This is a guest post written by corporate real estate expert Roland Chua. The opinions expressed in this article are Roland’s own and may not reflect those of his past or present employers.
Flexible working arrangements have traditionally been viewed as a special privilege for employees. Organisations often struggle to embrace this idea and integrate it into the management structure and culture.
More often than not, organisations will have some generalised policy on flexible working arrangements, with ambiguous wordings which basically allow managers to opt out of the option very easily. Statements like “we encourage flexibility in the workplace;” “we offer various work life balance options;” “we have an open and trusting workplace culture which encourages flexibility;” etc, all come to mind.
The typical policies on flexible working arrangements are never specific, and they always fail to list the actual rights that an employee has. And they always include a statement which puts the staff’s line manager in full control of the outcome.
In order for flexible working arrangements to be successful, the plan must have top-level endorsement.
Driving cultural change around flexible working arrangements
The leaders of the organisation must live and breathe flexibility. Their practice of flexible working arrangements must be highly visible, consistent, and regular. This will drive the culture of flexibility into the organisation and infiltrate into the mindsets of each individual.
Taking it one step further, flexible working arrangements must be well documented with very detailed and specific guidelines for all staff and managers to reference. Flexibility should be an expected way of working, not a right or a privilege. It is through flexibility that people will really feel trusted and appreciated. And in turn, they will give their very best performance due to an increase in satisfaction and morale. It is a proven phenomenon that human productivity increases consistently with higher levels of flexibility and job satisfaction.
5 strategies for encouraging top-down support for flexible working arrangements
So what are the essential steps to enable a top-down approach to flexible working arrangements?
1. Share success stories of peers and competitors
Present case studies of similar organisations that have successfully embedded flexible working arrangements into their culture, and achieved greater success.
Witnessing a peer organisation achieve results through specific measures and changes always sends a very powerful message to leaders. Forward-thinking organisations are constantly seeking for process and productivity improvements. Being able to look towards a peer or competitor is one of the most powerful ways to justify improvement initiatives.
Leaders will be empowered to consider innovative ways to move the organisation forward and continually remain relevant in an increasingly competitive landscape. By offering more attractive flexible working arrangements, organisations increase their ability to attract and retain top talent. This is key to the success of any organisation.
2. Quantify potential savings
Make sure you can quantify potential hard and soft savings. This is probably the most tricky but very important step. It is all about being able to quantify time savings due to productivity improvements, and what direct and indirect cost savings that equates to.
Work/life balance and employee satisfaction always has a direct and positive impact on productivity. When a person is more productive, he/she will produce a higher quality and quantity of outputs. This will in turn free up his/her time for additional tasks and responsibilities. As a result, the organisation can increase production and/or operations without any need for an increase in resources. It also means an organisation could improve on their existing offerings through a better engaged and higher performing workforce.
One method to estimate potential hard and soft savings from productivity improvements is by assessing the potential time savings per individual, and then referencing the standard hourly rates. The estimated cost savings can then be compared with the cost of hiring an additional resource.
Note that productivity improvements should not be mistaken for resource planning.
3. Highlight the benefits of flexibility for individuals
Even leaders have needs outside of work! Every individual, no matter what their level within an organisation, has basic needs within and beyond the workplace. Some of these basic needs include recognition, feeling appreciated, being in control, and being trusted and respected. And outside of work, everyone faces different life challenges.
Having a workplace that actually supports a person’s life challenges and embraces each individual’s unique and diverse life situation is vital to a person’s wellbeing and satisfaction.
The leaders of an organisation must understand and appreciate the fact that flexible working arrangements benefit them as much as every other employee.
4. Pilot flexible working arrangements and ABW
There’s nothing more convincing than actually doing it. A pilot is literally doing the real thing but in a limited and controlled environment, typically in a selected location and/or with one or more specific teams.
A truly successful pilot must be carried out as a full implementation, including all the components of a flexible workplace. For some companies, that can include implementing an Activity-Based Working (ABW) environment that eliminates assigned seating and provides different task-oriented spaces for working.
Related article: 10 Factors to Consider Before Implementing Activity Based Working
Implementing a pilot for flexible working and ABW would involve the following:
Technology: laptops/tablets, remote connectivity, mobile communication devices, intelligent printing devices, building population monitoring
Furniture: a full implementation will involve furniture changes to create formal and informal work settings
Management and staff training: to enable flexibility, the people component must be addressed, because users living and breathing flexible working arrangements determines the success of the program
Pilot programs for flexible working arrangements should run for a reasonable period of time, preferably two to three months. This will enable the new culture and way of working to be embedded into the mindsets of employees and managers, and allow for a true assessment of its feasibility and opportunity for success.
5. Report on pilot results
Throughout the pilot, conduct physical audits. Following the implementation period, conduct surveys and report on results to highlight benefits and learnings.
Physical audits involve auditors walking floors, observing and recording specific information on how well the flexible working arrangements and ABW environment are performing. Information such as formal workstation usage, collaboration area usage, average office attendance, is typically recorded. Physical surveys give a true snapshot of how well a working environment is performing, and gives very valuable metrics on areas of strength and areas of concern.
Post-implementation surveys are online questionnaires sent to every participant requesting feedback their experience with flexible working arrangements. The questionnaires must be very specific, with fixed multiple choice answers. This enables quick analysis of results and the ability to draw conclusions. Online tools such as Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com) enable quick production of user defined surveys which can either be emailed to users, or set up on a kiosk where users can simply select answers while entering or leaving the office.
What’s essential for flexible working to work
With top-level management endorsement and a solid HR policy in place, flexible working arrangements can be fully embedded into an organisation’s heart and culture.
Flexible working should be an expectation. It is a total departure from the traditional schools of thought where flexibility is considered a privilege, and sometimes a taboo.
True flexibility in a workplace will always lead to higher levels of satisfaction, and in turn higher staff retention and increased productivity. The long term benefits include direct and indirect cost savings, and being able to attract the best talent to help maintain and further the success of the organisation.