Julian Cowans asked:
Flexible working and teleworking are taking the world of work by storm. And they will become even more important in the UK from April 2009 when the Government plans to extend the right to request flexible working to all parents of children up to 16.
Many businesses are nervous about the change. But there is mounting evidence that flexible working leads to increasing productivity and reduced overheads, quite apart from the positive impact on work life balance.
So what are the challenges that business managers and employees face with this new way of working?
Some bosses wonder how they are going to manage their staff or check they are working when they can no longer see them at their desks.
And some employees wonder how self- motivated they will be if they are remote working and are worried that they will miss the office banter and camaraderie. This may be a particular worry for younger people and those without families living at home.
But there are many proven ways of overcoming the challenges of flexible working. Here are five key strategies that will make the transition to flexible working a smooth one for your business.
The first strategy is to make the most of ICT. Use teleconferencing and instant messaging as a way of keeping the team in regular touch with each other. Set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) so your staff can work remotely or on the move as effectively as in the office. Use laptops, BlackBerries and other technology so your staff can work anytime, anywhere, increasing productivity.
Secondly, be clear about what the specific outputs are that you expect from each employee and make this the way you evaluate their performance. Flexible working is all about management by output. The days of ‘management by eyeball’ are about to end.
The third strategy for successful flexible working is to maintain close communication despite not working at the same location Those who are most successful at flexible working are usually those who are the best natural communicators. Natural communicators manage to transcend the issue of working in remote locations and maintain effective communications with colleagues. One simple trick is to make sure you speak regularly on the telephone. Do not lapse into the habit of having only email contact. It is far easier to detect any underlying issues or concerns when you speak on the telephone and it is also easier to motivate your staff
Next, it is vital to have regular team get-togethers if some or all of your team work remotely. Regular face- to- face team meetings, say every week or fortnight, help keep everyone on board with the overall vision. These meetings also help motivate your remote workers and help them see where their role fits in. What’s more, meeting up socially really helps to keep that all important team dynamic going. Some staff who are flexible working miss the social aspects of working in an office and so regular get-togethers will help fill that gap.
The fifth strategy is to recognise that people do have a life outside work and make sure your staff know they are not expected to be on 24 hour call, just because they are remote working. When they have the flexibility to work remotely rather than in the office, many people tend to work longer hours than before.
This is partly because they use some of the time they would previously have used on travel to work actually working instead. They also tend to work when they are at their personal peak, whether that is early in the morning or late at night. Indeed, this is partly why flexible working and teleworking tend to lead to improving personal productivity.
However, some remote workers find it hard to switch off and this can lead to stress and health problems. So make sure your staff know they should make full use of the Off button on their mobile phones and computers.
Follow these five strategies and your business can enjoy the advantages of flexible working, with increasing productivity, reduced costs and improved work life balance.