Flexible working: How to get it right

Even if your staff are used to hotdesking, it doesn’t mean they’ll want to play office musical chairs

Make the most of technology and remember that people still want their own space.

When it comes to flexible working, all companies are different. Business and employee requirements will vary, and it’s important for leaders to develop ways of doing things that best fit their firm.
A vast majority of employers recognise that offering working from home, variable hours or flexible office space makes good business sense. But if you want to make flexible working work, here are some things to consider.
Nobody knows their work and their needs better than your employees. Develop a flexible working programme that accommodates both their personal work styles and your company objectives. If you are looking to improve how you use your office space, make sure that you give staff a say in how it should look and function. If you have concerns, conduct an initial flexible working trial run with specific groups to obtain results and feedback before implementing across the wider business.
Adopting a new workplace culture means a change in management style, so it is essential that time is devoted to training senior leaders in how to effectively manage flexible teams, rather than leaving them to second guess. Also ensure that you communicate with HR and legal teams on a regular basis to flag any concerns.
Remote working can lead to staff feeling cut off from their colleagues, so it’s important to have the technology in place that will facilitate a flexible working pattern. To help avoid misunderstanding and the time lags associated with email, encourage the use of quick communication tools like Instant Messenger, Google Hangouts and Skype. They will help availability and connection.
Numerous studies show that working from home improves employee sleep patterns and increases job satisfaction, but it should be spread across the week – not just saved up for a particular day. If you have different people out on different days – say via a rota – the space acquired in the office can be used for additional office settings such as quiet rooms and informal meeting areas, which will boost productivity.
More and more companies are taking up hotdesking, but the fact that desks are no longer specifically assigned doesn’t mean that we all want to suddenly play a company-wide game of musical chairs. Creating office “neighbourhoods” in an open plan environment gives a sense of both physical and emotional belonging, generates spontaneous brainstorming and improves communication.
Effective office design boosts staff comfort and productivity. Anything from the right kind of furniture and locker space to collaboration zones should be considered. However, if employees do not embrace your workplace concept, you could end up with a lot of trendy furniture that does nothing but gather dust. Again, it’s a case of giving staff a say and doing initial trials.
Flexible working doesn’t work without mutual trust. Managers need to let go of some of their control and allow employees to take responsibility. To avoid misunderstandings, set boundaries early on and explain your expectations on timing and quality of work. Pencil in regular catch-ups with staff so that you know what is being achieved. Clear targets will ensure accountability and facilitate good working relationships.
Maciej Markowski is associate director in the workplace consultancy team at JLL.

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