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Flexing the benefits of flexible workers


FlexibleSecuring the right person for the role is only the beginning of the journey. Shirley Soskin advises on how to get the best out of your flexible workers.

There has been some recent coverage in the media stating that large organisations are reviewing their policies on flexible working as they seek greater outputs from a fixed headcount. It is a pity that these organisations are not prepared to consider the effect on morale and productivity, let alone the problems of attracting and retaining talent which will inevitably result.

We understand the resistance to the notion of flexibility at senior level. There is an underlying belief that if someone is not in the office they are not contributing. This is simply not the case. Successful flexible professionals are results-focused and determined to achieve. Whilst you may only be paying for 75% of their time, you will get 100% of their commitment and brainpower.

“Research has shown that the majority of successful flexible roles within organisations are handled on an informal basis.”

Many of the exceptionally talented people we see, have reached a point in their careers where they no longer want to work full-time in a permanent role. They are therefore not available through traditional recruiting channels and their potential contribution in the vital war for talent could be missed out. Some key professionals within organisations have simply given up working and their years of talent and experiences are just lost to the economy.

Research has shown that the majority of successful flexible roles within organisations are handled on an informal basis but as the right to request flexibility increases with developments in legislation, it helps if employers have established a few guidelines.

For HR professionals facing this task, there are some basic rules to be followed and questions to be asked:

Does this job need to be done full-time?
It is not reasonable to expect someone working four days a week to do a five day a week job but can it be restructured, or is the employee so experienced that they may only need four days to complete it? Set clear guidelines at the outset for both sides to understand what is meant by flexibility. If you have agreed a set number of days in the office try to maintain that timetable. Don’t structure a full-time job into four days and expect the candidate to perform.

Can I measure the outputs, not the hours worked? How important is face time at the office? How much time is my employee wasting at the office?
Employers should focus on what an individual can achieve, not on the time that they won’t be in the office. If they have time at home to complete their administrative tasks and surf the internet, they might well be more productive in the hours they spend at the office.

“Flexible workers tend to have a much fresher perspective, they often gain insights and valuable networks from being outside the office from time to time.”

Can I get hold of this person when I need to?
Clearly most jobs don’t stop the moment the employee leaves their desk; in this technological era there is no such thing as being out of touch; successful flexible professionals will make themselves contactable to ensure momentum is maintained, and in our experience teams are more able to make decisions and become more selective in their questions without managers breathing down their necks all day every day.

What is the impact on my team? What happens if everyone wants Friday off?
This is where teamwork is vital in making sure no gaps are left. Structured induction programmes can facilitate rapid integration into the team; work with your team to make sure that expectations are met. Communication is critical.

Are there any effective role models within the organisation?
Employers who have senior-level role models working flexibly, will help promote a flexible culture throughout the organisation and demonstrate that senior roles can be done flexibly and that career aspirations are not in jeopardy.

Is there help or coaching we can provide for those individuals who are seeking the opportunity to work flexibly within the organisation?
We need to provide both employees and hiring managers with the opportunity to air any concerns.

What are other factors to consider when offering flexibility?
A major factor is a happy and healthy workforce, flexible workers tend to be more committed having earned the right to work flexibly they will make every effort to make it work. Also flexible workers tend to have a much fresher perspective, they often gain insights and valuable networks from being outside the office from time to time.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and there are many factors that both the employee and employer should consider in achieving the successful integration of flexible workers. The debate will continue and recent media coverage has highlighted an ongoing interest in the subject, enlightened organisations will understand the benefits and be adaptable and receptive to modern working practices.

Shirley Soskin is managing partner at Silverhawk Partners, which specialises in flexible working at senior level

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