Make the flexitime culture work for your small business!
There is a lot that can be said about the wonders of a flexitime policy – higher job satisfaction, stronger inclusion of individuals with pressing personal needs as caregivers to young children and aging parents, and eventually, higher employee retention.
That being said, if you see the situation from the point of view of a business, you will notice several potential pitfalls. For a workforce that is used to close physical monitoring, flexitime could present new challenges relating to accountability and delivery. But does that mean it is a dangerous proposition? No, not by a long shot. But like all new policies, flexitime too needs to be done right and planned in a way that addresses the vulnerabilities and challenges well in advance.
Written guidelines help
One precaution organizations of all sizes must take is developing written policies and guidelines for flexitime. The individual discretion of managers and team leaders could lead to different rules for different teams and make way for human biases. Lack of policy could lead to inconsistencies that eventually adversely affect employee morale. Guidelines remove this risk. A strong flexitime policy needs to spell out what flexitime means for business continuity, when it is all right to claim it, and when it is not. It needs to define what this means in terms of different forms of communication – availability on phone, email, instant messenger, etc. It is a way to avoid any possible abuse by less accountable employees.
A strong guideline also protects the rights of all employees. For instance, in my own career, I have known insecure or old-school leaders and managers who are so dependent on the physical availability of a team that they will do anything in their power to keep them around – from rejecting rightful leave applications to monitoring their employees’ lunch hours. Individual insecurities cannot come in the way of what is right and good for your larger workforce. A written policy avoids such conflicts well in time.
The decision-making process must include voices of employees from all functions and levels
Any business decision that impacts the entire workforce can’t be a closed-door event involving only executive leadership. It needs inputs on realities, challenges, and perspectives from all employee groups. This will help identify potential challenges from different perspectives and further solidify your policy in favour of both employee engagement and business continuity.
Taking into account the views of all your employees also helps you address their realistic concerns over delivery and accountability. It will ensure that most of your employees embrace change, instead of getting into the arrangement doubtfully or uncomfortably, leading to serious repercussions later on.
Run a pilot evaluation
A flexitime policy is often a significant change for the workforce. Many realities like performance and accountability will only come forth after the policy has been put in place. But reverting to old styles of working from a flexitime policy trial can come across as rather regressive on the part of the employer. This makes a pilot evaluation that much more critical. Highlight this to your workforce in advance and use the pilot evaluation to see whether flexitime works for your organization and, more importantly, how to do it right.
For instance, if your business is all about hardware maintenance, you might realize after putting a flexitime policy in place that it is adversely affecting customer satisfaction. In such cases, instead of reverting to rigid hours, you could find a better compromise like shorter weeks or more hands during peak complaint periods.
The endgame is to find solutions, not highlight problems.
Do you have the right technology in place?
This is easily the most crucial turning point of a flexitime policy. Many small businesses are not cut out for it in their current form due to low investment in communication, security, and information technologies. Before you put your workforce on flexitime, evaluate if your good old Google Talk needs to be replaced with tools that allow better and more seamless communication. Check-in on the security vulnerabilities your distributed workforce could bring to your business. Find out how team leaders can manage projects without the luxury of “checking in” in-person every few hours.
Raise the bar for evaluating accountability and performance
I have noticed leaders and managers swing between extremes when it comes to measuring accountability and performance of a workforce working on flexitime. Some of them highlight every small deviation, accounting for every minute of their remote or flexitime employees. Some managers, on the other hand, base their monitoring on “feelings” alone, assuming the best-case scenario irrespective of the reality.
A sound evaluation process for accountability and performance is exactly the middle ground between the two. Trusting your employees is essential if you want to be known as an employer fit for mature adults. But this trust needs to be earned too. Laying out your expectations early on can help you monitor deviations and lack of accountability more closely without penalizing your better, more responsible employees.
Flexitime is perhaps one of the most crucial positive changes that businesses can bring to how they engage, interact with, and retain good talent. But flexitime is not just about your employees coming and leaving whenever they want. It has serious implications on your business. Don’t be in a rush to subscribe to it in desperation to retain employees or hire good talent. If done incorrectly, it could make things uncomfortable, leave work unsupervised, and create more problems than it solves.
Flexitime is not a policy change that can be implemented overnight. It takes weeks, sometimes months, of planning and ideation before employers can come up with mutually beneficial arrangements. This, however, could be time well-spent.