How and Why to Not F##k Up Flexible Working
By Shawn Stone
Monday, 8am(ish): you wake up without an alarm and start some coffee. Take the time to make a real breakfast (bacon, eggs, some nice bread, etc.); you don't need to buy cereal anymore.
After breakfast, spend an hour exercising and reading to start the workday with fresh ideas and energy. There's a meeting to make at noon, but traffic is a breeze since you never travel to the office in rush hour...plenty of time to knock out the day's few pressing tasks from home before surrounding yourself with office distractions and compulsory chit-chat.
By the time you're out of the meeting, you've finished more work than most who've been at the office since 8:30. Now's a good time to go out for lunch with the friend you've been neglecting. So after a two-hour lunch catching up, you head home to finish out the rest of your workday in peace.
YES, THIS IS A REAL OPTION.
Variations of flexible working have been successfully adopted by a growing number of companies around the world. When employees can choose the time and place they work (so long as everything gets done), companies see increased efficiency, productivity, and employee happiness from a better work/life balance. Many employees even prefer flexible working to higher salaries (*raises hand).
Some companies (e.g. Enerplus or Grant Thorton) go a step further by offering unlimited vacation time, removing all restrictions on total hours put in and rewarding productivity over availability.
Another long weekend in Croatia? If I HAVE to.
Well it sounds perfect and simple enough. Now is about the time you start to think you should leverage flexible working to make your company more sensible, attractive and profitable...
Don't f##k it up.
You can't just declare "Flextime, suckas!", pop a bottle and start celebrating how progressive and cool your company is. Without the proper planning and management systems in place, it could be a recipe for disaster.
For example: Kickstarter ended its unlimited vacation policy in September in favor of a 25-day maximum vacation policy. Why? Well it wasn't because people were taking too much time off.
Without clear expectations, employees hesitate to take vacation days for fear of jeopardizing their positions at work. Office politics and competitive environments discourage vacation use in any policy, but unlimited policies can actually result in even less vacation use by offering no clear guidelines.
Every company and industry is different, so there's no one-size fits all policy that solves this problem. However, there are some specific things you should account for as a manager:
1. Performance Reviews
Make sure employees' reviews are tied specifically to their accomplishments and not attendance. Make sure they are confident in this.
2. Track Vacation/Flextime
Track vacation use among all employees and pay close attention to detail. If an employee isn't using any vacation, approach them and find out why. Make sure they feel comfortable taking days off and consider letting employees see the general range of days taken (no specifics) so that they're encouraged to take advantage as well.
3. Ensure Equity
Some industries require more oversight on flexible working that others, usually for coordination's sake. This often takes the form of managerial approval for flexible working on an as-needed basis. It's absolutely vital to track and analyze flexible working opportunities allotted to employees to ensure equity among gender, ethnicity, position, etc. whenever possible. A study in the June, 2013 Journal of Social Issues showed managers are more likely to approve flexible working for men than women. It's important to ensure your employees are protected from subconscious (or even conscious) biases.
4. Model Behavior
Management should take advantage of the flexible working and vacation policies themselves, and share their experiences with staff. Consider an employee lifestyle blog, newsletter pieces, or other means of encouraging staff to make use of your policies. If you want to have a real flexible working environment, you have to live it every day.
5. Reward Worker Flexibility
You want employees to use their benefits, but it could be a big stick in your spokes if they drop out for vacation in the middle of the busy season or an important project. Consider options that encourage employees to be flexible with their vacation usage. For example, offer bonus vacation days to workers using their vacation between projects or in designated slow seasons. You can offer the same incentive to employees who restrict vacation day usage to shorter breaks (e.g. 2-3 days at a time) instead of taking them all at once.
Flex for me.
Tell us a bit about your own flexible working experiences in the comments. Horror stories, cheery successes, quirky solutions, etc. Go on, you can do it.