Flexibility is almost a cliché in the work world these days. Everyone wants more flexibility since they were sent home to work.
Some employees even demand it or they’ll quit.
But leaders aren’t as quick to bend on policies as they were in the throes of the pandemic. Many are afraid flexible work is equivalent to less work.
“Flexibility has tremendous benefits for employees, including reduced burnout and greater job satisfaction,” Margaret Luciano, associate professor of management and organization in the Smeal College of Business at Pennsylvania State University, said in The Harvard Business Review. “However, it can also result in spiraling coordination costs for managers, untenable amounts of wasted effort, and the inability to respond quickly to client requests.”
To reach the right balance, Luciano suggests these strategies:
Manage when employees work
Rethink when employees work together.
Examine the workflow when people need to collaborate to get a job done. Chart out project tasks and timeline. Then ask employees to schedule a specific set of days or hours so their work overlaps on pivotal phases – such as the kickoff, brainstorming sessions and approval.
Of course, not every project goes as expected, and some become unexpectedly urgent. So employees can schedule aligned “work bursts.” For instance, employees work from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. the first week of the month. They can choose their 40 hours per week for the remainder of the month.
Look at team dynamics
Rethink who works together – and more specifically, how many work together.
When you have fewer physical or time overlaps, you might want to reorganize larger teams into smaller, empowered, closely connected groups.
Smaller groups are more flexible, agile and adaptable.
Let’s say you break a group of nine into three groups of three.
The manager still oversees the project. But the small group can make quicker decisions, coordinate their work and adjust for each other when necessary.
It saves time and money on coordination, and may help everything move forward more quickly.
Share information differently
Make information-sharing a job criteria and make more information available.
When people aren’t co-located, they can’t “pop their heads in” each others’ workspaces to give or get updates. And getting everyone on the same page at the same time isn’t as easy.
With a dispersed workforce, you want to avoid waits on updates and answers. To keep information up to date (by the minute, hour or day), require employees use and update your tools for project management, communication and workflow.
Luciano even suggests you dusting off old-school tools like the RACI matrix: Note who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed for each task.
Regularly map out employees’ tasks. Help employees see how each is connected to the next. The regular analysis and transparency can help employees set priorities based on what everyone does and needs.
That “will help ensure that your employees’ time and efforts are well spent, no matter when or where they’re working,” says Luciano.