Flexible working doesn't mean overhauling a business - here's some simple tips to make it work

More relaxed working arrangements for employees can actually help cut office costs.

By Karen O'Reilly Founder, Employmum

THERE IS A war for talent out there in the workplace at the moment, and the companies that are going to win are the ones that offer their people what they want.

In order to retain, and obtain, the brains of the future, companies need to stop with the gimmicky add-ons; the ping-pong tables, the free fruit and the yoga on Wednesdays.

Fundamentally, if your people are feeling they have no work-life balance and have no flexibility in their working schedule, they are going to walk out your positive affirmation-adorned door and into the flexible arms of your competitor.

Flexible work can be a scary concept for some traditionalists, but flexible work can just mean small tweaks in your scheduling. It’s allowing people to start a little later, maybe work through lunch and clock out early on Friday.

These small gestures can mean so much to people, especially parents who are juggling family life. Flexible work is not just sought after by parents though – people do have lives outside of work and flexible work can help with this balance.

Flexible work can mean flexible hours, part-time work, the chance to work remote work, annualised hours and job sharing. It offers many obvious advantages to the employee, but there are numerous benefits for the savvy employer on the flip side as well:

  • Cost savings: Office space, office equipment, utility costs and insurance, these are estimated to be approximately €10,000 per employee;
  • Employee retention: Good people will stay with you for the long haul if you offer them some degree of flexibility – why lose your highly skilled knowledgeable assets because you weren’t willing to bend a little?
  • Better morale: Employers who fear that offering flexibility will reduce productivity are in for a pleasant surprise as studies have shown quite the opposite;
  • Competitive edge: The pool of talent is greatly increased if you offer flexible working and a company will have access to new tiers of talent – many of whom will have been overlooked by other traditional employers.

How to facilitate flexible working?

Flexible recruiting – When recruiting, consider if the role can be done flexibly and advertise with specialised flexible recruitment agencies.

Use terms like ‘flexible work conditions’, ‘flexible hours’ and ‘parent friendly’ to attract the full-time parent who cannot work full-time.

Engage your employees – Ask them what do they want regarding flexible work arrangements. Include them in the flexible work scheduling process.

With employee input, ascertain what functions within the business can be done in a flexible way and how they can be done most effectively. Decide on a way of measuring performance in each department in conjunction with managers and staff.

Develop your policy – After staff consultations and once you have decided on your work flexibility format, develop your policies and set them out clearly, without ambiguity.

Decide what departments and what personnel will have access to flexible work conditions – not all staff will be suited. But be careful not to discriminate. Get your legal ducks in a row to avoid any issues in the future – employment contracts will need to be reviewed.

Train your managers – While your staff should essentially be doing the same job, albeit flexibly, your managers will need to be trained to manage their staff in a different way.

Managers will need to change their methods, as looking over the shoulder of an employee and having bums on seats may not work any more.

A trial run is a good idea – try flexible work arrangements for a period of three months in one department and investigate whether productivity has been effected.

Communication is king – Going forward, communication will be a key factor to the success of your flexible work arrangements. For remote workers, over communicate and give constant feedback to employees.

Schedule conference calls regularly and organise team meetings online and in person. Use the 30/30 appraisal rule – 30 minutes every 30 days until you feel the flexible system is working.

Social outings are important to factor in as well, especially if the team are not meeting each other regularly.

Karen O’Reilly is the founder of flexible recruitment agency Employmum.

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