Inspiring And Enabling People
To Make A Difference
Managing a Flexible Workforce an interview with Anne Dickens
Managers can find themselves between a rock and hard place, with demands from above and demands from below. They have to act as broker of individuals’ needs and desires, lead and manage those individuals as effective teams, and ensure that performance is in line with business needs. Very often these demands appear to conflict. The trick is to make sure they coincide…
Anne Dickens shares some hints and tips about how to make the strategic link between people, performance, and flexibility.
SP – Do you feel there is a link between flexibility and performance?
AD – Definitely. At the end of the day, any organisation’s performance is down to its people. So a strategic investment in your people is always going to pay off. This may come in a number of different forms. But creating a more flexible workplace is one of the routes to go down. And it can be a catalyst for more strategic and sustained change.
As a manager, your role is about helping your organisation to succeed through its people. Increasing flexibility in the workplace in turn leads to individuals having more control over their working lives. Trusting that people know best the work they are required to do and devolving responsibility to them to make this happen, within a flexible workplace environment, will lead people to taking more taking more responsibility for producing the goods.
Ultimately, more control means greater happiness. If an organisation’s people are happy, there is more space for creativity, communication, review and reflection. This will encourage efficiency and productivity which, in turn, has a positive impact on all round performance. Increased commitment to the organisation leads to greater goodwill, generating better customer service.
Increased happiness and commitment results in less sickness absence and reduced turnover.
SP – How does an increase in flexibility for individuals benefit teams?
AD – Self-evidently happier individuals are very likely to make happier teams, with consequential benefits which are obvious.
Beyond the obvious, one vital change is that each individual in the team has a vested interest in making their new flexible workplace work. Because there is something in it for them, people take time to understand each others’ needs, instil new communications mechanisms, and review and revitalise work systems to make them more fit for purpose.
It is likely too that to make the flexible work schemes work, better time recording systems are needed which provide better management intelligence for the whole team.
Managers need to change their own behaviour and management style to support teams to make the necessary changes. And then to trust them to make it work, within a set of agreed guiding principles. Understanding their team’s needs, helping the team to develop its own flexible working solution, supporting it to create a set of groundrules, and then delegating the means to make it happen, all call for a change in leadership style.
SP – How are these benefits measured and understood?
AD – One of the key things that needs to change is how performance is measured. Traditionally people are often measured for how long they are at work. What’s more important than this, is what they are putting in whilst they’re at work and what the outputs and outcomes are. Each job is different, but managers need to work with staff to identify the most appropriate ways to measure performance.
This may include new appraisal systems and team evaluation mechanisms. It may involve considering things like whether customer service has improved, whether financial savings have been made, whether results are being produced more quickly, or more accurately, or to a higher quality, and how all these things could be measured.
Options for flexible working fall broadly into four categories:
1 – Flexible working time – where a person’s total hours are worked at different times in the day e.g. flexitime, compressed hours, annualised hours etc.
2 – Flexible working hours – where the total number of hours someone works is varied e.g. part-time, shift working, term time etc.
3 – Flexible career – where someone takes time away from work, but remains an employee e.g. sabbatical, study leave etc.
4 – Flexible place – where a person is based somewhere other than the organisation’s office to do their work e.g. home working.
It is possible to combine two or more of these working patterns.