bartolo Zahra is Managing Director and HR Advisor at SurgeAdvisory. She has over fifteen years of human resources and business advisory experience.