Workforce flexibility strategies are becoming more common and more in demand. Employees desperately want them, and employers are beginning to see their advantages. But it’s critical that flexibility doesn’t mean a free for all. Creating a smart flexibility program allows both sides to meet their goals in a mutually-beneficial arrangement.
Why Do You Need a Workforce Flexibility Strategy?
Although 80% of companies offer flexibility, only 36% of them have an official policy for it. This results in gaps and inconsistencies over who receives flexible workplace options, and that’s bad for interpersonal relations. The fact is that many employees must negotiate the terms of flexible workplace arrangements, which makes this valuable perk a matter of persuasion, and not policy. Competition for who gets what is never good for morale.
In addition, making a workforce flexibility strategy introduces fairness into the process and creates predictability for teams. Ad-hoc scheduling results in confusion, so allowing managers and coworkers to plan around a known in-office team minimizes disruptions.
The Four Parts of Flexibility Policy
There are essentially four considerations that form the basis of a workforce flexibility strategy: where work is done, when work is done, how work is done, and who is a candidate for what type of flexibility.
The core idea of flexibility is about working from home vs. working from the office. But the complications of this setup can have a real impact on operations. HR needs to look at the following issues:
- Is a home office the only acceptable location, or can employees do their jobs while on vacation or in a café? For customer-facing people in particular, looking and sounding professional is crucial.
- What situations require that an employee come to the office? Most remote work positions essentially operate from home. But telecommuting and WFH (work from home) usually involve some time in the office.
- Who is responsible for equipment and setup? Providing laptops and free access to remote networking software is standard. But employees often need better lighting, an uncluttered workspace, and even furniture to do a proper job.
Like the “where” issue, it’s important to establish clear boundaries. There will probably be times during usual working hours when the employee must be available for online meetings. Similarly, it’s up to the employee to clarify problematic issues when their manager is available, and not during the hours that they decide to work.
Adjusting to a flex time setting also requires a change in organizational culture. Some managers and companies prefer “face time” and simply want employees to be in the office, regardless of flexibility advantages. HR should consider the concept of a “Results-Only Work Environment” to encourage acceptance of flex time.
One of the central concepts of job enrichment is “autonomy.” It is up to an employee to decide what procedures to follow when performing their own tasks. Due to their talent, or perhaps experience, some employees develop a better way of doing their job than the regular methods allow. Again, this might conflict with organizational culture, so HR should create guidelines for how innovation should be handled.
Not every position is viable for a flexible work program. For instance, customer-facing employees in a retail company need to be physically present. Before including certain workers in an employee flexibility initiative, their role should be examined to determine eligibility.
But this can create a two-tier system and resentment. To resolve this issue, companies can consider moves such as:
- Retail Flex – Companies like Apple are looking into programs where salespeople can work from home on occasion to perform online sales, customer support, and technical support duties. This idea can be extended to other industries by looking at which parts of an employee’s job can be done while out of the office.
- Pay to Stay – More than half of employees would take a pay cut to achieve a better work/life balance. Employees would also accept salaries that are up to 5% lower in exchange for flexibility. Conversely, workers who commit to stay in the office can get a boost in salary.
Make Sure to Measure Flexibility
Let’s not forget that some managers are not totally comfortable with flexible workplaces. This is because we are looking at a fundamental change in the nature of running a business. It might take a while until results are proven and managers confirm its value to the organization.
In the meantime, HR should keep track of performance to ensure that flexibility is not abused. Similarly, flexible employees should be monitored to make sure that they have all the skills and resources they need to maintain productivity and satisfaction. Areas to be assessed include:
- Productivity – hours worked, units sold, deals closed
- Cost – investments in remote working equipment and services
- Attitudes – opinions of employees and managers regarding engagement, satisfaction, and work/life balance
- Recruiting – cost and time per hire, retention rates, awareness and importance of flexible workplaces
Warm-Up for Workplace Flexibility with GrowthSpace
Employees in a flexible workplace setting are not always able to function optimally. On their own, they can run into challenges that require certain skills to resolve. But help might be unavailable during critical moments.
To reduce the risks that come with employee flexibility, it’s important to give workers the right skills. GrowthSpace lets HR/L&D teams provide exactly the abilities that each employee needs to make the most of a flexible program. And, to fit the bill, GrowthSpace programs are available wherever they are needed, thereby adding convenience to capabilities.