We are always connected. Through online and mobile technology, we are always just one click away from our emails, social media and co-workers.
This has created a huge cultural shift where businesses expect employees to be engaged and available “off-the-clock”; after all, responding to an email is as easy as checking your phone. This shift has also led to a new expectation of creating a work/life balance, that has increased the demand for flexible working environments and remote employment. The lines between home life and work life have blurred significantly.
This means the “average” workplace has changed significantly since the nine-to-five era. Currently, 50 per cent of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least some sort of flexible work capability, and between 80 and 90 per cent of the workforce expresses a desire to utilize remote working in at least a part time capacity. This tonal shift has happened with Fortune 1000 companies around the globe, including well-known companies like Apple, American Express, Amazon and General Electric. At this point, it’s not a matter of IF your company should be implementing a flexible work policy, but HOW.
Let go of preconceived notions of productivity
One of the biggest misconceptions with flexible workspaces or remote working is that it is less effective or efficient than a traditional office environment. While there is a risk of employees abusing the system, more often than not, many employees thrive in an environment void of the distraction of inefficient meetings and interruptions during the day.
There are even some instances where remote workers appear to be happier and more engaged than if they were in an office environment. One recent study found that not only were remote worker more satisfied with their job, they also felt more valued by their employer and more productive than their in-office counterparts.
While this won’t necessarily apply to each individual employee, some do thrive in a structured work environment, it is important to shift the workplace mentality from a rigid systematic approach to one that focuses on flexibility in order to achieve the same results.
Be flexible with the flexible
Part of the reason employees enjoy a flexible work environment is exactly because it is “flexible.” The best employers embrace a culture that understands a flexible environment could suit a variety of demands; whether it’s remote working, self-directed office hours or parental leave, there isn’t one definitive solution for everyone.
When establishing a new culture of flexible work, take an internal poll to discover what your employees value the most in terms of flexibility. This will help set some corporate guidelines, but remember that individual circumstances will change, so be flexible with approaching each employee and their desired positioning.
Establish clear communication strategies
Clear communication is key to effective business management, whether it’s in an office environment or with remote employees. The entire office should have direct means of communicating both one-on-one and in a group environment. Real time chat applications like Slack allow teams to communicate while on the same schedule, but for workplaces that operate on different timetables and schedules a social intranet makes for a better solution. Through a social intranet teams can also manage and access files in a secure environment and collaborate on projects.
Technology makes it easier for teams to create, and manage a flexible work environment, as new developments in mobile and web applications allow for a level of connectivity beyond anything else.
Proactively build bonds
Unsurprisingly, the one area where remote and flexible employees come up short is forming bonds with their colleagues. The same study that found remote employees were happier and more engaged also found they had limited relationship with co-workers.
Companies can combat this weakness by proactively finding ways to build strong bonds within the company. Regularly schedule in-person meetings, participate in corporate charitable givebacks, and plan social activities and corporate retreats. Find opportunities to have staff meet in person and encourage the social connections that remote work doesn’t provide. Concepts like internal micro-blogging, collaborative workplace calendars and tasks schedulers will help a company remain connected and encourage workplace collaboration no matter the distance.
The age of flexible work environments is coming. Companies relying on the template 40 hour in office workweek may soon find themselves losing out on prospective hiring opportunities and long-term employee retention. By finding the right flexible balance for your company you not only provide an additional value to your staff, but also generate a higher return on employee satisfaction and productivity; that’s a win-win situation for businesses and employees.
Darren Gibbons is the cofounder of OpenRoad Communications.