Making a Smooth Transition to a Flexible Work Environment
A checklist for making a smooth transition to a flexible work environment.
12:22 05 October 2021
The corporate world had to act fast when Covid-19 made it unsafe for office employees to come into work. Even if leaders were hesitant about introducing a work-from-home policy, they quickly found that they had no other choice.
While this historic event had many adverse effects on people and companies, it also made way for a handful of positive changes. Flexible work arrangements, especially remote work, became normal, and in some cases, essential. With many states issuing stay-at-home orders, several employers were forced to implement flexible work options on the fly.
Now that we’ve returned to a semi-normal existence, employees are asking that flexible or hybrid work arrangements remain available.
Most employers are not in a position to turn this request down. However, they still may be uncertain about how to turn a short-term arrangement into a permanent one.
This article will highlight all of the things a leader or manager needs to do to support a smooth transition to a permanent flexible workplace.
The benefits of promoting a flexible work environment
Corporate employees have been seeking more flexible work environments for years. Some employers agreed, before the pandemic hit, to give their teams more options. But many were still unconvinced that this option could work.
Fortunately, there is a lot of research demonstrating that flexible work arrangements can indeed have multiple positive benefits for employers and employees.
Companies that give their staff more flexibility tend to:
- Have a better ability to recruit the talent they want
- Have higher retention rates
- Augment organizational diversity efforts
- See greater productivity from employees
- Have happier, more engaged employees
- Maintain business continuity, even during emergency circumstances
- Support ethical behavior
- Be more socially responsible
- See cost savings
Challenges that make leaders hesitant about switching to a flexible workplace
In a 2020 Deloitte survey of 1,000 U.S. white-collar workers, 94% of respondents said they would love more workplace flexibility, in the form of remote work and flexible work hours. They felt it would help reduce stress, improved mental health, and allow them to enjoy a better integration of work and personal life. Yet 80% of those same participants also said a traditional work setting was important if they wanted to continue advancing. Another 30% said that due to the negative consequences of working from home, they would not take advantage of flexible work options, even if they were available to them.
- Managers may be reluctant about making the switch because they are worried their staff simply won’t be as productive when they are being supervised
- They may also be unsure about which setups will be most conducive to workers' needs/wants
- There may be concerns that a second class of workers will be created. If some staff are rarely in the office, and others are rarely out of the office, those that can be seen by management may have more opportunities for advancement
- Communicating broadly to achieve the benefits of flexible work arrangements is a big change
- There will be some processes and policies that don’t work. The entire company has to be prepared to make several adjustments
- Managing the change from a traditional work environment to one with more flexible work arrangements can create or amplify managerial trouble spots, including upper management's resistance to change, control issues, trouble working as a team when everyone has a different schedule, and maintaining the safety and security of company data
These are all valid concerns. Managers do not have to offer flexible work arrangements, but they are encouraged to try and work through their concerns to provide employees with some degree of flexibility. Otherwise, they may lose their best team members to companies that are willing to provide a work experience more compatible with their needs and expectations.
A checklist for transitioning into a flexible work environment
Moving away from a more traditional work arrangement to a dynamic one is a process; don’t expect to change overnight. All members of your company will need time and information in order for things to work well. You can also use this checklist to help you plan and make the switch.
- Determine what flexible arrangements will be available
- Are you offering staff flex hours, a hybrid arrangement, or perhaps both?
- If flexible work hours is an option, do employees have to communicate their plans to their manager?
- Decide if you will have a hot-desking, desk hoteling or shared desk model
- How will you allow staff to safely secure their spot in the office?
- Plan to rearrange your office or workspace so that there is enough space between employees
- Determine how client meetings are to be conducted
- Lead by example. Most managers are keen to be in the office, but they also need to show their team that it’s okay to work from home
- Avoid “signaling.” Don’t say things like, “You’re leaving already? Must be nice.” Similarly, it would be unfair to mention during a performance evaluation that someone regularly leaves before the day is over if flex hours are an option. If their work is good, then there is no reason to discuss their choice to come in and leave early
- Management must also accept that it will be impossible to ensure all of their employees are working all of the time. They must trust their teams to do their best unless staff give them a reason to believe otherwise
- Train your managers
- Too often, it’s assumed that managers can just run with new policies and practices. But if team managers don’t have enough information or training, flexible working arrangements are likely to fail. They may be as uncertain about the new arrangements are you were
- Team managers should be taught about the benefits of flexible/hybrid work, and given practical guidance and support. Company leaders can also help managers establish clear guidelines and policies, such as how staff should be contacted when they are working from home
- Shift metrics. Focus on results rather than time spent in the office. We’ve all had to work from home, and we all know that it can be successfully done
- Introduce practical technology
- It may be necessary to make some technological upgrades or additions. Not only do practical tech solutions help companies stay competitive, they also end up saving businesses time (and sometimes, money)
- Companies will need an accessible office management software system like Office Control so that staff can book spaces safely and quickly. This also ensures the office doesn’t exceed capacity limits
- New webcams, monitors, sensors, etc., may also be necessary
- Ensure staff have access to resources they need when they come into the office. That includes the major stuff like printer ink, internet connection and a way to reach someone if there is a problem, to smaller stuff like hand sanitizer and staples
- Have a plan for onboarding new employees
- Consider how training will be conducted, and what information and tools new staff members will need to work remotely. Don’t forget to create team events where everyone can come together and interact with people they don’t usually see or work with
Dynamic or hybrid workplaces aren’t going anywhere. Now that employees have successfully demonstrated that they can work from home, most expect their managers to keep that option available, at least some of the time. Company leaders may find this to be a bit of an uncomfortable transition, but they are encouraged to trust their teams, and clearly communicate rules and expectations to ensure everyone is on the same page.