One of the highlights of 2013 was my visit to Singapore to keynote their national work life conference.
Here I am pictured with some of my hosts from the Singapore Employer Alliance, a group that brings employers and government together to address a range of work life issues.
My main message to the conference? For flexible work to succeed, employers and employees have to meet in the middle. In most cases, this partnership doesn’t exist, but it can be created by following these steps.
What do these employers have in common?
- The division of a global biotech company projects 25% growth over the next three years. The number of products they offer will increase from seven to twenty-five, which will require a radical realignment of job descriptions and global markets. To sustain engagement during this period of rapid change, the company encourages employees to use day-to-day flexibility in how, when and where work is done to be their best, on and off the job.
- An insurance company transitioned to an open office space configuration. The move would result in a significant reduction in real estate overhead; however, leaders and employees resisted the change. They questioned whether they could concentrate on the complex documents and projects that make up a large part of their work without cubicles and offices. When it became clear the project would move forward in spite of these concerns, the head of HR decided to encourage employees to use telework, as needed, to maintain focus and productivity.
- A home improvement retailer wants to expand its operations, but faces a significant talent shortage. To find and keep the qualified people they need to grow, they create flexible work options that are more attractive to non-traditional staffing sources, such as students, stay-at-home parents and older workers. They redesigned the traditional part-time retail job to include more recognition and rewards. They also revised the standard full-time retail employment model reducing the typical workweek from six days to five days.
These organizations used strategic work and life flexibility to address unique business challenges—rapid growth, a shift in workspace design, and a talent shortage. But, in all three cases, the key to successful execution was an active partnership between the business and its employees. The business could offer flexibility in the way work could be done, but their people had to:
- Use that day-to-day flexibility to stay engaged and be their best, on and off the job.
- Use that targeted, strategic telework to focus and remain productive.
- Use that enhanced part-time and a revised full-time schedule to reenter and remain in the retail workforce.
There are three key factors that build an employer-employee partnership for flexible work success:
First, create a shared vision of what flexibility will look like once it is implemented. How is the work getting done better and how is life outside of work being managed smarter? What are leaders, managers and employees doing? How are they behaving? Cascade that vision as widely and deeply as possible through the organization touching all key stakeholders. This visioning process is one of the most powerful ways to create buy-in and understanding, especially among middle managers.
Second, train managers in the basics of good management. Then, add a layer of targeted flexible workplace strategies. When everyone had to show up to work at the same place at the same time everyday, organizations could get away with not training managers in the fundamentals of good management. It wasn’t as critical to know how to give consistent feedback, to task work fairly, to set clear goals and objectives, to provide adequate resources, and to use technology. “Presence equals performance” was the default.
For the employer-employee flexible work partnership to succeed, these basic management skills are a requirement. Once they are mastered and contextualized for their application in a flexible workplace, then a manager can add on the tactics that enhance the performance of a flexible team, such as schedule coordination and remote worker recognition. But the basics have to be there first.
And last, but not least, train your people to capture the flexibility offered and use it to manage their work+life fit, everyday and at major life transitions. Knowing how to flexibly manage your work+life fit, deliberately and intentionally, is a modern skill set we all need to be our best, on and off the job. But very few of us know how because we are not taught. To learn more about the complete work+life fit skill set, please refer to my recently—released book, Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day, and my first book, Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You. Also, you can find information about the everyday work+life fit “how to” at www.tweakittogether.com.
Work and life flexibility can be a powerful strategy to address many of today’s organizational challenges. But successful execution requires skilled managers to partner with their people in ways they didn’t have to when “work” was clearly defined and separate from life.