Securing a flexible working arrangement can feel like an end point. The truth is – it is only the beginning, says Flexible Boss editor Heather Greig-Smith.
Of course, thinking through how a role will work flexibly is important. Convincing your line manager that this is good for the business and will keep valuable talent in the firm is also no mean feat in some companies. But all of this means nothing if the employer and employee fail to make it work in practice.
While it’s tempting to sit back and enjoy the result, now the hard work begins in making sure the flexible arrangement works for the long-term. Here are some of the things we think are crucial…
Communicate: tackle concerns your colleagues, manager and clients may have by communicating effectively. Don’t sit at home quietly working without making contact with your team. Get on the phone or use other ways to stay in touch regularly.
It’s easy to let this slip so if needs be put it in your diary and make time for keeping in touch. Working part-time you may want to cut back all small talk and ‘time wasting’ but connecting with co-workers face to face is important as well. This is something we all need to be better at doing as flexible schedules become commonplace.
Likewise, managers of flexible workers need to be aware of the potential for isolation and depression amongst their home working workforce. HR experts report that video calls are invaluable in identifying problems early, but tone of voice is also important, allowing you to pick up on any concerns.
Delivery: make sure work quality doesn’t slip and deliver on time. Workers should communicate regularly with their managers to reassure them they are getting things done. This may be particularly important with managers who aren’t used to managing flexible workers and who are uncomfortable with not being able to see the input side of the equation.
While line managers may be concerned that remote workers will be harder to manage or will behave badly, this is rarely true. Instead, it is more likely that a flexible style of working has exposed existing issues that haven’t been dealt with before. Focus on the output, and communicate.
Set expectations and stick to them: if there are times an employee can’t be available then they need to be clear about them and give options in case there is an urgent query. They may not be checking email but can respond to urgent phone calls on non-working days, for example.
Don’t get lonely: working from home some or all of the time can be isolating. In fact it may not be a good fit for some people.
When Chinese call centre C-Trip experimented with homeworking, it randomly allocated home or office locations to 249 employees. At the end of the trial the scheme was rolled out to the entire business and employees were allowed to choose where they worked. Half of those at home switched back to the office and two thirds of those who had previously wanted to try working from home decided to stay in the office because of fears of loneliness and lower rates of promotion.
There is no shame in changing your mind. A trial period may be sensible for both sides to experiment and see what works.
Even those who do like working at home should make sure they get some face to face contact when they can and consider local business networking groups, and co-working spaces for human contact.
Don’t work too much (or too little): when you don’t have a commute to break up your day it is easy to lose track of time and not take the breaks you need to be healthy and productive. Put boundaries in place so you don’t burn out. Equally, make sure you‘re doing your job in the time you have and not abusing the flexibility you’ve been offered.
These are some of the tips and tricks we identified for our ebook on How to Work Flexibly – published as part of the UK’s annual National Work Life Week.