According to Scott Behson, writing for the HBR.org Blog Network, many managers believe in giving more employees the flexibility to balance their needs and responsibilities at home while minimising disruption of the workplace.
“However,” the author comments, “many cannot see their way through existing HR policies and short-term business imperatives to know how to respond to such requests – let alone be proactive in suggesting possibilities to their people.”
With that in mind, Behson offers some guidelines for well-meaning managers who would like to give their people more flexibility:
• Focus on “what” – not “how” or “when”. The author points out that modern technology enables more work to be done outside the office and outside normal business hours – especially knowledge work.
However, too many managers are stuck with the notion that employees are only fully productive when in the office.
Behson concedes that time in the office can be important for formal meetings and connecting in more informal ways, but insists that most knowledge workers are capable of doing at least 30% of their work outside of the office and at non-traditional work times.
• Improve performance measurement. Managers need an accurate handle on output, otherwise they will rely on generalised, biased impressions of people’s work, or even the people themselves. “Chair time” or interpersonal skills are false indicators of a knowledge worker’s performance.
Behson comments: “The key is to move beyond the dreaded forms filled out each year and make performance evaluation current and continuous. Employees should submit regular progress reports, with any special arrangements regarding flexibility contingent on their upholding required levels of performance.”
• Delegate, coach and allow your people to earn trust. It will pay dividends in the medium to long term if you invest in developing employees to the point where they can work autonomously. It might seem counterintuitive to provide coaching, feedback and resources to help people spend time away, but the extra work will improve productivity and trust.
If you have the confidence to allow employees more flexibility in how and where they work, you will be free to focus on work that will add more value than simply checking theirs.
• Act as a role model for work-family balance. “Make it a habit at work to mention your family activities and ask your employees about theirs,” suggests Behson, adding: “Over time, these conversations can change the culture in your workplace from a typical one in which family time is to be hidden to one in which the whole person is valued and the needs of families are legitimised.
“Further, you can role-model working more flexibly. If your employees see you occasionally shifting hours, or using technology to work at a distance, they will feel more comfortable asking to do the same.