You've been hearing a lot of talk around flexible work arrangements, and the benefits it brings. You feel that you yourself could benefit from having some flexibility in managing your work schedule, but don't know how to go about doing this.
It all seems too difficult as everyone around you appears to be "conforming" to the norm of a standard work schedule. There are some watercooler talks among your colleagues that all this discussion around flexible work arrangements is too ideal, and will not work in your organisation where mindsets are too traditional to change.
Does that all sound familiar?
Given such circumstances, how would you go about asking your manager for a "Flexible work arrangement"?
Here are some simple steps and tips you may find useful to help you ask that million dollar question:
1) Understand the "fear" managers have
In my interaction with employers and people managers, I observe the idea of a "Flexible work arrangement" to them can be a scary one. This, I believe, is because we've been emphasising one extreme of flexible work where employees work from home most of the time and rarely come into the office. Managers who are not used to such working with such arrangements get worried about various things that could go wrong. This is instinctive as these managers are moving away from their comfort zone.
Thus, before you pop the question, ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I really need?
- Do I really need to work from home 80 per cent of the time, or do I just need minor adjustments and added flexibility in my work schedule and location?
- What sort of concerns would my manager have about members of the team remote working?
2) What do you need?
Chances are you may not need to be working from home every day of the week. After all, it is also healthy to maintain a certain level of social interaction with your colleagues. Employees I talk to value the flexibility to plan a work schedule that optimises their time, allowing them maximum flexibility. A lot of the requests for flexible working are simply to have the ability to manage the time they start and end work in the office (or even the time they take breaks). Many of them shared how they could avoid the traffic and crowds just by nudging their daily work schedule by a little.
A lot of my colleagues at Polycom attend their early morning meetings from home over video thanks to our desktop and mobile videoconferencing software solutions. After which, they might continue to put in another hour or so before heading into the office. This way, they spend less time on the road and avoid the morning rush hour traffic and peak time on public transport.
Before you approach your manager asking for a flexible work arrangement, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is that one change that you would like which will improve your personal efficiency?
- If what you’re looking for is too much a change, is there a smaller step you can take?
- How will your greater personal efficiency enhance the productivity of your team? How can you make the benefits of a flexible work arrangement a “no-brainer” for your manager to consider?
3) Identify your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
One common fear both managers and employees have is the perceived drop in productivity when an employee has a flexible work arrangement. This is often not the case, as many of our employees experience productivity gains resulting from an optimised work schedule.
However, we do need to acknowledge that if you and/or your manager are doing this for the first time, it is good to make sure that you cover all the angles and plan this well. It is very important to agree on what contributes to good performance on your part. Basically, this can be a case of revisiting and reaffirming the deliverables that your manager expects of you.
Many companies have an in-house system and process for managing this. It can be part of your annual or bi-annual performance management cycle.
Adopting a flexible work arrangement shouldn’t have a negative impact on your KPIs. Regardless, it is always good practice to have a conversation with your manager about your KPIs and their expectations; thus, leaving nothing to assumption.
4) Make use of technology
Collaboration solutions have come a long way since teleconferencing innovation in the late 80s and 90s. My colleague Marc-Alexis Remond details more about this evolution in this blog entry: "The Conference Room is Dead…Long live Collaborative Environments!" Today’s range of secure, HD videoconferencing and content management tools for use in any circumstances, have changed the game.
Many organisations I speak to have already invested in some form of video collaboration solution, which you and your manager could already be familiar with. For example, you might have access to video collaboration software such as the Polycom RealPresence Desktop or Polycom RealPresence Mobile which allows you and your colleagues to dial into a high quality virtual meeting room no matter where you all are. It is also useful to know that your colleagues could also join in the same meeting from a physical meeting room at the office or even from their office desk via dedicated videoconferencing hardware or software.
This allows you to defy distance and still be able to “meet” your colleagues over quality high definition video, with the ability for all participants to share and view meeting content such as presentations, documents and graphics.
There are many technology solutions that can help enable collaboration among your team, wherever and whenever. This includes sharing calendars in programmes like Outlook, instant messaging and even simply the use of mobile phones. Talk to your IT folks to get an idea of what’s available and how you can leverage technology to work flexibly.
5) Set up a trial run
Last but not least, set up a trial run. You can first pick a particular day or week to try out the arrangement, and then slowly increase it to the level that you’ve agreed with your manager. Start small, and fine tune the arrangement along the way.
However, keep in mind that sometimes we might be too quick to jump to a conclusion on whether an arrangement is working or not. Thus, it is important to keep an open and objective mind when evaluating if an arrangement is working for both parties.
Don’t be too quick to give up. If you don’t get it right the first time, revisit some of the parameters of the arrangement and try again.
If you'd like to know more about the best tools to help you enable flexibility in your workforce, check out this overview of the solutions that let people work from anywhere and actually engage more effectively and efficiently as a result.
Read my other blog posts on better workplace collaboration here.
Happy Flexible Working!
Eric Wong left Polycom as of March 2015. This blog post is his personal view and reflective of his thoughts while at Polycom.