More employers than ever are ditching the notion of the 9-5 and attracting top talent by allowing more flexible work arrangements. And why shouldn’t they? With the widespread availability of Wi-Fi, many jobs can be done just as well in a beachside café or a dentist’s waiting room as in a cubicle. In fact, Gallup research indicates that flexible work options like telecommuting can increase engagement levels. Those who worked from home 3 or 4 days per week were more engaged than those who spent all their time in the office. Despite the benefits to employees, however, managing a team that is not guaranteed to all be in the same space at once can be a challenge to managers. If you’re wondering how to handle your company’s new work from home policy, here are some tips for managing a flexible team successfully.
First, Create Some Ground Rules
Flexible work schedules should, of course, be flexible, but they shouldn’t turn into a free-for-all. Before the policy is put into place, set some ground rules, especially regarding time management. How will team members communicate with you and each other? Will they have normal hours for them, and check in when they need to deviate? Or will it be more relaxed, with employees coming in when they want, but logging hours? How will communication and availability work when people are working from home? It all depends on your company’s vision for flexible work schedules, but it pays to establish some groundwork up front to avoid misunderstandings. If there’s no specific plan for how the company will execute flexible working hours, talk to your team. What do they need? What works best for them? From there, you can examine how it will work with the team’s needs.
Never Play Favorites
Whether it’s in the workplace, classroom or athletic field, one essential component of great leadership remains the same: everyone, no matter their role, gets treated with respect. This respect can be exemplified in a number of ways, but it’s essential that your team has a clear understanding of your respect for each and every one of them. If you’re going to let one person use the policy for accommodating something important in their life, you need to let others do it as well. Whether that means taking a child to an appointment or observing religious customs, you can’t be the one to decide what is important and what isn’t. Your team is made up of individuals, and they all have different priorities and obligations. You need to let them decide what those priorities are, not dictate what they should be.
Use In-Office Time Wisely
When you do have your team members in the office, make good use of that time. Schedule necessary meetings, set aside brainstorming time, and check in with people. Some tasks are absolutely easier in person, so make sure everyone has ample time for these meetings when they are in the office.
Don’t Let People Take Advantage
Most people have good intentions, and typically, it’s unusual for employees to abuse flexible work arrangements. They understand that they have a job to do, and that it still needs to be done, despite some wiggle room on where and when. It’s important to establish expectations about what constitutes abuse of the policy, and enforce it when necessary. That doesn’t mean micromanaging or being overly authoritarian—it just means being fair. Other employees will resent people obviously slacking—and brushing these incidents off sends a signal that it’s easy to take advantage of the system
While it’s important to be firm about getting work done and not gaming the system, flexible work arrangements don’t work without a certain amount of trust. If you’ve hired well, your team will appreciate the options they have, and make use of their time so they’re most productive. If you haven’t hired well, those who are slacking or just don’t make the cut will become clear very quickly. As Jennifer Owens, editorial director of Working Mother magazine says:
“As long as I can get to you and get the job done, I kind of don’t care.”
Nervous about testing out flexible work hours? Don’t be. You can always tweak processes if you find out your original plan isn’t working. Another tip? Try it yourself. Be a role model and practice flexible work arrangements as you’d like to see them emulated in the workplace. Breathe a little and remember the benefits—not only will your company likely save money, but 25% of workers who are allowed to work from home experience lower stress levels, and are 76% more loyal to their companies! Welcome to an exciting new future of balance and flexibility.