Managing Flexible Workers

Flexible working can provide benefits for both an organisation's customers and the organisation, yet many managers are struggling to manage when their team has flexible workers in it. team work

Since 30 June 2014, almost all employees with at least 26 weeks' service have had the right to request flexible working. Whilst businesses do not have to grant flexible working, a survey by the CBI in 2011 revealed that even before the 2014 legislative changes, 96% of UK companies were offering at least one type of flexible working practices, and many companies were offering several.

Flexible working can take many forms – part time working, term time working, job-sharing, home-working, compressed hours and flexitime – and the benefits of such flexible working from the employee’s perspective are clear:

• A better work life balance with more time to spend with the family or doing hobbies.
• Reduced childcare costs
• Avoidance of rush hour traveling and the reduction in the time and stress this involves
• Reduced fuel and motor maintenance costs.

The key business benefits of flexible working include:

• Better staff retention - not losing valuable staff members
• Increased talent pool – more people to recruit from
• Reduced absenteeism – no more “duvet” days
• Improved productivity - increased commitment from employees
• Opportunity to extend opening hours - wider availability of the workforce

For the manager tasked with managing a team where some employees work flexibly there can be a number of challenges; recruiting, monitoring and managing flexibility is not always an easy task. Most employees want flexibility but not everyone is suitable for flexible working. Some employees find it difficult to work without a supervisor being present to take decisions and provide advice. If employees are not personally motivated they will struggle to stay on task and will not devote enough effort to their job. Communicating with flexible workers who are working remotely is also challenging, and can lead to feelings of isolation in the employee and of “losing control” in the supervisor.

There are three keys to successfully manage flexible workers:

1. Focus on output rather than input.
With flexible workers the manager must learn to focus more on individual outputs rather than when or how things are done. If the manager trusts and is confident in their team to deliver the work on time and to expectations, then where they work and when they do it is not important. Give your flexible workers the time and right tools to achieve the outputs you need and avoid micro-managing them.

You may need to adjust your recruitment and recognition systems so that they focus on identifying and rewarding those who achieve the agreed outputs.

2. Communicate that working flexibility comes with responsibility.
With flexible working it is up to the individual to be responsible for managing their flexible working arrangements and to prove that it is working. Flexible workers must work hard to be transparent about their movements and response times in order to manage expectations. As their manager you will need to ensure that they understand these responsibilities and always deliver in line with expectations.
If a flexible worker requires their manager to constantly chase them, or “disappears” without anyone knowing where they are, then they are not accepting the responsibility that comes with flexibility. You will need to confront them as to whether they are ready to work flexibly.

3. Communicate that flexibility is two-way.
Finally, it is essential that your flexible workers understand that working flexibly sometimes requires flexibility from them. There may be occasions when the original flexible working patterns need to temporarily change in order to meet specific business needs.

Achieving results from a team where some or all team members work flexibly requires a different kind of management. By ensuring you select the right people who have the right mind-set to work flexibly, and by adopting a results orientated, delegative management style, you can be successful whether your flexible workers are all office based, or you are now managing remote teams.