Workplace flexibility… 3 ways to do it right

 

So, you’re considering offering a flexible work schedule for your team/business… that’s good because research is suggesting it could benefit it in major ways. Not only that, it’s actually suggesting that you’re at a disadvantage if you’re not embracing it (more on that in a sec).

 

However, if you’re like many of our clients, you might have concerns about:

 

  • “But the culture… you just can’t create it the same way.”
  • “How do I manage my team when I don’t see them every day?”
  • “How do I really know what’s going on?”

 

Take it from me, someone who has worked remotely for 12 years straight in sales and has a fully remote team here at ATP, the benefits of implementing it far outweigh any concerns you probably have.

 

And the key to making it work? In my experience, it comes down to your leadership (research is saying the same thing). 

 

Here’s what workplace flexibility is, why it’s beneficial to embrace, and how to ensure any policy you implement will drive engagement and productivity effectively.

 

What is workplace flexibility?

 

Most will define flexible work arrangements as a benefit that allows their employees to work remotely (or a modified schedule) part-time or full-time. And while that’s technically true, I think the companies that are really doing it well look at it differently.

 

Namely, they see it as something that relieves a pain point. I’ll use myself as an example…

 

Working remotely isn’t important to me just because I like “working from home.” It’s important because I have an entire set of obligations outside of my job that are just as pressing to me and a flexible schedule helps me be productive and efficient for all of it.

Rather than sitting in traffic for 2 hours a day, I can get to work on something at home right when I clock out. Or rather than worrying about what I look like for leaving early, I can get to the bank while it’s open in the middle of the day and work a little later if I need to.

 

This makes my entire life (including work) so much less stressful!

 

Simply put, flexible work is about asking “how can I help my team better balance ALL of their priorities so they can be more productive for me?” instead of asking them to choose between them.

 

Here are 7 different ways you can do that…

 

7 types of flexibility in the workplace.

 

While I’m a bit proponent of working remotely, it is not the only flexibility arrangement that is out there. Here are 7 different types of flexibility you could offer to your teams (depending on what makes the most sense).

 

  1. Telecommuting – that is, working remotely part-time. According to Gallup, the telecommuting works best when an employee is in the office two or three days per week. 
  2. Remote Work –  A permanent or temporary position where employees do not come into the office and often live in another city/state/country. Meetings are held via video conferencing and phone calls.
  3. Condensed Workweeks – While most companies have implemented the standard 40-hour work week across 5 days, some offer employees the ability to work the same hours in 4 days instead. 
  4. Flexible Working Hours – The standard 9 to 5 isn’t always the best option for everyone. Some people aren’t morning people, some have to get to the bank in the middle of the day, etc. So allowing your team to choose their own work hours (or a window to do so) is really helpful. 
  5. Part-time Positions – Not every role needs full-time hours and not everyone wants to work full-time hours. So offering part-time positions can help increase productivity. 
  6. Job Sharing – Job sharing is basically two people sharing the same job and working part-time. It’s not very common, but it can work for some businesses/roles. 
  7. Flexible/Unlimited Personal Time Off (PTO) – This has become pretty common in the startup world. And in my experience, you must have the right culture to really make it work. It sounds nice to candidates, but far too often it ends up “encouraging” people to take less time off.

 

These are the most common flexible work arrangements. But remember, the goal is to help your team balance their lives with work so they can be most productive.

 

So try approaching flexibility with a flexible mindset. Ask yourself how you can best serve your team (even better, ask them) and find ways to make that happen!

 

3 ways workplace flexibility benefits your business.

1. Flexible work arrangements make you more desirable for top talent.

 

A study by Global Workplace Analytics found that more than 9 out of 10 U.S. employees would like to work remotely for at least 2-3 days a week. They also found that half of all jobs in the U.S. would allow for part-time telework, but that only about one-quarter to one-fifth actually can.

 

That’s a pretty big gap between what people want from their work environment and what they’re actually getting. And as the saying goes, “water always flows downhill.” So if you offer a flexible work arrangement, you’re going to instantly be more attractive to just about every candidate.

 

Take this client of ours for example… initially, he was completely against hiring remotely. And that, combined with his location and high standards for who he’d hire, made the search very difficult. 

 

In fact, we ended up backing away from him after working on the search for 6 months because there simply wasn’t anyone interested.

 

Fast forward 2 months and we revisited our engagement, this time with remote on the table… he made 3 perfect hires in just 3 months that are still on the team doing great things to this day!

 

Word gets around…

 

Not only does a flexible work arrangement help you while you’re recruiting, but it can also help you recruit “passively.”

 

Check out this LinkedIn post from a remote employee at Chili Piper:

 

The power of digital is fierce!

 

Just imagine what a posting like this is doing to showcase how great it is to work for your company… and how much it will help to find your next hire!

 

2. Flexible work arrangements improve retention.

 

As Hubspot wrote in a recent article, the greatest threat to sales teams today is not losing customers… it’s losing members of their sales team.

 

In this ultra-competitive talent marketplace, this is 100% true. Unemployment is at an all-time low and jobs are so plentiful that job-hopping has (unfortunately) become incredibly commonplace.

 

The good news is, studies have shown that flexible work arrangements actually help you keep your team together. One study found that: 

 

  • 82% of those they surveyed would be more loyal if they had more flexibility
  • 34% have left a job because their employer did not provide flexibility
  • 24% are actively looking because their employer does not provide flexibility

 

3. Flexible work arrangements increase engagement and productivity.

 

The study above also found that the employees of companies without a flexible work arrangement were 2x more likely to feel dissatisfied with work.

 

And since other studies have shown that job satisfaction is directly related to productivity, this matters greatly.

 

How much does it impact productivity? One study conducted by Harvard Business Review found that engaged employees were 16% more productive than those that weren’t. Even better, they found that they were 125% more likely to avoid burnout. 

 

Another study by Gallup estimated that engaged employees are 21% more productive.

 

I can also tell you first hand that having the flexibility to get my work done on my terms has been one of the greatest engagement drivers and productivity boosters for my success.

 

How to ensure your flexibility policy will be effective.

 

A lot of research has been done by Google to try to understand what makes some teams effective and others ineffective, including those that are distributed. What they’ve found absolutely lines up with my experience as a remote worker.

 

Here is what is most critical when implementing a flexible work arrangement to ensure it’s effective.

 

1. Focus on results, not activity.

 

One of the reasons I’m such a big advocate for remote/flexible work is that I feel it forces us as leaders to focus on what really matters: results.

 

Does it really matter how many hours someone works (or where they work them) as long as they drive the results the business needs? Does it matter if they’re someone you’d want to grab a drink with if they can execute?

 

Personally, if someone can create the results I’m looking for and still communicate effectively, I don’t care if they’re on Mars or pick their nose.

 

2. Foster real relationships.

 

As it turns out, the water cooler does more than just keep your team hydrated… it actually helps your team bond (which increases productivity). But when your team is even semi-distributed, some of this natural bonding is lost.

 

The truth is, you’re right – flexible work arrangements can make it harder to build culture. A feeling of disconnectedness is very common for remote teams. 

 

That’s why it’s very important that you work to combat this. Even simple things like eating lunch or having coffee over a Zoom call can build a connection much in the same way the water cooler would.

 

So yes, results are important. But finding ways to build real relationships and show your team you care about them is also critical for your success.

 

3. Prioritize effective communication.

 

Communication is key no matter whether your team is distributed or in the office. But it’s absolutely essential when you start talking about flexible work arrangements (like remote for instance).

 

You’re simply in contact less when you’re working remotely (even if it’s part-time). So the weight that each touchpoint carries is much greater.

 

Here are four tips to improve your communication with distributed/semi-distributed teams:

 

  1. Be prompt – both with making calls and with responses to your teams. Delays increase the feeling that you don’t care/aren’t there.
  2. Be proactive – showing your teams that you’re proactive increases their trust and in some cases, can be the difference between them being successful or not.
  3. Be (extra) clear – communication breakdowns are doubly painful when you’re not remote. Make sure expectations are set early and often!
  4. Be concise – don’t waste your teams’ time on pointless calls. Make sure the call is really necessary before you schedule it.

 

Finally, in my experience, when your teams aren’t always on the same schedule, they are more likely to feel they’re not getting enough communication. So if this is new to you, I’d recommend erring on the side of what feels like over-communication at first.

 

How to hire and manage distributed teams.

 

For more on the tactical how-to’s of distributed teams (including how to hire the right people for them), I’ve written a separate article that breaks down what I’ve seen work in the last 12+ years I’ve been working remotely. Check it out here.