Food For Thought: Embracing Flexible Working

Food For Thought | November 30 2018

Ever since the legislation in 2014, flexible working is a topic on the minds and lips of many HR professionals. We heard it at both Disrupt HR London and Inspire Recruitment events we attended and is a recurring theme in many other discussions linked to change, recruitment, performance management, learning and development and more.

Why are we talking about it?
  • Technological advancements have changed how we work. This means that challenges for employees linked to longer commutes, childcare and family commitments can be mitigated by remote working and flexitime. A prime example of how both young and older workers take advantage of this is the rise of the gig economy, freelancing and juggling multiple businesses.
  • Numerous studies echo what many have felt to be true, that more autonomy over where and when you work to enable people to allocate more time to family and activities outside of work. Benefits of this include better work-life balance, improved well-being and lower turnover intentions due to better-perceived job quality.

Despite the popularity the concept has gained, many employees who are legally entitled to flexible working arrangements are still facing barriers. This is because organisations and managers are wary of how employees’ physical absence might impact performance. So, considering that both legislation, technology and efforts to improve individual outcomes are all aligning to make flexible working more standardised, why exactly are organisations still reluctant to embrace it?

Potential challenges
  • Managers are not trained to manage remote workers and flexible working employees effectively. This is important, because, of course, there will be differences in managing people this way and managers are not really prepared for this. Hence, fears and concerns regarding how to evaluate productivity, employees ‘slacking’ and how to communicate with and motivate employees who are not physically present arise and make managers biased against flexible hours.
  • The way we define ‘high performance’ or a ‘hard worker’ still includes elements of behaviour that can only be observed when you can physically supervise others or communicate face-to-face. Things like time-keeping, showing up for the team, being the first in and last out, speaking up etc. are things we implicitly associated with someone being dedicated and hard-working. However, they may no longer be adequate for informing our view of someone’s performance.
  • The culture within the team or business can also be an issue as transitioning to a more flexible way of working can create hurdles for team cohesion and employees themselves. Workers may not be fully prepared for the issues that arise as they must keep each other accountable and deal with project setbacks remotely. Additionally, research indicates that those who do work flexibly or remotely, are more likely to struggle with isolation, insecurity about their career progression and managing boundaries between work and home life.

Of course, the above is not an exhaustive list and it’s important to consider, there are still many jobs that by their very nature make flexible working more difficult. However, for the purposes of this thought piece, how could we address the above? As businesses work to catch up technologically, there are a number of things to consider in addressing the other more human aspects that can be barriers to more effective flexible working.

Some solutions to consider
  • Prepare managers for the practicalities of managing remote workers. Research has shown that a key element of successful virtual teams is building trust, regular communication, accountability and clear boundaries and expectations.
  • Move away from subjective evaluations of performance to more objective ones. To begin with set specific, clear, time-bound goals and objectives for employees and find the best way to monitor progress on these for everyone. Those should be both long-term and short-term weekly or even daily tasks depending on the job or project.
  • Understanding team composition and individual needs, traits and preferences when it comes to working can enable both managers and team members to develop a method of working together that is best for them and incorporate checks and balances to keep people on track. For example, highly conscientious workers may not need much directive management, whereas those who score lower on this trait, may benefit from more regular deadlines.

In summary, flexible working hours are an important topic to discuss and professionals should be looking for ways of how they can enable their employees to benefit from this option in their working life. With the right tools and through training businesses and managers can both achieve their business goals and embrace flexible working practices for themselves and employees. For example, personality assessments tools can help teams and managers understand each other better, tailor communication and anticipate needs. It is important to note, these tools shouldn’t be used to decide who should be granted flexitime; as everyone has the right to choose this option. They should be a way to make sure that everyone is equally prepared, can adjust quicker and easier to the transition, and raise their own and other’s self-awareness about how they might behave and what they will require in this new type of working arrangement.

Stay tuned for more on how to manage and meet the needs of remote workers depending on individual trait differences, and more. Meanwhile, check out more info on our trait personality assessment, or how to become a trait assessor



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