The business case for work flexibility has never been stronger. According to a recent study, from the Families and Work Institute, 63 percent of employees in 2012 work from home some of the time, as opposed to 34 percent in 2005; meanwhile, 77 percent of employees have flexibility in their start times in 2012, up from 68 percent in 2005.
As a manager, you’re likely to encounter an increasing number of requests for flexible or non-traditional work schedules, which include telecommuting (working remotely); a shortened work week (four days’ work for four days’ pay); a compressed workweek (four longer days for fulltime pay); flextime (changing on-duty or on-site hours); or jobshare (two people sharing one job).
Your team leads are likely to want clarification when their team members ask for flexible hours. Should you grant them all, reject them, or respond on a case-by-case basis? Here are four points you need to consider.
Have a policy
The worst thing you can do is to have no official guidelines, and leave it to your individual managers and team leads to improvise. Inconsistent decisions can have an adverse effect on morale when one team gets to work from home while others are required to come in to the office.
Having a policy, however lightweight, can allow you and your team to manage the process. “Many of us work virtually and flexibly,” says Marcia Ellis, president of Allegiant Growth Partners in Fairfield, Conn., a leadership development company. “To have a plan and a process for flexible work means it can be managed on the company’s terms. If you don’t have a process, you’re all over the place.” Sometimes the need for a policy comes up only when there’s a stress point and people are upset – and decision-making is impaired.
Marissa Mayer at Yahoo caused a big stir last year by telling employees working remotely that they would be required to work in the office. Some critics accused her of being anti-family, but others – including Yahoo insiders – said that the company’s work-from-home policy was lax and led to frequent abuses. A thoughtful policy would preclude such problems.
Need some more concrete details? Consider the examples from Columbia University and the University of Chicago. And keep in mind that if the employee is asking for a special schedule based on Families and Medical Leave Act reasons, you are legally bound to grant it.
Who should—and should not—have flextime?
You might want to give consideration to those who actually ask for it. But don't base your decision on the employee's reasons for wanting flex time: You don’t want to decide that Anna's reason is better than Bob's reason; any good human resources person (or lawyer) will tell you that this can work against you. Make the decision based on the work—and the work alone.
Tell your team leads to have the employee write a proposal with a description of what their workday looks like now...and what it will look like with flexibility.
If she’s asking for a four-day workweek with four days’ pay, her goals should be adjusted accordingly. If he needs you to buy a new laptop to do the job, have him explain that too. Having proposals in writing clarifies expectations, should there be any questions down the road.
Not every role is well suited for flexibility: A programmer can often work from home, but a group that maintains hardware obviously must have team members on-site. That doesn't mean you can't be flexible about start and end times, though—if one kind of flexibility doesn't work, another might be an agreeable compromise.
Test it out
Flex time can be thought of as a productivity tool: According to the University of Chicago, flexible schedules result in increased productivity, as well as reduced absenteeism and turnover.
Before agreeing to a permanent change, make a flexible arrangement temporary at first, and build in a three-month reassessment. Establish a clear way to measure performance so it can be unambiguously evaluated—did their performance increase or drop off? Did the rest of their team benefit or suffer?
Make sure your flex-timer is connected with Skype, Asana, QuickBase, Trello, Google Hangouts, and other time- and place-shifting productivity tools. That way, she can attend meetings along with the rest of the team.
Good managers manage by performance goals, not whose buttocks are in the chair.
But as the manager, it's up to you to assess the results.
Invest in flexibility
All of the above will help you establish ground rules for flexible work arrangements and keep your work force happy while avoiding loss of productivity. But to really do flexibility well, consider investing in it.
For example, rather than relying on Skype, invest in a proper videoconferencing solution that works equally well between offices and team members working from home. If you have programmers on staff, provide effective remote access to your network that lets them work without jumping through hoops without compromising on your security.
These measures will make working remotely more productive and mitigate the drawbacks of employees being physically out of the building. But they won't happen unless you dedicate some time and resources to enable them. Lucky for you, you're in a position to do so.
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