The right kind of flexibility

The right kind of flexibility

Workplace flexibility has come a long way in recent years. Starting out as a way to support working mothers and those with health issues it has developed into something more. In a post-Fordist era, the individuality of employees is increasingly recognized and valued. Flexible working has become a way to accommodate a wide range of lifestyles and to reward workers.

Nevertheless, in the rush to embrace flexibility there is a risk of companies failing to recognize their own individuality. As Deloitte has highlighted in their Human Capital Trends paper, it is as important for a company to tailor its flexibility to its business strategy, as it is to tailor it to employees.

Your sort of flexibility

The most obvious reason why a flexible working strategy must be specific to your organization is so that you can implement it. Without the right technical and procedural set-up flexibility can be damaging to a company’s performance or even wildly impractical.

For office based working this is a matter of technical support – ensuring that remote workers have the right technology, good internet connections, secure information transfer and so on.

For direct customer service and industry, the challenges are very different. Can you create a change-over procedure that keeps machines running without old-fashioned shift patterns? Can you be flexible about hours while still keeping your shop or contact center staffed during peak periods? What degree of flexibility does this allow you?

In maintaining good relations with your staff, it is better not to promise what you cannot deliver. But with some flexibility in your own thinking, and an awareness of the challenges involved, you can find a way to provide flexibility no matter the circumstances.

The challenges

Aside from the technical challenges, there are leadership issues to face.

Most important is training for managers. Working remotely or with staff on varying hour’s means working in a different way. Managers need support and guidance on how best to use the flexibility they are given, and on when it is OK for them to say no. They need to learn how to organize virtual teams and to manage the performance of people they may not always encounter in person.

Other employees may require assistance in shifting to a more flexible approach.

Some may not be able to make the most of the flexibility you offer, or may have reasons not to want it. It is important that they have a way of seeing that flexible workers are working just as hard as them, to prevent resentments fracturing teams.

In addition, for virtual workers, or those with varying hours, it is important that they learn how to function without the nine-to-five structure. They may need help in learning to switch off, and if working from home then guidance on preventing work stress filling every corner of their lives.

Control vs. flexibility

As with many of the issues Deloitte raises in their paper, this draws attention to the growing conflict in business between control and flexibility. It was once thought that the way to get the most from workers was to direct their every action. However, flexible working is part of a movement away from this, towards a more dynamic pattern of work that gets the most out of employees by loosening control. With control patterns built into the core of organizational procedures, that change of mindset can be hard for some managers to take.

If we are to flourish, we must all learn to relinquish a little control.

– Mark Lukens

Links or other articles in this series:

Link to the full paper on Human Capital Trends

 

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