A few years ago working from home was relatively new and mainly something that technology or consulting companies offered. However, following the pandemic and with millions of workers effectively working remotely for over a year, the discussion of flexible working – which includes location and/or schedule flexibility – has become mainstream with most companies now required to have one or more flexible working policies.
There are two broad types of flexible working. One is where you work. The other is when you work. These are not mutually exclusive, but will be constrained depending on the type of role.
Should Companies be Concerned With a Remote or Flexible Working Culture?
As the impacts of the pandemic recede or become less impactful to the overall economy, many companies are grappling with the new paradigm shift around working styles, with a need to balance employee (or future talent) needs with business outcomes and efficiencies.
The Harvard Business Review (HBR) had a good article recently busting some of the myths around remote working which addressed several assumptions which may not be as bad as companies think under a flexible working model. This includes:
Span of Control
To maintain control and operational efficiency, set clear standards and over-communicate them. Be especially clear on the the types of flexibility offered. Organizations should also have the right systems, training and approval/tracking process for flexibility to ensure that the system is equitable. Use examples of real employees to show how this works and highlight success stories.
Keeping the Culture and Collaboration.
In person and joint settings – during and after work – are key to strengthen relationships. But even if you cannot meet physically every day or go out for lunch or after-work drinks, organization can still keep a strong culture with flex working models in place. They key is to codify what culture means to the company (guiding principles) and then determine how they might maintain this culture in a hybrid or virtual environment.
In reality, flexible work policies can work in any industry. The last twelve months of the pandemic have proven this. 81% of professionals [white collar workers generally] either don’t want to go back to the office or would choose a hybrid schedule post-pandemic.
No doubt companies have to get creative and use collaboration technology (e.g. video calls should be used for team meetings). But investing in hybrid options – e.g. quarterly in-person meetings – could be a good compromise.
Finally management must make it a focus for line managers to have regular 1-1 meetings with their employees to ensure engagement remains high and given enough discretion (with controls in place) to empower managers to directly support their teams.
Committing to regular meetings and consistent communication, will be the key to support ongoing collaboration. It’s important for all team members to maintain contact (even if it’s online), keep tabs on all projects, and be responsive to emails and phone calls.
Efficiency & Engagement
With endless online and social media distractions available on phones you really don’t know what your employees are doing at their desks, even if they are in the office. This makes it even more important to set key performance indicators at all levels and clearly communicate what is expected of each individual and manager on a regular basis.
Basically think of measuring employee productivity like gig or contract workers. This means evaluating them on the quality of their work and their ability to meet clearly defined quantitative and qualitative performance objectives. Time in the office is a 20th century measure and no longer applicable in many modern economy roles.
In terms of engagement its also important to remember there is no one size model that fits all. Everyone has different preferences, family constraints or goals. So It’s important to know what your employees prefer in terms of in-person, hybrid, or virtual-only connection. And then as a company you should enough flexible working options to support them to keep them engaged and recommend others to join your organization.
Compressed Work Schedules vs Remote Working
For those roles than cannot work remotely or for employees that prefer to work in an office setting for a majority of the time, a new approach called Compressed Work Scheduling (CWS) is gaining traction.
A CWS is essentially a modified schedule which allows an employee to work a traditional 40 hour workweek in a more compressed schedule. For example, a full-time employee could work four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days (4/10 schedule), or do 9-hour days over 2 weeks and get every other Friday off. This allows an employee to do the work they need to do on their schedule and enjoy more time-off/flexibility at the same time.
Implementing a CWS is hard to do for all employees and needs to a lot of procedural and tactical planning. E.g most HR systems struggle to handle tracking this and how this is messaged to prevent a CWS stigma is key.
What Employees Do When Working From Home
Great article from Bloomberg Businessweek on what employees really do when they are working from home. This includes:
43 percent watch TV or a movie and 20 percent play video games while officially working from home. Parents are more likely than those without children to partake in these two activities, which aren’t work-related. Employees might not even be sober: 24 percent admit to having a drink. Twenty-six percent say they take naps. Others are distracted by housekeeping: 35 percent do household chores; 28 percent cook dinner.
But the most startling observation from this survey was that despite all the time spent on non-work activities, people who work from home (i.e telecommuters or those with flexible work arrangements) are actually more productive than their peers in the office. The is primarily due to the absence of work specific distractions (like water cooler gossip or long coffee breaks) and the ability to more effectively multitask in your own home.
As a parent and some who works from home once a week I somewhat agree with this. But I think the effectiveness of telecommuting varies from person to person. And as a manager of people, I think that those who are conscientious and hard working in the office will also do the same at home. And if they are lazy and unmotivated at work, they will be even worse at home when no-one is watching them
What are your thoughts on this?