Balancing Flex with the Needs of Business
Successful flexible work arrangements often rely on good communication and an effective (ongoing) consultative process. Angelina Pillai offers some timely advice on rolling out flex in the workplace.
To flex or not to flex. That is definitely the question we are facing as a result of the changes workplaces have had to accommodate post COVID. There has been so much said about the move to more flexible workplace arrangements and giving employers and employees the chance to work anywhere, anytime – as long as the needs of the business are met on reasonable grounds. And that is really the bottom line – the needs of the business being met.
Over the past few months, my conversations with practice owners have revealed the real and present challenge of running a business that wants to embrace flexibility, needs to encourage flexibility, tries to implement flexibility, but is hammered by revenue loss, staff turnover, diminishing employee engagement and dealing with mental health and wellbeing. And if employers are not well and thriving, how are they able to support the rest of their people and practice?
What I can say categorically is that one size does not fit all. All you need to do is enter a google search on ‘flexible working’ and the list of articles that examine, interrogate, counsel and debate the topic appear endless. I’m not going to re-hash all that. What I do want to share is what’s worked for me over the years. As a leader within organisations, I have prioritised flexible working arrangements in the recognition that everyone is different. We all have different circumstances, lifestyle choices, family arrangements, and diverse ways of working. But the end goal has always been about the needs of the business with a conscious balance of ensuring that my staff’s needs are being managed at all times.
It’s not easy. Rolling out flexible workplace arrangements can be tricky and requires very clear policies in place. It sometimes feels like it’s not worth it. But rest assured, when you get it right, it’s magic – for employers, employees and the overall business.
Workplace culture – setting the tone
Set the tone of your workplace culture through the following non-negotiables:
1. Trust is a must
This is the cornerstone of any relationship and building trust at the onset of any relationship is paramount. This is not just any kind of trust, but a vulnerability-based trust that emphasises transparency, honesty and respect. It ensures employees feel comfortable to raise issues and make requests with the confidence that they will be heard, considered and negotiated fairly.
When that trust has been developed, it’s important to ensure that there is accountability between leaders/managers and their team, but this should not be driven by hierarchy. Instead, it centres around collective accountability where team members hold each other accountable to their actions and their outcomes, because they earned each other’s trust.
3. Focus on outcomes
The achievement of individual or business goals is ultimately the aim of the game. Working towards productive outcomes should be the goal for both employers and employees.
Making it work
Once you have established your workplace culture, there are a number of things you can do to give flexible working arrangements the best chance for success:
1. Lead by example
Champion flexibility by setting and modelling clear and measurable frameworks that ensure accessibility, transparency and performance outcomes across remote and in-office scenarios. This could take the form of service level agreements that outline both employer and employee’s expectations and responsibilities.
2. Check the technology
Make sure the right technology, workstation, systems and licences are set up and tested before agreeing to any new arrangement.
3. Review the job/role
Have conversations with your people around their job descriptions. Chances are, they were created to reflect working in the office. So, the move to any form of flexible working arrangement would reasonably require a review and some modifications.
4. Assess the impact on the rest of the team
Consult with other members of your staff to establish the impact, if any, of another employee working flexibly. Getting all-of-business buy-in makes it a lot easier to manage in the long term.
5. Set KPIs and KRAs (Key Performance Indicators and Key Result Areas)
With the above sorted, time to put some performance metrics in place. Whether this is via complete remote working scenarios or a hybrid model, these key performance indicators need to reflect the expectations of the role, your business and the employee’s capacity to deliver. You can set them over three, six, nine or 12 months. Don’t be afraid to be clear about your expectations as an employer.
6. Measure performance
People are the heartbeat of your business without a doubt, but as employers, you have an obligation to set the standard for productive outcomes. KPIs exist for a reason, so make sure you use the agreed metrics to hold your people and yourself accountable.
7. Utilise Employment Assistance Programs
Consider connecting with a program that supports overall wellbeing in the workplace, both for employers and employees.
8. Trial the flexible arrangement
There is no right or wrong, so trialling the plan gives both the employer and employee an opportunity to test it out. Usually, a three-month period provides adequate time to establish if the new arrangements are going to work. The scoreboard speaks for itself, but if it’s not working (typically demonstrated by not meeting KPIs), then negotiate again. It may mean another tweak to the flexible working arrangement, or another review of the job role or considering other methods of flexible work. The key is to keep the lines of communication open and don’t give up after the first trial.
It’s OK to say No
If you’ve tried all avenues and it’s not working out based on reasonable business grounds, then it’s ok to say no. No-one wants to be stuck in an unworkable employment arrangement and it’s in everyone’s best interest to call this out sooner rather than later.
At the end of the day, the agreement has to work for both parties, and a consultative communication process is key. The flexible working arrangement is not just about the individual and the employer; it’s about the impacts across the entire business.
Angelina Pillai has spent the past two decades leading and managing diverse departments and teams across sectors. Each of these roles involved implementing and negotiating a range of workplace solutions that balanced the needs of the overall organisation’s strategic objectives whilst ensuring that the talent within the business is fostered and maximised at all times. As a working mother, part-time uni student and aspiring pianist (!), Angelina is an advocate for flexibility in the workplace, an advisor on the importance of cultivating and sustaining constructive workplace culture, and the CEO of a fully flex business model, the ACA!
Photos: Amy Hirschi & Chris Montgomery, Unsplash