When it comes to flexibility, executives are often worried that they’ll open Pandora’s box and set a dangerous precedent if they allow some employees to work flexibly. They worry that if they let a few employees work from home, then the office will always be empty and no one will be working. But this sort of attitude will be harder for organizations to justify after we’ve all collectively experienced such a critical test case during the Covid-19 pandemic. Organizations that correctly design and implement their flexibility policy will not “lose” anything. On the contrary, they have much to gain. Perhaps a silver lining of the pandemic will be that corporate leaders have overcome their fears of offering flexibility to their workforce, and will now understand how flexibility can benefit their recruitment and retention efforts — not to mention productivity and profitability.
“Flexibility might be great in theory, but it just doesn’t work for us.”
We have literally heard this statement hundreds of times over the years. It doesn’t matter what industry we’re talking about — whether it’s tech, government, finance, healthcare, or small business, we’ve heard it. There’s always someone who works from the premise that “there’s no way flexible work policies can work in our organization.”
In reality, flexible work policies can work in any industry. The last twelve months of the pandemic have proven this. In fact, a recent Harvard Business School Online study showed that most professionals have excelled in their jobs while working from home, and 81% either don’t want to go back to the office or would choose a hybrid schedule post-pandemic. It’s important to recognize, however, that flexibility doesn’t always look the same — one size definitely does not fit all.
The Myth of the Five C’s
You may be wondering, “If you can recruit the best candidates, increase your retention rates, improve your profits, and advance innovation by incorporating a relatively simple and inexpensive initiative, then why haven’t more organizations developed flex policies?” This question will be even harder for organizations to ignore after we’ve experienced such a critical test case during the Covid-19 pandemic.
We believe fear has created stumbling blocks for many organizations when it comes to flexibility. Companies either become frozen by fear or they become focused by fear. It is focus that can help companies pivot during challenging times. In the years that we’ve been working with companies on flexibility, we’ve heard countless excuses and myths for why they have not implemented a flex policy. In fact, the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance has boiled these myths down to the fear of losing the 5 C’s:
- Loss of control
- Loss of culture
- Loss of collaboration
- Loss of contribution
- Loss of connection
Addressing the Fears
Myth #1: Loss of Control
Executives are often worried that they’ll open Pandora’s box and set a dangerous precedent if they allow some employees to work flexibly. They worry that if they let a few employees work from home, then the office will always be empty and no one will be working. The answer to this is structure and clarity. We can virtually guarantee that any organization that correctly designs and implements their flexibility policy will not lose anything.
To maintain control and smooth operation of your organization, it’s imperative that you set standards and clearly communicate them. Organizations should provide clear guidelines on the types of flexibility offered (for example, remote work, reduced hours, asynchronous schedules, job sharing and/or compressed work weeks) and create a centralized approval process for flexibility to ensure that the system is equitable. It is also helpful to have a calendar system for tracking when and where each team member is working. You must also commit to training everyone on these standards — from those working a flexible schedule, to those supervising them, to all other coworkers. Education and training will help your team avoid “flex stigma,” where employees are disadvantaged or viewed as less committed due to their flexibility. Training can also help organizations to ensure that successful systems and structures that support flexibility are maintained.
Myth #2: Loss of Culture
While you may not see every employee every day, and you may not be able to have lunch with people every day, culture does not have to suffer with a flexible work initiative. However, it is essential that teams meet either in person or via video conference on a regular basis. At the Alliance, we recommend that companies and firms first define what culture means to their individual organization and then determine how they might maintain this culture in a hybrid or virtual environment.
Many organizations with whom we’ve worked reported that they found creative ways to maintain culture during months of remote working during the pandemic. Many Alliance members organized social functions like virtual exercise classes, cooking classes, happy hours, and team-building exercises to maintain community. Additionally, it’s important to take advantage of the days when everyone is physically present to develop relationships, participate in events, and spend one-to-one time with colleagues.
Myth # 3: Loss of Collaboration
As long as teams that are working a flexible schedule commit to regular meetings and consistent communication, then collaboration will not be compromised. It’s important for all team members to maintain contact (even if it’s online), keep tabs on all projects, and be responsive to emails and phone calls. We always recommend that remote teams also meet in person occasionally to maintain personal contact and relationships. For collaboration to be successful, remote employees must not be held to a higher standard that those working in the office. Additionally, technology should be used to enhance collaboration. For example, when companies are bringing teams together for brainstorming sessions, virtual breakout rooms can facilitate small group collaboration and help to ensure that all voices are heard. Some organizational leaders have also incorporated regular virtual office hours for unscheduled feedback and informal collaboration.
Myth #4: Loss of Contribution
We have often heard leaders say: “If employees are not physically at their desks in the office, then how will we know that they’re actually working?” But with endless distractions available on computers these days (from online shopping, to Instagram, to Facebook, etc.) you really don’t know what your employees are doing at their desks, even if they are in the office. In fact, they could be searching for a new job (that offers flexibility!) right before your eyes. It’s important to clearly communicate what is expected of each individual and trust that they will complete the job within the expected timeframe. All employees should be evaluated on the quality of their work and their ability to meet clearly defined performance objectives, rather than on time spent in the office.
Myth #5: Loss of Connection
Technology now enables people to connect at any time of the day in almost any location. Meetings can be held through a myriad of video conferencing applications. Additionally, calendar-sharing apps can help to coordinate team schedules and assist with knowing the availability of team members. Even networking events can now be done virtually. For example, one of our team members created a system for scheduling informal virtual coffee chats between partners and associates to maintain opportunities for networking and mentoring during the pandemic.
It’s important to know what your employees and stakeholders prefer in terms of in-person, hybrid, or virtual-only connection. In a recent survey conducted by BNI of over 2,300 people from around the world, the networking organization asked the participants if they would like their meetings to be: 1) in-person only, 2) online only, or 3) a blend of online and in-person meetings. One third of the participants surveyed said that they wanted to go back completely to in-person meetings. However, 16% wanted to stick with online meetings only, and almost 51% of the survey respondents were in favor of a blend of meeting both in-person and online. This is a substantial transition from the organizational practice prior to the pandemic, with a full two-thirds of the organization saying that they would prefer some aspect of online meetings to be the norm in the future.
A recent 2021 KPMG CEO Outlook Pulse Survey found that almost half of the CEOs of major corporations around the world do not expect to see a return to “normal” this year. Perhaps a silver lining of the pandemic will be that corporate leaders have overcome their fears of the 5C’s and will now understand how flexibility can benefit their recruitment and retention efforts — not to mention productivity and profitability.
How to Boost the Morale of Your Employees
Employee morale is something that every business owner needs to consider and not just because it makes the workplace a nicer place for all (although this is a very important reason). High morale can result in improved productivity and overall team performance, employee loyalty and greater engagement, but it is also not easy to keep morale high and this can create a range of problems in the business.
So, how can a business improve the morale of the employees?
Use an Interior Designer to Redecorate
One study revealed that 97% of workers believe that the workplace symbolises how they are valued as an employee, so you will certainly want to create a comfortable and stylish workplace for staff (especially if they are returning after COVID-19).
The same study showed that 65% claimed that they would consciously improve their performance in a more comfortable environment, so a smart way to improve morale would be to hire an interior designer to redecorate and use trade interior suppliers to secure the best office furniture for a more comfortable and attractive office space.
Work/life balance has always been an important factor for staff that can have a huge bearing on morale, but particularly since COVID-19 which has changed people’s ideas and attitudes towards work (and life). You need to make sure that your company is providing the chance for a good work/life balance, which you can do by ensuring that staff are not overworked and stressed, with flexible work and the option of working from home (many are adopting a hybrid work model).
It is hard for employees to feel happy in their role if they do not get much chance to engage and socialise with their colleagues. This is why you should encourage employees to spend time together inside and outside of the office, which you can do by arranging informal social events after work. You cannot force people to get along, but by arranging informal events it can make a big difference to relationships and lift morale.
Following this point, one of the most important steps to take not only for morale but for general performance is good communication between management and staff. You should be providing regular positive feedback to keep morale high, but you should also keep your door open and make sure that it is easy for staff to come forward when they have ideas, issues or questions.
These are a few of the most effective ways to lift morale that could make a big difference to your company in more ways than one. Improving morale can improve individual and team performances, encourage staff loyalty and create a positive workplace atmosphere that everyone can benefit from.
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What Your Future Employees Want Most
The last year has forever changed the way employees view and approach work, but one thing holds true: Businesses that want to attract and retain the talent they need to move forward must understand the top priorities of their future workforce. They must embrace new, flexible work models and cultivate a workforce that can design their own careers. Employees want to determine when and where they work. They want to work with a diverse team. They want to be measured on the value they deliver, not the volume they deliver. And they expect to be given the space and trust they need to do their very best work, wherever they happen to be. Companies that understand and embrace these wants and needs will not only boost the motivation and engagement of their existing workers, but will gain the attention of the brightest new recruits and take their business to new heights.
The past year has accelerated digital transformation across sectors. Along with a universal recognition that resilient employees are the true lifeblood of a company came an understanding that a company’s workforce is crucial to business recovery. This has prompted organizations to completely rethink how they attract, retain, and manage their talent.
My organization, Citrix, wanted to understand what the current attitudes of both HR managers and knowledge workers are with regard to their future workforce. We conducted a study, which we dubbed the Talent Accelerator, as part of Citrix’s Work 2035 project, a year-long examination of global work patterns and plans designed to understand how work will change, and the role that technology will play in enabling people to perform at their best. The Talent Accelerator study combines research from more than 2,000 knowledge workers and 500 HR directors in large, established corporations and mid-market businesses with at least 500 employees based in the United States. When the study was commissioned, both groups of professionals were working under permanent contracts and were currently or had recently been working from home as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.
Research Findings on the Future of Talent Management
When it comes to what talent management in the future might look like, our study pointed to three defining priorities among knowledge workers:
1. Employees overwhelmingly expect flexible options.
According to the study, 88% of knowledge workers say that when searching for a new position, they will look for one that offers complete flexibility in their hours and location. Also 83% predict that in response to the global skilled talent shortage, companies will leverage flexible work models to reach out to suitable candidates no matter where they live — yet, only 66% of HR directors feel the same. What’s more:
- 76% of the workers polled believe that employees will be more likely to prioritize lifestyle (family and personal interests) over proximity to work, and will pursue jobs in locations where they can focus on both — even if it means taking a pay cut.
- 83% of employees think that workers will be more likely to move out of cities and other urban locations if they can work remotely for a majority of the time, creating new work hubs in rural areas.
In order to position themselves to win in the future, companies will need to meet employees where they are.
2. Employees want to re-imagine how productivity is measured.
In the future, companies will need to rethink how they measure productivity because traditional metrics — and views that real work can’t get done outside the office — will no longer cut it. According to the study, today’s employees want to be measured on the value they deliver, not the volume. And they expect to be given the space and trust they need to do their very best work, wherever they happen to be.
- 86% of employees said they would prefer to work for a company that prioritizes outcomes over output. What does this mean? New employees want to work for a company that cares less about the qualified work output they are able to produce, and more about the impact they can deliver to the business in a holistic sense.
- But there is a gap here, with just 69% of HR directors saying that their company currently operates in this way, and only half of HR directors saying that their organization would be more productive as a whole if employees felt that their employer/senior management team trusted them to get the job done without monitoring their progress.
Forward-thinking companies will focus on closing this gap, and will design people-centric experiences that give employees the space they need to unlock their full potential and deliver transformative results.
3. Employees want to work with a diverse team.
One thing on which both employees and managers seem to agree? Employees want to work for a company that prioritizes diversity.
- 86% of employees and 66% of HR directors assert that a diverse workforce will become even more important as roles, skills, and company requirements change over time.
- Honest, accessible metrics around your diversity progress and remaining gaps are critical to ensuring that efforts to build a diverse team are measurable, targeted, and impactful.
Takeaway for Leaders
What should the major takeaways be for business leaders when it comes to the implications of these findings?
1. See the forest through the trees.
Without the restriction of location, business leaders must look at their recruiting from a broader lens and expand the potential to attract employees who can boost an organization’s creativity and productivity.
They might, for instance, dip into untapped pools of talent such as the “home force” and bring back parents who’ve put their careers on hold to care for children, or people who left jobs to tend to aging relatives. It could also mean looking to Baby Boomers who’ve retired, but who still want to work a few hours per week. And it could mean enlisting more part-time, contract, and gig workers — who make up a larger percentage of the workforce than ever — to take on more hours. And, of course, it means looking for global talent that may reside anywhere.
2. Prioritize learning and development.
New business models sparked by the pandemic and changes in customer preferences and needs have given rise to new roles and opportunities for companies — and their employees — to grow. Upskilling and reskilling will be critical factor in capitalizing on them. As the study found:
- 82% of employees and 62% of HR directors believe that workers will need to hone their current skills or acquire new ones at least once a year in order to maintain competitive advantage in a global job market.
- HR directors believe that ensuring that an organization has the latest collaborative technology in place to enable agile learning is the most important factor in recruiting and retaining the best talent, and 88% of employees confirm this notion, saying that they look for this when searching for a new position.
It bears repeating: Organizations will need to prioritize reskilling and upskilling to attract and retain the talent they need to make their businesses grow. Those that do will not only boost the motivation of their existing workers, but will gain the attention of the brightest new recruits and position themselves to emerge from the pandemic not just where they were, but in a stronger, better position to move forward.
The last year has forever changed the way employees view and approach work, but one thing holds true: Businesses that want to attract and retain the talent they need to move forward must understand the top priorities of their future workforce. They must embrace new, flexible work models and cultivate a workforce that can design their own careers. In doing so, they will not only boost the motivation and engagement of their existing workers, but will gain the attention of the brightest new recruits and take their business to new heights.
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