Leona Barr Jones looks at the concept of flexible working and what businesses need to consider if they wish to implement it themselves.
Love it or hate it, the concept of flexible working is here to stay - whether we are talking about working hours, hot-desking or home-working options. The term 'location-independent working' has become more popular in recent years as working becomes less about place and more about activity.
Flexible working requires businesses to trust their employees to do their job. Many projects are now task- and output-based rather than the old fashioned time and motion attitude, with agile project management proving to be the new thing. The concept of flexible working for the internet generation is nothing new and many young people prefer to work in that way. For some older workers, it can prove a challenge and an implementation programme that allows people different ways of working depending on their preferences.
I recently worked with a team on a change management programme where they were entirely output driven within a timeframe and they each managed their time and space to suit themselves very successfully. They were not dependent on a location or on set working hours. Hot desks were available with the client and in our own HQ and home working was an option for them too. The team were only required to attend weekly meetings with me and provide regular updates and highlight reports and of course regular stakeholder engagement within their own projects and work streams. The younger workers were very happy to work flexibly from home but the older workers were more happy to hot desk in an office. It was important for us to give a range of different solutions that suited everybody and that is a key consideration for successful implementation of this style of working.
To make flexible working a realistic option requires strong, motivational leadership and a conscientious workforce. With the right culture and work ethics in place, agile working can produce amazing results. Think about setting work targets for employees or tasks that must be completed within a certain timeframe to ensure that individuals stay on track. Ensure also, that each team member has a clearly defined role so that the lines between different tasks are not blurred. Often, if there is a blurring of boundaries, then chaos quickly follows.
As well as strong leadership, good processes are key to setting the guidelines for work without restrictive boundaries. When working more flexibly within a process driven organisation you empower your people to work at their optimum and to innovate. Often when working from home, a team is more focused on output to prove they were working hard. They themselves feel more focused with less distractions and I often suggest home working for the team to complete reports and spreadsheets.
Although there are many upsides to having an agile workforce, one of the key issues to consider is communication. If your team are all working remotely or within different work patterns, as a manager you will need to come up with solutions to ensure that you keep in touch with each team member. Telephone conferencing, Skype and Google+ hangouts are all options but nothing beats a regular face to face meeting once in a while to catch up and ensure that an individual is not struggling. It is also a good idea to have a team meeting every once in a while so that you can bounce ideas off each other and encourage a feeling of support and of community spirit within the team.
So – consider different options for different styles of working and think carefully about processes and your office culture before you commit to flexible working. If you are able to, embrace agile working and be as flexible as you can with time and space – it can work fantastically well if introduced in the right way. And if you think that millennials like agile working, just wait until Generation Xbox are in charge!
Leona Barr Jones is Managing Director of Barr Jones Associates, a business growth and change management consultancy