How to create a winning flexible working policy for your business
Forward thinking leaders and organisations are quickly realising that they need to rethink their stance on flexible working. This includes challenging their understanding of what flexible working actually means to create something unique and helpful for both their business and employees.
To help you start thinking about this and create a winning flexible working policy which works for your business, I’ll be covering:
- The real value of becoming flexible
- The myths about flexible working
- The challenges of getting your policy right
- The most important tip to remember
- What a successful flexible working policy will look like
And don’t forget to download my checklist which outlines how to create a flexible working policy in easy to follow steps.
The real value of becoming flexible
Setting up employees for success
We are all individuals who require slightly different environments to be our most productive selves. Organisations are starting to understand that the real value to becoming a flexible employer is about helping employees succeed. It’s about allowing people to have a say in how, when and where they do their work. By doing this, you make employees accountable for their output and give them some control over the way in which they work.
Providing employees with some level of choice will help them accomodate for their individual circumstances, eliminating their stress levels and ultimately making them happier, more engaged and more productive. Business needs will have to be considered, however it’s trying to find a reasonable compromise that can work for everyone.
Flexibility can also help organisations bring in more diversity and become more inclusive. Take remote working as an example. Cities like New York or London tend to be much more expensive to live in which in turn may discourage young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds to move there, ultimately self-selecting out of jobs in those locations. A similar argument applies for working mothers/carers, in that they tend to want to be close to the people they care for – in cases of emergencies – and therefore working in the city is not always conducive for them.
If your senior leaders are still on the fence about flexible working, ask them, why wouldn’t they want happier, healthier, more productive people in their business? Help them uncover reasons that may cause them discomfort. While some reasons may be valid, ensure that they are not making assumptions or believing in the many myths out there.
The myths about flexible working
Although there may be many, below are some of the common ones.
Employee productivity will suffer
A common flexible working stigma is linked to how dedicated and/or hard working employees are. Historically, those who asked for flexibility, may have been perceived as lacking dedication.
The reality is that most people asking for flexibility have reflected on how their life and individual circumstances have impacted their job. When they approach their employer with a flexibility request, it is because they believe to have found a way to become more efficient.
By assuming that they don’t care about the organisation, you may actually be disengaging your most loyal and dedicated workforce.
We can’t accommodate it
Another barrier to implementing flexible working can be the assumption that accommodation will be difficult and disruptive to your business.
This is where you need to be asking the right questions to evaluate whether the request is reasonable. While you do this, make sure to also challenge the assumptions you're making.
For example, one of your employees may be asking for a change in working hours. The business assumption may be that to service our customers, we need employees to be available from 9 to 5. Is this a reality or an assumption? Have you already asked your customers what times they are likely to need to get in touch with you? It may be that some may want to get in touch earlier or later. Could your employees who are requested a change in hours actually help you reach more customers? Only you can assess this, but the important thing is to challenge your thinking before automatically declining a request.
Everyone will want the same thing
Many managers and leaders avoid flexible working because they worry that everyone will want the exact same flexibility. Although employers should treat all employees fairly, the reality is that not all employees require the same things. Accepting part-time working requests is often a catalyst for this train of thought. The worry being that if managers allow one employee to work part-time then the rest of the team will want to do the same.
The reality is often very different. You won’t get many people rushing to take those part-time hours because they rely on their full-time income. Remember that people won’t always have the same requests because their situations are often different. The whole point of flexibility is to customise your arrangements for the individual.
Of course, you can’t always approve every single request because sometimes these may negatively impact the needs of the business or other employees. It’s just important to be mindful that you’re treating your employees as fairly as possible by thoroughly considering their requests.
Things to keep in mind
Don’t let the fear of failing stop you
Many organisations put too much pressure on themselves to get it right the first time. This is understandable as no one wants to implement something and have it fail.
It’s important to remember however that it doesn't need to be perfect. Be open with your employees from the beginning, let them know that there may be a trial period, explain that you may adapt and change the policy as you go to best suit the needs of your employees and your business. Employees will appreciate your willingness to try something new.
Flexibility is different for everyone
Before assuming what flexibility your employees need, ask them. So much of the flexible working debate focuses on hours of work or location of work. Your employees might have something completely different in mind. Some people may want flexibility over when they schedule breaks while others may want to bring in pets into the office. You’ll never know unless you ask.
Don’t mandate ‘flexibility’
This is a trap that some organisations with the best of intentions fall into. An example would be an organisation who decides to be completely flexible by getting rid of their office space and have everyone work remotely. On the face of it, this seems very flexible, however it completely overlooks employees who enjoy or even need to work in an office.
It’s important to understand what your employees want from flexible working before making any sweeping changes to the working environment.
Show employees your willingness to try something new
From the outset of implementing flexible working, be very open and transparent with your people. When trying something new, it’s usually helpful to explain and outline clearly what the business is committing to, but also important to remind everyone that policies are reviewed and assessed periodically to ensure they continue to benefit both the employees and the business. Explain to employees that things will likely be a little rough around the edges at first and reassure them that you will be there to listen and support them along the way. This is especially true if you’ve never tried implementing flexible working before and you don't really know what's going to happen.
If your organisation is still particularly hesitant, start with smaller, less controversial changes. Hopefully the success of these will encourage leaders to take bigger steps next time.
Look beyond working hours
For roles that are not conducive to remote working or adjusted hours, flexible working will mean something very different. Look for ways to accommodate their needs at work rather than focussing on the flexibility you can’t provide.
Ask employees what flexibility they might appreciate. You may be surprised by some of the requests. You might have people asking for the ability to listen to music while they work, the freedom to answer personal calls, or the ability to select their break times. Basically, you won’t know until you ask.
Find the right balance
At the end of the day, you need to ensure that you find the balance between your employees’ needs and your organisation’s mission. Don’t follow or mimic what other organisations are doing. Only you will know what is right for your own business, but don’t over complicate things and don’t assume that it has to be a difficult journey.
What’s the one thing to keep in mind?
Create your policy for the 90%
Whenever you create any policy, create it for the 90% of employees who want to do an amazing job and be proud of their work. Don’t spend most of your time worried about the very small group of people who may try and find a way to abuse it.
Your focus has to be on the dedicated employees who want to help your business succeed. Finding ways to help them reach their full potential will ensure their and your business’ success.
What will a successful flexible working policy look like?
Employees will be engaged and productive
It’s simple, you’ll know you’ve got it right when you find yourself surrounded by dedicated, engaged, healthy and productive employees who help your business succeed. This is when you can be happy that you’ve found the right balance and shown your organisation to be one that trusts its employees to do the right job.
Thanks for reading. I hope it answers some of your questions around flexible working!