Earlier this year telecoms giant O2 announced that the vast majority of their employees (88%) were just as productive when working flexibly than when they are present in the workplace. Meanwhile a Stanford University study showed that one travel company noted a 12% rise in productivity when staff worked from home.

The evidence would suggest that flexible working leads to more productive employees – so why aren’t we all doing it?

Well, if you heed the advice of the government and you are based in and around London, you may well be jumping into the world of flexible work when the Olympic Games finally arrive. With a sharp increase of traffic into the city and a travel infrastructure that struggles to cope at the best of times, the daily commute might not be an option.

Interestingly, as a company specialising in emotional intelligence, leadership and team development we now have clients asking us: how do we get this right?

In the past many have allowed the odd employee to arrange work around family life, or work at home occasionally to meet the demanding nature of utility companies and delivery firms. This summer however, flexible working is very much on the agenda. 

How equipped are your managers to deal with this shift in working practice?
The truth is, if companies are to launch successful flexible working programmes where employees benefit from feeling empowered with the ability to manage their own hours, and employers experience no drop in productivity (or better, an increase), it comes down to management.

Here are FOUR crucial areas to consider about the management teams within your business when delving into the flexible working world.

1.      Emotional Intelligence
How emotionally intelligent are the managers within your organisation?

The answer to this question will have a huge impact on how well they handle flexible work. Generally speaking, emotional intelligence relates to an individual’s ability to perceive and understand the emotions of others and control their own emotions.

When working out of the office and away from the manager’s watchful eye, it is vital to be able to pick up emotionally-linked clues as to how well an individual is performing or coping with workloads. Some indicators are clear when working across the room, but detecting these same issues and challenges on an emotional level is quite different.

2.     Organisation
The moment the team leave the working environment and work remotely, the organisational levels of the manger are exposed.

If flexible working is to be effective there is a need for managers to show leadership of a different kind. Where flexible work is effective, management teams understand fully the capabilities of their team and the length of time it will take to complete tasks without the luxury of seeing updates in real time.

3.     Technology
The digital revolution has really played into the hands of the flexible working model. Advances in communication technology like instant messaging and video conferencing mean that management can ‘stay in touch’ with remote employees like never before.

While managers once would have been forced to rely on a phone call for an update from their team working away from the office, today they can hold regular face-to-face meetings via tools like Skype.

How well does your management team understand how to use this technology and is the infrastructure in place within your business? One real barrier here is the traditional manager’s acceptance of new technology and the way in which it can truly benefit flexible working. It is best practice to ensure all managers understand the benefits of business technology and its functionalities. This may require a shift in mindset for some.

4.     Trust
Where managers are willing to trust their employees to work in the same way at home as they would in the office, flexible working can be effective. Is there a need to micro-manage?

Every employee is different, some will want total control of their working day while others actually relish the opportunity to be constantly presenting back to their manager – but either way, the manger needs to be able to trust that each individual works with just as much motivation and commitment out of the office as they do when they are in it.

The manager who demands constant updates from his or her staff when working flexibly, and also is clearly uncomfortable with the situation, will struggle garner top performance from a flexible team.

What this all boils down to is…

While these four areas are great starting points for employers to assess just how prepared they are for flexible work, it is the make-up and characteristics of the manager that really impact on whether it will be a success or not.

Simply by focusing on the differing personality traits of your management team with insightful psychometric tools like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or Insights Discovery employers can find out where there could be some potential danger areas within management teams. Some ‘types’ require constant contact, while others ‘types’ are content to work alone – not needing others for motivation. Such tools can also reveal ‘danger areas’ among employees. Which individuals will thrive on the independence, and which ones need the visible support of their team and managers?

With this kind of detail and psychometric information on each manager, employers will be in a far stronger position to launch a programme of flexible working. For many, the Olympic Games could represent the first foray into this type of working arrangement. Those companies that have completed the right level of background work and assessed where, if any, there could be challenges to cope with, will undoubtedly reap similar levels of reward that businesses like O2 have enjoyed in the past.

Colin Graves 
Iridium Consulting can tell you more about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, having carried out the process alongside effective coaching and training at a large number of businesses. 

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