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How to start the flexible working discussion with your team

Flexible working practices

Written by Amela Bajric
Nov 06, 2019

There is an abundance of articles, blogs and reports that cite the impact of technology on new working practices, how it can facilitate our working day, enrich our working lives and provide the work-life balance we yearn for, but are we actually implementing this technology? And if not, then how do we start that conversation?

It’s very common to hear nowadays how technology allows so much work-life balance flexibility. After all, we can work from home by logging into the company’s CRM remotely. We can hold meetings with clients over Skype and we use cloud-based technologies to allow for a frictionless workflow between employees who do not need to work in the same building anymore.

As a result, we might think that this would have fostered a dramatic decrease in morning commuter traffic, but we have witnessed nothing of the sort. People want more flexibility over when they work, but are often hemmed into the '9-to-5' despite the fact that their employers have the tools and infrastructure to offer an alternative. 

This said, what is changing is the scale of business being conducted across international time zones. As this is increasing, companies need to offer flexible working times and methods to support this growth. 

People want more flexibility over when they work, but are often hemmed into the '9-to-5' despite the fact that their employers have the tools and infrastructure.

However, it is in fact a delicate balance to strike. Employees fear that asking for remote working arrangements will signal a lack of dedication, while managers are unsure of how to monitor their team members and keep them accountable if the metric is not time spent at a designated office.

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Here is a list of topics to broach for a productive conversation, so that both employees and managers are happy with the new-found arrangement.

Emphasising results as opposed to 'time logged'

Expectations about deadlines will need to be spelled out and made extremely clear.

The metric of the traditional workplace was to arrive at a certain time and leave a number of hours afterwards. This is no longer the case, especially with the rise of remote working. The main question for employers is how to ensure that this new working model doesn't result in a sharp decline in productivity.

Expectations about deadlines will need to be made extremely clear if non-verbal cues for urgency, like the general buzz of the office or the mood of a manager, are no longer part of the landscape.

Both employee and manager will need to agree on a modus operandi that will have to include more formal communication, without going into micromanaging territory. In return, the employee will need to state precisely what they are working on and when they expect to be finished.

The manager will need to emphasise specific timeframes and highlight which other employees might be waiting on a specific deliverable before they can move forward.

The water cooler conversations need to be moved online, for example to instant messaging platforms such as Slack, Google Hangouts or Atlassian’s HipChat.

Keeping everybody's eyes on the big-picture objectives

So much for the urgent, but the important also needs to remain centre stage. There needs to be a way to keep long-term goals at the fore, without them getting buried at the bottom of lengthy email exchanges.

This will require thinking about managing people and their output differently whereby processes and systems ensure that objectives are met. Project management software will help oversee who is doing what, when, how long it takes them and to identify if there is needless overlap.

There are many tools available for this, from a straightforward project board like Trello, or Teamwork, to a more complex management suite like Basecamp, or a company's own custom platforms. All of these methods and technologies offer a more collaborative way of working that enables prioritising and efficiencies outside an email exchange.

 There needs to be a way to keep long-term goals at the fore.

Protect sensitive information

Employees working remotely need to be briefed on data security and digital assets need to be appropriately protected. Security personnel will help to identify and mitigate risks to proprietary company assets including records, databases and sensitive information.

If a team member is sitting in a coffee shop using open wi-fi, could a hacker gain access to their computer and obtain client details? If an employee brings a laptop out of the building with confidential information and the device gets stolen, could the thief log in? 

Are employees aware of specific chat etiquette, so that classified information doesn’t find its way on to the internal chat forum? After you identify the risks, you need to document standard operational practices, communicate them to your team and clearly illustrate the importance of following them.

Are employees aware of specific chat etiquette?

Taking the immaterial environment into account

Productivity is also a factor of working alongside others on the same projects. The sense of community within the environment will change. If more people are working outside of the office, to point out a simple fact, there will be fewer people in the office.

This has a number of consequences. Those who enjoy being around and working with other people may not react well and this could have a considerable impact on their work experience, as well as their performance.

People who need a little external nudge might find themselves missing the structure of the office environment. Certain platforms offer a 'random' chat channel, so that the more informal conversations that are a part of office life are not lost in the new online context. 

Observe how the sense of community in your office environment changes and how your teams react. Talk to them about how this is affecting their experience in work, their productivity and their connection with colleagues.

Observe how the sense of community in your office environment changes.

Finally, the door should remain open for any remote working arrangements to be discussed again, modified or abandoned. It is important that people should not feel locked into a system if it turns out that it is not working for them - being adaptable is key.

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