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Flexible work arrangements

Sheena Mayers

Flexible work arrangements

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Recently my colleague highlighted some benefits of flexibility in the workplace and how it can positively impact productivity.
In fact, studies have shown that work-life balance is a critical concern to many employees and in the ever changing business environment where it is essential for businesses to be nimble; flexible work arrangements can assist in both regards.
Flexibility is another tool in the business toolkit and its central aim is to manage employees and workflow while contributing to a better customer experience.
There are various forms of flexible work arrangements including job sharing where two people do on job and split the hours, working from home or telecommuting.
Additionally, compressed hours allow the employee to work full-time hours over fewer days and flexitime allows the employee choice in start and end times (within agreed limits) but daily core hours, for example 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. are specified.
Whether it is introducing work from home days, flexitime or telecommuting, there are critical factors to be considered as well as steps to be followed to ensure that the new system is introduced as smoothly as possible and to the benefit of the organization.
There is no exhaustive or all-encompassing list of things to consider when implementing flexible work arrangements. However, here are a few areas of consideration.
Customers remain the focus: While the benefits of flexible work arrangements are many, they are not suited to every company or in fact every department within a given company. When introducing any scheme, customer service should remain paramount in the discussions.
Could customer service be improved through longer opening hours or can office space be converted to retail space by utilizing telecommuting? If these were the questions that initiated the dialogue, let them remain the focus of the conversation about flexibility.
Find a system that is right for your business: Don’t be overly concerned with the latest scheme that is being discussed as there is no universal panacea. While telecommuting may work for one company, in another company, for example a retail operation, it may not be a practical solution.
Examine the requirements of your business as well as your objectives and seek the best fit. Don’t feel that you must choose one system over another as you may find combining different systems forming a unique model may be what is best for your business.
Sometimes, it is evident how employees may benefit from the introduction of a flexible work arrangement while the benefit to the business as a whole may not be apparent. Just remember that one worthwhile consideration is the business’ ability to attract and retain good employees.
Flexibility is required by both parties: Both managers and employees need to clearly state their expectations and challenges with any new system. Discuss flexible approaches with staff, give them the opportunity to make suggestions, raise issues and present scenarios.
• Evaluate resources: Sometimes a flexible work arrangement can be the resolution to limited resources of space, but they often require resources for successful implementation.
People who telecommute may need to have desktop computers replaced with laptops, information technology resources may be required to allow people to access company material for home, and telephone features such as call forwarding may need to be activated. You must first determine and then ensure that all necessary infrastructure is present when introducing a work arrangement.
• Adequate supervision and objective measurement are required: Flexibility does not negate the need for adequate supervision; employees still require feedback on their work performance, as well as regular updates on business activities.
Therefore it is vital that systems are implemented to monitor work progress, provide information and mentorship. It is not simply the number of hours spent in the office or logged into the server that must be tracked, but rather it is the output of the employee that is important.
• Consistently review the system: Flexible systems should not be set in stone. When introducing a system, you should identify a time period after which it will be reviewed. Analyze the successes and challenges and revise as needed.
 When a system is firmly established there should still be consistent evaluation of its usefulness and relevance to the business needs. In the ever-changing environment this is critical to allowing the company to retain its competitive advantage.
The initial implementation of a new system will always have its challenges. However, patience, thought and continuous monitoring can result in the successful commencement of a flexible work arrangement which can redound to the benefit of your organization, by positively impacting the customer service being offered, as well as the job satisfaction your employees enjoy.