Flexible working has graduated from a pipe dream into a full reality for many employees and companies across the globe. From offering adaptable office hours to employing a host of freelancers, British businesses are increasingly entrusting their employees to choose their own way to work. However, many businesses appear to believe that once they 'adopt' a flexible working culture, their job is done. This is far from the truth. Just because an employee is not in your line of sight, does not mean they are no longer your responsibility.
To thrive, they still need to feel engaged with the business. They continue to require input from senior figures and careful management, something that can easily be forgotten when someone is not in the office every day.
With 51% of British workers finding the office unproductive, finding new ways to work are, and should be, firmly on companies’ agenda. By following the tips below, you will be able to ensure your business approaches flexible working in a way that pays dividends for years to come.
Keeping up with the culture
Would you let someone fly a plane solo without gaining their pilot’s license? Would you encourage anyone to participate in a marathon if they hadn’t run since school? I would guess not. So why would you assume that people could just immediately become productive 'anywhere workers' without guidance?
The fact of the matter is that while some might take to remote working like a fish to water, the majority of people will not be familiar enough with the practice to benefit from it fully. It is your responsibility as an employer to manage them through it.
Firstly, before implementing a full remote working policy, you need to ensure you have a responsible culture in place. Under no circumstance should you move from a 9-5 company to a remote working one immediately, without letting people acclimatise. Instead, you should begin with encouraging employees to work from home as often as it is feasible for them to do, slowly introducing the idea of a flexible culture.
Alongside this, your company should provide training to those expected to work remotely. This should contain advice on time management, best practices as well as the best places to work, all of which will provide the framework for people to be productive outside the office.
In these sessions, which should be conducted over several months, employees should be encouraged to raise concerns and difficulties about flexible working, ensuring their voices are heard. On this note, it is also important to run regular team meetings.
Dependent on the business, these should occur daily or weekly. This serves multiple purposes, as it not only lends people a sense of structure, but ensures everyone is moving in the same direction.
Selecting the software
Once you have nurtured, developed and delivered the culture and practices required for a flexible workforce, the next thing you need to look at is software. This is the foundation of the entire flexible working culture and should be treated with the utmost seriousness.
Think of it this way: it might be possible to construct a building with a plastic hammer, but it will take infinitely longer and cause a huge amount of stress. The same is true of software.
There are a few things you need to look out for when selecting the tools you will use to support remote working. Firstly, it should be powerful enough to handle collaboration. With employees working in different locations, if there are multiple people looking at a local document, any edits can be lost and made tricky to collate. The software should include document sharing as a standard.
It is also vital to look at how future-proof the technology is. Does it work on different operating systems? Are there mobile apps? Is it regularly updated? All these are issues you must analyse before adoption. Alongside this though, it is important to get input from your staff. Take advantage of a free trial and get your team to try out different software. It will be the team using it the most, so make sure they are happy with the technology and can envision making it the core part of their working lives.
What’s happening with hardware?
In the rush to adopt the best and most innovative software, hardware is regularly forgotten. When you create a flexible working culture, you cannot expect employees to use their own technology, unless they wish to do so. After all, if they were still office-bound would you tell everyone to bring in their computers from home?
Aside from supplying computers, it is also a wise move to provide or subsidise mobile devices. In a flexible working environment, a mobile is one of the key tools. It keeps people in touch, allows them to work when travelling between meetings and can also act as a hotspot for a computer if there are any internet downtimes.
Another element a company should look at is maybe less commonly discussed: furniture. It is taken for granted that an office location will have ergonomic desks and chairs, but this is less of a given when people work remotely.
A business can do a few things to help out here. They can either subsidise or purchase furniture for employees, which will be a small expenditure now paying for office space is less of a concern, or provide advice on the type of equipment required at home. Sitting poorly can damage both productivity and health, so should be high on the agenda of companies rolling out a remote working culture.
Become flexible yourself
If you are expecting to drive your business into the future, the culture has to begin with you. Leading by example is the key way to cement what is expected of your workers.
This can include constantly being in contact and providing updates, all the way through to sharing your original difficulties and how you overcame them. It has long been the thinking that you should never ask a worker to do something you would not do and remote working is no different.
Alongside this, it is also vital to recognise that different people are going to have varying reactions to a flexi-working culture. Millennials and older workers may have different levels of comfort with the trend, with a 2015 E&Y survey finding that one in six millennials (compared to the average, which was 1 in 10) are likely to have 'suffered a negative consequence as a result of having a flexible work schedule.'
The key here is to remember that everyone is different. While this culture is undoubtedly beneficial for the majority, other people will have a difficult time in adapting. As a leader in this field, you must ensure these individuals are given extra attention, helping them to overcome their issues and realise the benefits of flexible working.
Ultimately, implementing a modern workplace culture is not as simple as just saying you now do so. It is a complex and long-running process that requires serious investment of time. Still, with a dedicated, driven team, the benefits that flexible working can deliver are huge. Individuals will be more productive and feel happier about their lives, benefiting the company hugely.
Sourced from Sally Barringer, HR Manager, Unify