Foolproof ways to make flexible employees productive
We are in the grips of a revolution.
It’s not a particularly bloody one thankfully and a the vast majority of people involved believe it is for the best. Replace the revolutionary bayonets of old with smartphones and the battle cries with HD empowered video conference calls and you have it. The flexible working revolution.
You may think I’m being melodramatic but this really is a big time of change. For many years the concept of work has revolved around a central workplace. Flexible working has become so prevalent that analyst IDC believes that more than one third of the world’s workforce will be mobile and working away from the office to some degree by 2015.
The benefits of having a mobile workforce are already being felt by a large section of the UK’s companies. Boosts in productivity and employee satisfaction are just some of the many benefits.
“Flexible working has proven to be a huge success for many companies but it has to be done in the right way,” says Barney Ely, director at Hays the recruiting experts. “One size doesn’t fit all and a great degree of planning should be applied to make sure you are successful.”
Here are our ten ways to make it a success for you and your team:
1. Have a clear policy from the start
“Many organisations move into flexible working without creating a clear policy regarding how it will be run and what the perimeters are,” says Ely.
“This often leads to trouble down the line. If employees aren’t sure what the rules are they may start to think there’s one rule for one person and a different for another which is bad for morale.”
2. Test it out and don’t be afraid to say it doesn’t work
When first approaching flexible working, you won’t be certain that it will work for your team. Test it first. Run a pilot with a smaller number of employees and see what works and what doesn’t.
“Once you have tried something out don’t be fearful of saying actually this hasn’t worked so we will go back to how it worked before,” says Ely.
3. Trust is must
“Managing people you don’t see on a daily basis is not necessarily something that comes naturally to every manager,” says Dr Nicola J. Millard, customer experience futurologist, BT Global Services.
“Managing a flexible, virtualised workforce requires good management discipline and great communication skills. Above all, TRUST is essential in this model. Trying to catch people out by sending them messages at anti-social hours, constantly checking on them and measuring success by the number of hours they work rather than the quality and timeliness of their output are all things that will destroy the motivation of a flexible workforce.”
4. Have a clear understanding of what everyone is doing
When you have people working from different locations, things can get mis-communicated quite easily. To run this kind of initiative successfully everybody must know what they and their colleagues are doing.
“All of your employees should know what they are responsible for and what is expected of them,” says Ely.
5. Make sure everyone has the correct personal technology
The tools needed to work flexibly are numerous. Your employees need hardware and software to be able to access and complete their day-to-day task. Don’t just assume that people have what they need.
“Do your staff need smartphones or laptops? Do they have the correct software on their personal devices? These are essential questions when looking to activate a flexible team,” says Ely.
6. Make sure your teams have strong internet access
“With download speeds up to five times faster than 3G connectivity, 4G is enabling staff to send and receive more data in less time from their mobile devices,” says Max Taylor, director of corporate business, EE.
“Faster data transfer means they can make regular use of services like HD video conferencing to talk to customers without worrying whether the call will continually buffer. With so many potential applications, the productivity gains of 4G make flexible working a practical way of life.”
7. Learn to manage output rather than input
The old way of judging someone’s performance and hard work was largely based on being present at their desks so you could see with your eyes they were working. This has changed.
“We have become very good at managing input and how hard people look like they are working,” says Ely. “We are not so good at managing output. The fact that I can’t see how someone is working – if we know what we are expecting them to produce does it really matter how they get to that point. Ultimately we are here to get results.”
8. Hire the right people
When flexible working is a large part of how your company works, this should start to become a consideration when hiring people.
“Hire people with flexible working in mind, working remotely effectively, takes a certain character,” says Dr Richard Wilson, CEO of TIGA.
“Choose people with the attitude and skills needed to operate with the minimum of supervision. Gauge how passionate they are about the role, check for previous evidence of a sustained and intelligent proactive approach to their work.”
9. Use collaborative, cloud-based applications
There is a raft of tools which can be used to make sure your teams are in sync despite being in completely different places. Using applications such as Huddle, Dropbox and Basecamp allow people to work on projects in real-time and get feedback when they need it.
10. Ensure you have regular face-to-face meetings
Technology enables us to communicate with each other from different location and this is a great tool when working remotely. But it shouldn’t completely replace physical meetings.
“By ensuring your teams meet together regularly you can reinforce the company culture and encourage them to share ideas they might otherwise have not mentioned,” says Ely. “There’s nothing quite like communicating face-to-face. It gets the heart and the mind.”
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