In today’s technology-based world, it’s easier than ever to establish flexibility in the workplace and still ensure successful collaboration. COVID-19 forced organisations to adopt remote workflows even faster, since employees couldn’t go into the office. A Gartner survey revealed that 74% of employers plan to shift some employees to work from home permanently even after the stay-at-home orders are lifted. Flexible workplaces are here to stay.
Employee safety is the number one priority and cause for the rapid adoption of flexible work schedules across the globe. However, remote work has a host of other benefits for organisations too. According to a Harvard study, productivity increased by 4.4% when employees were allowed flexible work schedules.
Benefits of flexible work schedules
According to a Buffer research study, 94% of remote workers would encourage others to do the same. In addition to productivity, allowing employees to work remotely widens the talent pool to potential employees outside of an organisation’s geographical area, reduces rent expenses and carbon footprint, and leads to greater employee satisfaction.
However, implementing a flexible work schedule isn’t easy. There are social and technical hurdles that many organisations face. For example, remote workers are 4.4 times more likely to experience burnout than their counterparts in the office. Additionally, 21% of remote workers report that maintaining effective communication and collaborating online is a challenge.
In order to avoid these remote work pitfalls, organisations need to cultivate a culture of flexibility. Here are five ways organisations can implement a successful flexible work strategy.
1. Train managers
Success starts at the top. If your organisation wants to maximise the productivity of its remote workforce, you need to train your managers to adapt to the changes. A good remote team manager should exhibit the following qualities:
- Trust in employees: Managers must understand that while their employees may be more prone to distractions at home, they will complete their tasks. Loosening the reins will give employees more freedom.
- Good communication: Managers must maintain frequent communication with their employees, and this isn’t limited to just work-related conversations. Understanding what employees are doing outside of work will help you be a more compassionate leader.
- Positive demeanor: Set a good example for your employees by creating a positive work environment. Focus on positive affirmation instead of negative reinforcement.
- Performance focused: Remember that it’s the results that count. If your employee is generating better results at home even though he is working faster, that’s okay.
2. Establish expectations
One of the reasons remote employees are prone to burnout is because they often overwork themselves to prove their value to their employers. After all, it’s much harder for managers to recognise accomplishments when employees are distributed. The default way for employees to demonstrate their value is by working longer hours and taking on extra tasks.
Combat overworking by setting expectations for employees to take frequent breaks, sign off for lunch, and stop working after certain hours. Let employees know that the quality of their work is more important than skipping lunch and answering emails at 11 p.m.
3. Encourage work-life balance
In the same vein, it’s important to make a clear distinction for employees between work life and personal life. Without clear boundaries, remote work often creeps into personal time. For example, remote employees might work nights or weekends to get ahead simply because they can, sprinkling in some work here and there at any opportunity. However, this is exactly the kind of mindset that causes burnout for remote workers.
Encourage employees to take PTO, set a daily schedule, and define clear boundaries in their work and personal lives.
4. Adopt the right communication tools
When COVID-19 struck, most organisations panic-bought remote work technologies, including separate apps for messaging, video conferencing, and phone. The problem is, constantly toggling between multiple apps causes employee distraction and frustration. In fact, 69% of workers spend an hour a day simply switching between applications.
To ensure maximum productivity from flexible work, your communications technology should bridge the gap between office and home. Unified communications solutions like the RingCentral app combine team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone into a single platform, allowing employees to effortlessly switch from one mode of communication to another.
5. Rethink the 8-hour work day
Remote work opens up opportunities to rethink the traditional 8-hour work day. Employees who prefer flexible schedules usually don’t thrive on that schedule, instead preferring to work when they personally feel most productive. As long as employees perform and drive results, it shouldn’t matter when they clock their 8 hours a day.
Furthermore, organisations that wish to adopt more flexible workflows should consider the value of meetings and how they cut into that window of productivity. Middle managers spend 35% of their time in meetings. What’s worse, executives consider 67% of meetings to be failures. Limiting the number of meetings your organisation has gives employees more time to work with less unnecessary disruptions.
Driving the future of work with flexibility
Organisations adopting remote and flexible work are leading the charge in the future of work. When results show happier employees, better results, and more job satisfaction, it’s no wonder more organisations are leaning toward flexibility.
However, flexibility doesn’t come without its challenges. Make sure your organisation is prepared to support employees with the right management, workflow, and tools to ensure you make the most out of your remote workforce.
Originally published 15 Jul, 2020, updated 13 Jan, 2023