Motivate Your Team By Being More Flexible

Flexible work arrangements, or "FWA," for short, are becoming increasingly common.  Providing flexibility for employees is a great way to meet the wide range of needs and interests of the workforce, without significant implementation costs.  Research is showing that organizations that offer flexibility to their employees often have increased productivity, higher employee engagement, and sometimes reduced operating costs.  They also are better able to recruit a high-caliber, diverse workforce, which will become increasingly important as the "war for talent" continues.

Even if your organization isn't on the FWA bandwagon yet, it is to your benefit to provide as much flexibility as you can for your employees, while still meeting your team goals.  You'll have happier, more productive, more loyal employees, and hopefully a little more work-life balance for yourself as well.  (Don't forget to include yourself when implementing FWA on your team!)

What are flexible work arrangements?

Flexible work arrangements can involve flexibility in where the work gets done, flexibility in when the work gets done, or both.  Examples of flexible work arrangements include things like:

  • Flexible schedule (start and end time is different than core office hours)
  • Compressed work week, where the same number of hours are worked in fewer days so that the employee can take time off without using vacation time
  • Telework on an ad hoc basis, such as to wait for a delivery or to be home with a sick child
  • Telework on a consistent basis, such as every Tuesday
  • Seasonal schedule, such as getting to leave early on Fridays in the summer to balance out crunch period in spring
  • Phased retirement, where the employee continues to do the same level of work but gradually scales back the number of hours worked

Flexible work arrangements can help employees manage their family responsibilities more effectively, pursue hobbies or other personal interests, work at the times when they are at their best, and basically better balance their professional and personal lives.  One employee might want to work a compressed work week in order to volunteer, another might like a flexible schedule in order to be home for kids, another might like to telework to reduce time spent in the car commuting.  FWAs are a benefit that appeals to all generations and experience levels because they can be individualized to the employee's needs. 

While FWAs can be great for morale and motivation, they do require an intentional approach to manage them well.  Here are some tips for how to make FWAs work on your team:

Take a structured approach.  
If your organization has a policy, follow that, but at a minimum make sure that you have a document that outlines what the employee's regular work hours will be and how communication will be handled for the times where the employee is working outside of core office hours and/or from another location.  

Regularly meet with the employee to discuss their projects and progress.  
The biggest fear managers usually have with employees working at times/places where the manager can't see them is that the employee will slack off.  To make this a nonissue, make sure you are actively managing the employee and tracking their progress against their goals.  

Discuss with the employee how information will be shared and what your expectations are regarding their response times.  
If you send them an e-mail on their compressed work week "off day," are they expected to respond?  

Schedule periodic reviews of how the flexible work arrangements on your team are going.  
Once per quarter is probably the most frequent you would need to do this, and if things are going well you might stretch it to annually.  However, it's important to have reviews, both to ensure that nothing needs to be altered in the arrangement and also to remind the employee that the FWA is a privilege, not an entitlement.

Use FWAs as a motivational tool.  
High performers get more flexibility, both as a reward and because they've earned your trust, and low performers get less flexibility. 

Make sure you are aware of potential legal impacts.  
You may want to check with your HR department if FWAs are not widespread at your organization, just to ensure that you aren't creating potential issues.  For example, non-exempt employees have to be paid overtime for hours over 40 in one week, even if they work fewer hours the next week,  so that needs to be factored in if they want to do a compressed work week.  (In California, the rules are even more stringent - make sure you check!)  

Be transparent in granting or denying FWA requests and tie your decision to the job duties and level of performance.  
As much as possible, avoid basing FWA decisions on the reason for the request.  The reason shouldn't matter, and in some cases you  might get into tricky territory by appearing to discriminate based on a protected category.  Whether or not an employee can work in a way that varies from what is typical for the office should depend on whether the job duties can still be adequately performed and whether the employee can adequately perform them using the FWA.  

Identify core days and hours where all employees are expected to be at work in the office.  
For example, you could say that everyone on the team needs to be in the office on Wednesdays from 10 to 2 unless they are taking leave.  You can then schedule important meetings and events for that time, knowing they can all be present.

If anyone on the team regularly works remotely, adjust your operations as if everyone is working remotely.  
 

This will ensure that the remote employee receives critical communications and has the same relationship-building opportunities as the others.  For example, if two of your five team members are teleworking on the day of a project update meeting, consider conducting the meeting virtually even for the employees who are physically in the office.  This will help you identify better ways of communicating and possibly surface additional opportunities to be flexible if the team practices become really effective.

Don't wait for your organization to figure out that flexible work arrangements are a critical success factor.  As long as you are staying within official policy and legal limits, you should be able to be more flexible with your team even without an official process from your organization.  And if your company does offer FWA, definitely take advantage of the support and resources available. 

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