In a hyper-connected world with a changing social demographic, organizations are mandating a diverse workforce. And there are many ways diversity is being looked at: 1) Gender diversity is a prominent category as more women make a mark in the workplace. In India, there has been an increase to 13.7% representation of women directors on the board in 2016 from a meager 4.9% in 2013, according to a KPMG survey. 2) Generational diversity: India’s 400 million millennial population accounts for 46% of the workforce, and 33% of India’s population. 3) Ethnic diversity as cross-location, cross-geography teams increase. Today, virtual teams are a norm, and communication across time-zones is commonplace. This demands flexibility in work schedules.
Each of these unique people groups come together in the enterprise with their unique needs. These needs are becoming more compelling, as the demands for work are increasing. For example, balancing work and life commitments is becoming an ongoing challenge, and working mothers need flexible work norms to succeed at work while tending to family commitments. At the same time, social norms are changing, and more men are taking up household responsibility. Millennials, on the other hand, have a distinct preference for high growth and recognition at work, at the same time do not miss out on life outside of work.
As a result of these shifts, flexible working programs are gaining prominence. A win-win situation is seen, where employees may be more productive thanks to better work-life balance, reduced stress of commuting and better wellbeing. Organizations must recognize these unique needs and design positive employee experiences to attract and retain the best talent.
The rise of “anytime-anywhere” work
In today’s global economy, flexible working occurs in the form of “anytime working” or “anywhere working. According to a survey by Polycom, currently, nearly two-thirds of the global workforce are utilizing “anywhere working.” This is a huge jump from 2012 when the figure stood at only 14%. Of course, this is not a universal phenomenon- culture, and thereby geographies significantly impact the adoption rate for flexi-work ways. Brazilians are ahead of the curve, with 80% of employees adopting anywhere working and 54% working flexibly often. Japan is at the other end of the spectrum, with 35% of companies offering any form of flexi policy and a mere 20% availing it either often or intermittently. In India, the statistics look positive, with 43% reporting that they availed flexi-work often, and 35% reporting a time to time indulgence. Interestingly, for the US these figures fall in the lower ranges, i.e. 36% and 19% respectively. Even as adoption increases, very real challenges abound for flexi work ways.
Adopting flexi working as a mainstream choice does not come easy, from both an implementation and a perception lens. The Polycom survey stated that 61% of respondents felt that they were perceived as less hardworking if they availed flexi work arrangements. Other concerns include people feeling that they will be overworked, still, others feel that they will be distracted working from anywhere. Age and hierarchical position significantly impact these perceptions. For example, 36% of CXOs mentioned that they would be distracted. The other challenge is the practical element- whether organizations are equipped to manage flexi workers and maintain or even enhance their productivity? This boils down to a cultural context of whether employers trust employees who opt for flexi-work arrangements.
Ways of Flexible Working
As work is becoming more fluid, and different flexi-work ways are adopted, many organizations offer either one or a mix of flexible arrangements, i.e., flexi-time, (in scheduling or number of hours worked), and flexi-place (in place of work). In the case of flexi-time, an employee is expected to be available during certain core business hours and can plan to either arrive early or leave late, part-time (less than 35 hours per week), a compressed work-week or job share mechanism. Regarding the place of work, telecommuting is either offered as work-from-home or a satellite location.
The flexi work arrangement you provide to your employees needs to be carefully thought through in the context of the available supporting facilities and the productivity impact.
How to adopt flexi-working ways
Making a flexi-work arrangement successful requires the organization to fuel a culture of trust, it should foster communication, collaboration and connect as good as any office-site work method.
• Design a flexible work policy: Conduct an assessment to gauge readiness, ask hard questions- “What is the impact on client service?”, “What are the potential problems and can you resolve them?”, “What is the time, effort and money investment required?” Listen to the voice of the employee. Identify pockets where it is feasible and where it is not. Administer consistent policies regardless of seniority or situation to deliver a fair process (exceptions may exist for certain cases such as new mothers).
• Fuel the right culture: Flexi working is more of a mindset change than anything else. At the outset, draft and communicate the guidelines through multiple channels and make them visible to employees. Share guidelines to help employees and managers manage work effectively. Check whether any special training is required to aid flexi working.
• Use technology to support: Technology is the bridge between “anywhere workers” and the client, colleagues, and management. Messenger, intranet and internal social media, mobile enterprise apps must become mainstream. In the Polycom survey, 91% stated that technology was a key factor in improving relationships and fostering better teamwork.
• Enable seamless communication: Encourage two-way communication with satellite-worker and the team. Leverage the latest channels such as video calling, video conferencing, messaging and collaboration platforms like Skype, email and fall back upon face-to-face when needed. Set up a communication plan for flexi-ways that outlines norms such as frequency of “check-ins” and scheduled interactions with manager and team.
• Monitor and exercise control: Continually monitor the productivity metrics- on-site versus metrics elsewhere; both qualitatively and quantitatively. As far as possible, give importance to the quality of work, than number of hours worked. Continuously evaluate the flexi programs through feedback and iterations before you finalize the flexi-approach.
It is important to test the waters first by running a pilot, then go all out to embrace flexi or anywhere working organization-wide.
Human Resource is the custodian of the flexi work and should work closely with the business managers to enable and empower employees to realize their maximum potential. An ideal flexi or “anywhere work” program is one which delivers the best value to the business while balancing employee needs.