Author: Yogi Schulz

All employees want a better work/life balance. But employers need to operate more and more on a 24/7 basis and can’t afford to let productivity languish. These divergent goals can create tensions in the workplace

In Summary:

  • While many employees want a better work/life balance, developing a flexible work strategy can present a logistical challenge for organizations
  • Businesses that have adopted a flexible work strategy cite benefits such as improved productivity, better staff retention and lower office costs.
  • Want to learn more? Readthese tips to help manage a virtual workforce, or learn the10 ways Office Live Communication Server can help lay the groundwork for a flexible work strategy

t also presents a dilemma for businesses; on one hand, in a global marketplace with suppliers and customers located in many time zones, it’s difficult to operate businesses on a 9 to 5 schedule. On the other hand, in a competitive marketplace for talent, organizations that impose almost 24/7 availability on their best people risk losing them, possibly to a competitor who holds out the promise of a less frantic work life. Employers are also risking employee burnout when they lean too much on the perpetual accessibility that cell phones, PDAs and wireless laptops provide.

However, some employers are attacking these pressures successfully with a flexible work strategy.

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What is a flexible work strategy?

A flexible work strategy is a set of policies and behaviours, supported by collaboration technology, which helps improve productivity while offering better work/life balance to employees. With this approach work is no longer defined as what we do between 8 am and 5 pm. It takes into account the fact that a considerable amount of work can now be accomplished more efficiently outside the office remotely.

For example, employees can work in a commuter train or in a home office on days when they are able to skip the time-wasting commute altogether. As well, it’s now possible to go skiing on a Tuesday, when the lift lines are a lot shorter, and still complete assigned work in the evening or after the children are in bed on Saturday.

Businesses that have adopted a flexible work strategy report the following major benefits:

  • Increased productivity : Paradoxically, employees may end up working more hours per week under a flexible work strategy as the employee and employer end up splitting the commute time savings. This is a win-win, because the employee achieves better work/life balance and the employer receives more work.
  • Enhanced attraction and retention : With a flexible work strategy, employee satisfaction increases and employee turnover decreases as employees come to appreciate the value of work flexibility. This also makes recruiting easier as word of its desirability spreads.
  • Reduced travel : Travel is expensive and undermines productivity. When a flexible work strategy includes an improved collaboration capability, it reduces the frequency of travel and reduces associated costs.
  • Lower office costs : With some employees working from remote locations, such as home offices, customer sites and branch offices, office space and related office costs can be reduced.

While it’s this benefit that often triggers the initial approval of a flexible work strategy, its value typically turns out to be less than the other, unforeseen benefits.

What makes this approach so feasible now? Actually, it has been feasible for some time. Better software, cheaper hardware, lower-cost telecommunications and the increasing pressures described above have significantly improved the business case for implementing a flexible work strategy.

Technologies like the Internet, wireless communication and better collaboration software can now provide employees with added flexibility about where and when work is performed without undermining productivity or missing deadlines.

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The management impact

The nature of work changes when the workplace becomes more flexible. Vague or general work assignments become less effective because the frequent employee/manager contact that fills in the vagueness gaps is substantially reduced. Traditional evaluation methods that over-emphasize physical presence need to be replaced with a work results measurement process.

Some managers may view this arrangement with skepticism, concerned that employees will simply use the time away from work for personal pursuits. This should be addressed upfront by defining work in terms of specific deliverables. When completed work is submitted on time and according to specifications, it reassures management that real work is happening even if it’s less visible.

Employees also have less contact with each other. As a result, some e may come to feel isolated or abandoned. Management can reach out with proactive communication in order to compensate. Often the sense of team can be maintained simply by holding regular face-to-face meetings.

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Implementation best practices

Although all businesses have their own culture to contend with, building a flexible work strategy that focuses solely on technology will surely fail. Successful implementations focus on the organization change management aspects and helping managers and employees adjust to the new nature of work.

The first thing to do is formally define a policy. Don’t just say: “Work from somewhere else if you want to.” A good policy includes clear statements about regular face-to-face team meetings, what the employer will provide in the way of equipment, and what the expectations of employee behavior are.

It’s also a good idea to review your hardware. Expecting employees to use whatever PC is already in their basement or home office dooms a flexible work strategy to failure. With this approach, the help desk typically drowns in support calls. It’s actually cheaper to issue every employee a new, pre-configured laptop at no cost to the employee.

Keep in mind that flexible schedules will lengthen the prime-time hours for an organization’s computing infrastructure. Plan to add redundancy to the computing infrastructure to achieve higher availability.

The flexible work strategy may also introduce new applications and technology into the computing environment. The key to this is superior help desk support. The set up and configuration of VPN, cameras and microphones can be finicky. Insist that employees, who are enrolling in the flexible work program, attend a brief orientation to the technology and to the applications.

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Take Action

Managing the Always-On Lifestyle: The business case for a flexible work strategy is becoming more compelling every day. If you haven’t considered it, perhaps the time is now. The Web contains vast resources to position your implementation for success.

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