Chances are, if you are reading this, you are employed in a traditional 9-5, five days a week work pattern. However, as firms increasingly embrace flexible working initiatives, the number of people working 9-5 is likely to significantly decrease. What will the new structure look like, how will it affect you and what are the factors to consider? At Potentia, a number of people in the team already benefit from our flexible approach to working, with many people opting to work from home or carry out their role outside of the traditional 9-5 format.
With firms increasingly adopting technology that allows us to access, communicate and collaborate remotely and in real-time, why should people be bound to working from an office, full time, for one business, at a desk, etc? The answer – pure and simple – is we shouldn’t.
Initially there was some resistance to embracing greater flexibility from senior management in the team, but to solve some of the challenges we faced – such as finding the right people for the right roles with the right capability – we increasingly embraced the idea. Accommodating people’s needs and adapting the typical employee engagement, Potentia’s leadership had to think creatively about how to solve both the business’s challenges and create a smart, stable, productive and passionate workforce.
Finding a solution that works
The benefits of flexible working are two-sided. Flexibility can help people who are juggling working with caring for children, under-taking extra study and also pursuing other interests outside of the work. At Potentia, flexible working initiatives have enabled us to attract and retain highly capable people who, often due to personal circumstances, are unable to commit to the traditional 9-5. This has led to a diverse workforce consisting of non-standard working arrangements - contractors, part-timers, full-timers, hourly-rates, salaries, on-demand, off-site, talent-as-a-service; the list goes on. This was driven by asking ourselves the questions: “what problem are we trying to solve?” and “what’s the best solution for everyone”?
However, there are also many risks and obstacles to this approach. Even the most basic requirements read like a self-help novel’s directives for fixing a marriage: relinquish control, trust in the other person, give freedom, communicate effectively, set expectations that are realistic, embrace the person’s differences, be romantic… well, not the last one.
Outside of a full time employment contract, outside of a location and outside of standard hours you require a huge level of trust and confidence in the person’s ability to deliver the outcomes required in an autonomous manner.
In addition, other people in the business regard the flexibility granted to some team members as preferential treatment and be disgruntled when their requests are declined. So what to do?
The solutions to these issues are varied but success depends on several factors to be effective:
Detailed understanding the requirements of the role
People must be realistic about what can and cannot be offered/achieved within a flexible working framework. Some core roles do not lend themselves to be configured differently and the rationale behind this must be explained by the employer. Those who are engaged in non-standard working arrangements need to be adequately assessed, even more so than regular employees or employers, and clear expectations set-out up-front.
Set clear expectations
To make the adoption of flexible working a success, the parameters must be set out clearly between the parties and each must be accountable to them. If the expectations are crystal clear from the outset, then there is no room for ambiguity and misdirection. This list is not exhaustive, but it is a good starting point for setting clear expectations:
System access and tool usage
Legal, contract and team culture obligations
Timeframes for deliverables
Use of company resources
Any ambiguity here will create opportunity for disappointment and, in turn, animosity.
Use of innovative technology
A high degree of comfort with the technology for measurement, collaboration and communication of outcomes must exist for both sides to deliver effectively and in line with expectations. Trust will then be built through the quality of outputs and the ability to deliver on-time and within the requirements of the role and responsibilities. Use it, assess it, welcome new advancements and experiment with their effectiveness.
Here’s a list of the technology we use to support flexible working arrangements:
Mobile platforms - seems obvious, but hey
Slack: real-time messaging and integration with Cloud apps
Skype: Video conferencing
GoogleDrive/DropBox: file and document sharing
GoogleDocs: Collaborative and sharable documents
GoogleSheets: Collaborative and shareable spreadsheets
Asana/Trello: SaaS Project Management and tracking tools
In the future workforce, I believe the trend for on-demand services from employees will rise. Against this backdrop, the engagement of employees (full-timers, part-timers, contractors etc) with employers will be less clearly defined due to the differences in the terms of their engagement with the company.
Employers must embrace these changes and recognise the opportunity for productivity, expertise, cost-saving and risk-mitigation. The wonders of technology have got us here, but it is the attitudes and relationships between people that will determine its on-going success.